Monday, October 06, 2008

The folly of limiting the number of slides

It happened again last week. Someone approached me after a seminar and asked how I would remake some slides they were presenting. He is a medical researcher and his presentation is 10-20 minutes long. He showed me one slide and it was packed with information. I asked why it wasn't multiple slides since they were at least four key points being made. He said it was because the organization limits him to 25 slides, so he can’t use too many slides on this section or else he won’t have enough for the rest of his information.

Put aside the fact that perhaps he is trying to present too much information in the time he is allotted. I’d like to focus on the folly of mandating a maximum number of slides. By limiting the number of slides, the organization thinks that it is helping presenters focus their thoughts and present only the key ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth in most cases. My experience is that an artificial maximum number of slides does nothing to focus thoughts.

It gives people anxiety and forces them to learn how to jam inordinate amounts of information on each slide, making each slide unintelligible. And it doesn't make the point of their presentation any clearer at all. These organizations wonder why the quality of communications and the quality of the decisions made from them does not increase.

The better approach is to help presenters structure their ideas and focus on what the key takeaways will be for the audience. This one simple skill would add more to the clarity of presentations than almost any other effort. Organizations could set up a few simple questions to guide presenters, such as:
1. What is the goal of this presentation? At the end, what will the audience know, do or understand?
2. Where is the audience now in terms of their knowledge and attitude towards the topic?
3. What 3-5 key points do I need to make to move the audience from where they are now to where I want them to be at the end of the presentation?
4. What support or evidence will I present visually that will help make my points clear?

These are just four of the seven steps I share with my audiences on structuring a presentation. You can learn more about my workshops and how they help presenters transform overloaded text slide based presentations into visually based conversations at my web site,


Blogger Lisa Braithwaite said...

Dave, this is like the advice to limit the length of your presentation.

Arbitrary rules like the number of slides or length of the presentation can't be applied to every presenter and every presentation. I disagreed with Seth's recommendation of short presentations here:

Then the discussion spilled over into the comments, where the "10/20/30" rule came up...

12:42 AM  

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