PowerPoint Tips: How many bullets should you put on a slide?

By Ellen Finkelstein

People often ask, “How many bullets should I put on a slide?”

First I’ll tell you what others are saying. Then I’ll give you my answer.

“6 lines or less per slide, 6-8 words per line”

“6 words per line, 6 lines per slide”

“Limit the number of bullets per slide to five or fewer.”

You get the picture.

I think that rules like this are nonsensical.

It’s not that they’re totally wrong. It’s true that you shouldn’t have too much text on a slide. Why? When you display the slide, people start reading it. They can’t read the slide and listen to you at the same time. You might as well stand silently for 2 minutes while they read, because they aren’t listening to you.

But bullets have other problems: (Caution: Here come a couple of bullets!)

  • People associate them (from long experience) with boring presentations

  • They represent an outline or list format

  • They’re a text-based, non-visual method of communicating

  • Bullets are boring

    The truth is, people have had bad experience with presentations that have too much text and too many bullets. So you start out on the wrong foot when you use slides of bulleted text. People immediately tune out.

    Bullets are for outlines or lists

    What’s wrong with outlines? When you present, you should be developing your message logically. For example, you might state the premise that most people waste a huge amount of money paying interest to the bank for their mortgage. Then, you need to back up that premise with fact, figures, examples, anecdotes, and so on. Your presentation shouldn’t be an outline. It should be a full development of ideas.

    Of course, that full development should be expressed in what you’re saying. But bullets give the impression that what you’re saying is just an outline, rather than a well-developed presentation.


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    This excerpt is shared with permission from ellenfinkelstein.com.

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