October 8, 2008

PowerPoint in ten minutes or less



Seth Godin recently posted his Nine steps to Powerpoint magic.

Some of his "steps, not rules" are cheeky, like this one:

"4. Pay by the word. Here's the deal: You should have to put $5 into the coffee fund for every single word on the wordiest slide in your deck. 400 words costs $2000. If that were true, would you use fewer words? A lot fewer? I've said this before, but I need to try again: words belong in memos. Powerpoint is for ideas. If you have bullets, please, please, please only use one word in each bullet. Two if you have to. Three never."

Most are common sense, like this one:

"5. Get a remote. I always use one. Mine went missing a couple of weeks ago, so I had to present without it. I saw myself on video and hated the fact that I lost all that eye contact. It's money well spent."

Here's the one I disagree with:

"9. Short! Do you really need an hour for the presentation? Twenty minutes? Most of the time, the right answer is, "ten." Ten minutes of breathtaking big ideas with big pictures and big type and few words and scary thoughts and startling insights. And then, and then, spend the rest of your time just talking to me. Interacting. Answering questions. Leading a discussion."

I guess it depends what your topic is, but how exactly is "ten minutes" the right answer for every presenter and every presentation?

I understand that he's suggesting ten minutes for big ideas (your PowerPoint) and "the rest of your time" for talking, interaction and discussion, which I agree should make up the majority of a presentation.

And I agree that shorter is better than longer, but more important, that conciseness is better than bloatedness.

Some of my presentations are ten minutes long, and in that time span, I cover one idea, including a little audience interaction and some practical take-home tricks. Most of the time, I don't even bother with PowerPoint for a presentation that short.

But others are four hours long, where we delve deeply into public speaking and talk about the whys and hows of doing what we do, with discussion, activities and practice. And yes, visuals -- with "big pictures and big type and few words and scary thoughts and startling insights" all throughout the workshop, not just for ten minutes.

How much you use PowerPoint depends on what you're trying to achieve with your audience, and how you integrate visuals with the rest of your presentation.

I would say that there's no such thing as what's right "most of the time" regarding how long the PowerPoint portion of your presentation should be.

Are you a motivational speaker or are you helping overweight people learn how to eat properly to avoid diabetes?

Are you an advocate or are you explaining to your audience how to negotiate a retail lease with their landlord?

Are you a self-help guru or are you teaching your audience to organize their workspaces so they can be more productive?

Well most likely, you're a little of both!

There's a big difference between sharing abstract concepts and giving someone real tools that they can apply right away in their lives, but there's nothing wrong with using PowerPoint in either situation.

Does your PowerPoint enhance your message in a way that you can use it even during discussions, demonstrations and activities? Then, why not?

Do your research. Ask questions before the engagement. Find out what they really need and want. Make sure your visuals are relevant and not distractions.

Always make sure you're doing what's best for your audience, and your presentation will be just as long -- or short -- as it needs to be.

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7 comments. Please add yours! :

Erik Deckers said...

I think four hours is a class, rather than a presentation. Sure, they might fall under the same umbrella definition, but a class has some different rules.

I've heard that 20 minutes is the tops for a presentation. In fact, the 10/20/30 rule is one I try to live by.

10 slides
20 minutes
30 pt. type

I use PowerPoint in my own presentations to enhance what I'm saying, and frankly, to jog my memory a little. I use 3 - 4 word headlines as the only text, and will occasionally throw up an image for illustration or comic relief.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Hey, Erik, thanks for your comment. I was just making a point that some presentations are short, and others are long (I also do one-hour, two-hour, etc.), but I don't like having "formulas" imposed on me when I've done the research on what my particular audience needs and wants in regard to my particular topic.

I understand where Seth and Guy (10/20/30) are coming from, but the number of slides, the number of minutes... it's ridiculous to say a rule like this is desirable or even works for every presenter and every presentation.

Kate said...

I personally think the first question to ask is not how do I use PowerPoint, but do I need it at all? PowerPoint is a technology that is often used for technology's sake. Although all of the tips about few words, great images and keep it short certainly do apply, most people like to see people, not slides and they want to hear real people telling real stories. So I vote for ten minutes (most times) if you HAVE to use PowerPoint. I also suggest that it is often best not to use it at all!

Seth Godin said...

You're right on, of course.

The thing is, have you ever seen a presentation that was too short?

95% of the time, the presenter uses the time given, as opposed to figuring out what she needs.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

You're right, Kate and Seth, that frequently presenters are in "robot mode," doing what they think they're supposed to do, using slides without understanding why or how, and filling a time slot with a lot of hot air.

Slide shows are a tool, like any other presenter's tool. They can be used for good or evil. I can't imagine "An Inconvenient Truth" with only ten minutes of slides, nor can I imagine any of Hans Rosling's presentations without his stunning visuals: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_reveals_new_insights_on_poverty.html and http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html.

I'd rather see people learn to use the tool properly than to dictate time limits. After all, you could still get stuck with ten minutes of crap.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Kate, do you have an e-mail address? I can't find one on your site. Wanted to chat... lisa*at*coachlisab*dot*com

Elad Sherf said...

Hey Lisa.
I totally agree! I think such time constraints are problematic. The question is what you have to say. There are different levels for each idea. I might be able to present the idea in ten minutes and for one group of people that will be enough. But to a different group, I will need to talk about the same idea for 20 minutes either because it is harder for them to understand of because they want more insight. So, I don’t think you can really pin the number of minutes down. This by all means does not mean I don’t agree with Seth about shortening your presentation by not saying obvious things, like so many presenters do.
I also don’t agree with Seth about the taking notes. I wrote about it in my Blog:

http://comparativeadvantage.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/not-to-use-powerpoint-and-the-taking-of-notes-during-a-presentation/

Elad

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