Don’t judge a presentation by the number of slides; Issue #286 May 14, 2013

When you open a PowerPoint file that has been sent to you, where do you look first? If you are like most people I speak to in my workshops, the first place you look is the lower left corner to see how many slides are in the file. Why do most people do this? Because they think that the number of slides will indicate how effective the content of the presentation is. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this article I want to explain why you need to break this habit.

When you open a PowerPoint file and immediately look at the number of slides, you have some number in mind that you think indicates a good vs. bad presentation. Everyone seems to have their own number, and many have different numbers based on what type of presentation it is. A project status presentation will have a different number than a sales presentation, which will have a different number than a financial results presentation.

Whatever your number is, you will immediately judge the value of the content before you have ever even looked at the content. If the number of slides in the file is larger than what you think it should be, you immediately think it is a poor presentation, before you have even looked to see what the presenter has included. This seems crazy to me. Why do people do this? Because their past experience is with overloaded slides that are really pages from a report instead of slides intended to quickly communicate important messages.

The number of slides is no indication of the effectiveness of the message the presenter will deliver. Next month I will present my webinar on Using an iPad in Business. I will speak for about 50-55 minutes. How many slides should I use? I bet almost none of you said over 90. That’s right, I use 92 slides and last time I did the webinar we had comments that it was the best webinar people had ever seen. How is this possible? Because of the way the slides are designed.

When you design a slide that has a headline that summarizes the one point you want to make and a visual that illustrates that point, you won’t spend a long time on the slide. The slide only has one message, and once you have delivered it to the audience, they expect you to move on to the next point, which is on the next slide. There may be more slides, but the message is more effective. It is not about the number of slides, it is about how effectively you communicate.

When the slide file is sent by email, it is also easy for the viewer to look at the slides because they understand the message of each slide and can move quickly on to the next slide. I would suggest that it is actually quicker to review a larger number of slides that have been prepared effectively than it is to review a smaller number of cluttered, confusing slides. Isn’t clarity of communication more important than number of slides? I hope so.

It will take time to break the habit that many people have fallen into of always judging a PowerPoint file by the number of slides it contains. When you do, you will find yourself open to judging the content of the presentation and how clearly it communicates the important message the presenter intended. When you design slides so they are easy to understand, you may create more slides, but your message will be more effective. I hope we can get to the day when we judge presentations not by the number of slides, but by the content of the message. Start the change today in your organization.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.