Fewer Slides ≠ More Efficient Presentation

December 1, 2015 in Barbara Egel, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation, Uncategorized

slideshowAmong many of our learners, there is a persistent belief that the number of slides in one’s presentation is somehow related to the amount of time the presentation will take. While there is some connection when it comes to big differences (a 600 slide deck will probably take longer to present than a 6 slide deck), an additional three or four slides—or even ten or fifteen slides—may not actually have an effect on the time it takes to present. In fact, having too few slides can make presentations less efficient.

A few examples will illustrate what I mean:

  • SITUATION: A slide includes a pie chart, two tables, and a list of bullets. First of all, the presenter may have difficulty remembering the story she wants to tell with such a busy slide. She may start in the wrong place, spend too much time talking about tangential issues, or have a hard time thinking of a way to wrap up the slide and articulate its implications. Further, a slide that busy is going to be frustrating for her audience to read and take in.
    SOLUTION: Focus on the elements that tell a specific story. Perhaps the pie chart and the bullets that relate to it make one key point. The tables can be on a separate slide (or two) because they tell a different part of the story.


  • SITUATION: After presenting the data, a presenter concludes with one slide with bulleted lists of positive and negative outcomes. While the presenter focuses on the positive, audience members read the negative list. The presenter’s point is missed because people are caught up in their emotional reaction to the negatives.
    SOLUTION: If there are slides that are likely to generate strong emotional responses, put each emotion on one slide. That way, you can shape the story of each to make sure you are heard and that the degrees of positivity and negativity are interpreted appropriately.


  • SITUATION: There are three key insights that came out of recent research, so the presenter puts all three on a bulleted list. But there are lots of subpoints for each of them, so the slide gets very busy and wordy. The audience not only starts reading ahead, but starts a discussion of Insight #3 when the presenter hasn’t finished everything he has to say about Insight #1.
    SOLUTION: Just because you have a list doesn’t mean it all has to go on the same slide. Consider a sort of mini-agenda slide that gives the list broadly in just a few words. Then each point can get its own slide on which all the nuances and subpoints are outlined. This is not only easier for the audience to take in, but also much more manageable and efficient for the speaker.


  • SITUATION: A complicated new process is being taught to IT teams. The steps of the process are outlined on the slides fairly well, but the presentation goes right from one step to the next without any recap. People are asking questions about parts of the process from four slides back because they didn’t even realize they were confused.
    SOLUTION: Adding a summary slide after each step that recaps what was just said in a simple, memorable way will a) make sure everyone is on the same page, and b) signal to anyone who has questions that now is the time to ask before the presentation moves on.

These are just a few examples of the kind of thinking you should be engaging in as you create your slides. Making a presentation efficient comes from making your slides easy to deliver and easy for your audience to follow and remember.

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By Barbara Egel, Presentation Coach at Turpin Communication and editor of “The Orderly Conversation.”

We Are Not the PowerPoint Police

January 12, 2015 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation, Training

PowerPointPoliceBannerPeople often ask us about the rules for PowerPoint. Some examples include, “What’s the rule for …

  • the number of bullets on a slide?”
  • the number of words per bullet?”
  • the number of slides a presentation should have?”
  • the right font to use?”
  • the right size font to use?”

We also hear apologies like these:

  • “I know this is a lousy slide, but I didn’t have time to fix it.”
  • “You’re going to hate this slide, but my manager requires this format.”
  • “Sorry this is such a busy slide, but …”

Our response is always this:

Relax. We’re not the PowerPoint Police.

When we say this in our presentation skills workshops, there are two typical responses.

  1. Puzzlement. It’s as if we can hear the person thinking, “Come on. You’re the presentation expert. You should have rules about PowerPoint!”
  2. Relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Those rules about PowerPoint never made any sense to me.”

It’s true we’re presentation experts; and it’s also true that many of the rules out there don’t make any sense.

We’re not saying that there aren’t basic design guidelines that can enhance the design of a slide. What we are saying is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that must always be followed.


Because life isn’t that simple.

Imagine Walt Disney in a meeting where he had to present the 7 Dwarfs concept via PowerPoint. Unfortunately for Walt, some trainer had told him years ago that he could never have more than 6 bullets per slide. What’s he to do? Split them up onto separate slides? That doesn’t make any sense. Instead, he needs to be a pragmatist, ignore the rule, and list all 7 dwarfs together on one slide. (He could use just their pictures, but that assumes he’d remember their names. That’s a dangerous assumption if Walt’s experiencing nervousness that day.)

But, less is more, right?

Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to PowerPoint, but if following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule and must be set aside.[Tweet “If following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule”]

So what do you recommend?

We like to think of PowerPoint as a tool to provide structure and to trigger the presenter’s thoughts. You are your presentation, not the slides. Use them to guide you through the presentation, rather than BEING the presentation. It will make your life easier. It will make the task of following you easier as well.

We’ve blogged and vlogged about these concepts several times over the years. Follow this link to read more.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Should I Apologize for Bad Slides?

January 15, 2009 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Improving Your Visual Aids, Preparation, Presentation

I’m stuck having to present some pretty bad slides.  They are too complicated and present more information than I need for my presentation.  I can’t change them for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here.  I’ve heard that you shouldn’t apologize for things like this by saying something like, “I know this is hard for you all to see,” but in this case I feel like I should.  What do you recommend?

You’re not alone.  A lot of people are stuck having to present difficult, overloaded or poorly thought out slides.

You face two distinct challenges.  (1) As you prepare, you have to weed through the clutter and find the story you want to tell, and (2) you have to find a way to deliver that story – and have it make sense to your listeners – when the slide isn’t giving you much help.  Here are a few recommendations.

Challenge 1: Weed through the clutter
I’m afraid I can’t be of much help with this part of the dilemma, other than to encourage you to keep the big picture in mind.  Find the story you want to tell and stick with it.  You don’t have to talk about all the details on the slide if they don’t support your message.

Challenge 2: Help your listeners
When a busy slide comes up, your listeners’ eyes will go to it and try to figure it out.  Ideally they should be able to look at the slide and get a pretty clear understanding of it.  But if the slide is too complicated, they’re likely to give up.  Your job, then, is to help them through it.

  • Use the slide title
    If the title of the slide frames your story, use it to your advantage.  “As this title says, this is the sales forecast for Q3,” or “As you can see, we’re looking at the new workflow for project X.”
  • Acknowledge instead of apologize
    In your question you asked if it was appropriate to apologize.  First, I don’t think you’re breaking any sacred rule by apologizing for a difficult slide.  But moderation is key.  If you end up apologizing too much, your efforts won’t mean much.  Try shifting your thinking a bit.  Instead of apologizing for a busy slide, acknowledge it instead.  Use phrases like, “I know there’s a lot on this slide. I’d like to pull your attention to the upper right corner” or “Let’s focus right here,” as you point to that specific area on the screen.
  • Use triggers
    If you can, add triggers to direct attention to specific areas on the slide.  Triggers are things like arrows, circles or bold words.  Triggers tell your listeners that even though there’s a lot on the slide, you’re going to focus their attention on certain parts it.
  • Print handouts
    If listeners can’t see the detail on the screen, print the slide and give it to them as a handout.

In summary, you’re responsible for making sure listeners understand your message.  Even when you’re handed a difficult slide, do what you can to make sure that happens.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication