April 5, 2010

The slide's the limit

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I worked with a client last week whose slides were packed with text. When I suggested to her that she take the multiple ideas on one slide and expand them out over several slides, she balked. One of the executives who would be attending her presentation was a "ten-slide person." So my client was trying to keep her slideshow with two years' worth of marketing data and product information to ten slides.

Here's my Monday morning reminder: Whether you have ten slides or a hundred, your ideas will take the same amount of time to present.

If you have one slide with six bullets and each bullet takes one minute to talk about, you can just as easily give each bullet its own slide and take one minute to talk about each slide. Do you see what I'm saying?

Here are some benefits of one idea per slide:

1. Multiple ideas or bullets on one slide invite audience members to read ahead, diluting their focus. While you're on bullet #1, they're already thinking about their response to bullet #4.

2. A lot of ideas per slide means a lot of reading per slide. If the audience is reading slides, they're not paying attention to you.

3. Heavily worded slides are missing another aspect of presentation, that of visual stimulation. When you use images on your slides, you give the audience another layer of meaning and a greater ability to retain your message through multiple modalities. Or, to say it another way, people learn better with a multimedia approach as opposed to just viewing text.

It's just not helpful to impose arbitrary rules like "ten slides only" on a business presentation. You may have a time limit for your presentation, which determines what points you discuss and how much depth you go into. But a limit on slides says nothing about the method actually used to design and present the slides.

Always do what's best for your audience. Ten slides packed with a hundred ideas is not that.

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