The point I hate

  • Bullet points.
  • Hate ’em.
  • Can’t create linkages between ideas.
  • Can’t develop new metaphors.
  • Can only communicate lists.
  • Lists not inherently interesting.

Seriously, I hate bullet points. Sometimes I have a client where I’m writing lovely speeches for one executive and they ask if I’ll write for another one too. Of course I say yes; I’m in the client-pleasing business. And then they’ll say, “It’ll be easy—he only wants bullet points.”

The thing is, I may have mentioned this—I hate bullet points. You can’t develop new ideas with bullets, because whatever you bullet has to connect with something that’s already in the speaker’s head. Otherwise, it’s just word salad on the page. So you can’t develop new metaphors, you can’t link ideas to one another except if the linkages are already glaringly apparent.

I once ran across an executive who deconstructed his speeches even further. He would take the stage with one page of notes. The upper left quadrant of the page contained a bulleted list of welcoming sentences; across from that some bullets reminding him of stories he liked to tell; the lower left would be a list of various points he might like to make; and the lower right a list of his favorite quotations. As I understand it (I only “wrote” for the guy once and never went to hear him speak), he would create his speech on the spot, assembling the various components until he’d filled the allotted time.

That’s not a speech, that’s a word-salad bar.

Speeches are more than collections of sounds. If people have agreed to listen to you, you have an obligation to give them something worth thinking about. Something more than “What was that about?”

So I hate bullets.

2 thoughts on “The point I hate

  1. Kirk Petersen

    Ah, but there’s an upside to using bullets. When reading a speech that’s written out word for word, only the very best speakers can avoid sounding wooden. But if a speech is constructed in bullet points, the speaker must process the idea through his or her brain before speaking it. The speaker stays focused on the topic, not the individual words.

    Back in my speechwriting days as a full-time employee, I had one main client, and my occasional ancillary clients all worked for the same company. So while there was always something that was unique to each set of remarks, some of the same ground was covered every time. Whenever a new concept or topic was being introduced, I generally wrote things in full sentences, at least for that part of the speech.

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