I bought another copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends” yesterday. It was a pretty fine edition from 1945 and the first pocket sized paperback. I like to give them away as presents whenever I get the chance, because despite the book being 80 years old ~ the message seems as relevant today as it was back in 1936 when it was first written.
When I was flicking through and remembering what made this such an amazing book, I remembered how much Carnegie liked bullet points. He put them everywhere. He had systems and processes for everything, the sole purpose being to train people faster and more effectively. Whether that means a presenter learning to give a more powerful and memorable presentation or a trainer teaching his students faster, bullet points work.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Dale Carnegie
In business, we rely on bullet points too much because most people are lazy. A series of bullet points on a powerpoint, shown to an audience only to be read word-for-word by the presenter is pretty much the fastest way to lose any audience. Most of us know this.
But as I am starting to pick up my blogging again, I was wondering when we stopped using bullet points effectively when we tell stories. Bullet points don’t have to be presentation killers. The sad thing is that the blogging community has largely fallen out of love with systematic content. Especially blog posts written around lists.
There’s a genuine reason for this obviously, because so many people over the years have done such a great job of killing for format. Look across your Linkedin news feed or favourite business blog. BuzzFeed. Daily Mail. Chances are there will be many.
You know what I’m talking about. Abuse of bullet points made many of the bloggers I respect the most abandon them altogether, openly encouraged others to do the same in favour of more “quality writing“.
But just because most bullet-point laden click-bait posts suck, doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Over the years, people have used them because they work. They make complicated things simple. They allow for quick reading. Something we need to be very mindful of as people now read 80% of their digital content on a mobile device.
My point is this. Don’t use bullet points to sell me a thing. Or use them as an excuse for lazy writing. Use them to tell me a better story. Or to help me become instantly connected to the story you are about to tell me. This is why “How To Win Friends” is such a great little book.
On the back cover of the paperback (and on the first page of the hard back), Carnegie wrote, “12 Things This Book Will Do For You“. The points make some bold claims, but anyone who has read the book will probably agree that they are all great points that he makes very well made in the book.
(Interestingly, the re-prints from 1981 onwards omit points 6-8 and 11)
Dale Carnegie understood that (bullet) points don’t need to kill. Used properly, they can help bring any story to life. Just don’t put them on a PPT slide and then read them to your audience!