Article Category: Ask Six Minutes, Visual Aids

How Many Slides Should You Have?
How Many Slides Do You Need?


This article is part of the 12 Days of Ask Six Minutes.
This event is over now, but you can send your questions anytime.

Imagine yourself in these scenarios:

  1. You’re delivering a 1-hour keynote address on pursuing your dreams to high school graduates.
  2. You’re teaching a full-day corporate course on quality assurance processes.
  3. You’re giving a 10-minute pitch at your local service club to partner with Habitat for Humanity.

How many slides would you prepare for each presentation?

As this is a very common question, it seems like a great starting point for our 12-day event of answering reader questions.

Alex, a Six Minutes reader, asks:

Can you provide some guidance on deciding how many slides should be in my PowerPoint presentations? I’ve read that you shouldn’t have too many slides because it distracts from the speaker. But I’ve also read that having lots of slides keeps the presentation fast-paced and prevents boredom. What’s right? How many PowerPoint slides should I have?

Sometimes, the answer is zero.

Even if you are accustomed to presenting with slides, there are many situations when you should go without any slides at all. These include formal situations such as:

There are many other situations when slides would distract more than aid your presentation. For example, I find that for very short presentations (10 minutes or less), I rarely need slides. If I do, then perhaps just one or two is required.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you must have slides every time you stand before an audience, regardless of the situation.

Usually, the answer is “Fewer than you think.”

Most presenters use too many slides.

Slide decks overflow when the presenter uses the slides as a crutch (so they can read bullets), or when the presenter tries to put everything on the slides.

To combat this, let’s start with two core assertions:

  1. PowerPoint slides, like any visual aid, are support material for your message, not the message itself.
  2. PowerPoint slides are for your audience, not for you.
Want to learn more?
For certain presentations, the 10-20-30 rule may apply, which encourages 10 slides over 20 minutes.

Instead of asking how many slides you should have, the right question to ask is “How many slides do I need to communicate my message to my audience?”

Then how many slides do I need?

For each element of your presentation (major points, minor points, anecdotes, stories, etc.), ask yourself this simple question: Can I convey this idea clearly with words alone, or would my audience benefit from visual support?

  • If the answer is no, then don’t add a slide. It’s redundant.
  • If the answer is yes, then perhaps you need to add a slide (or two) or incorporate a prop into your presentation.

For each idea which needs support, craft a slide which conveys it in the clearest way possible. A diagram? A chart? A photograph? A table?

How many slides will fit in my 30 minute speech slot?

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you must have slides every time you stand before an audience, regardless of the situation.

One lesson that I’ve learned the hard way is that adding slides to a presentation adds time to the presentation as well. It takes time for an audience to absorb the information from slides, and (often) it takes time for you to set the context and explain the meaning on slides.

So, when you rehearse, it is important to rehearse the entire presentation including the slides with a sample audience. This will help you to determine:

  • How smoothly do your slides fit your narrative?
  • How effective are the individual slides?
  • How long does it take for each slide to be absorbed?

Not all slides are equal.

Technical diagrams (even well-designed, simple diagrams) take longer to absorb than photo-centric slides with a single phrase.

Similarly, slides will take longer to absorb if your audience is not familiar with your content.

Create your own rule of thumb.

Don’t worry about your slide count. Just make your slides count.

-- Duarte.com

If you often speak in similar situations (audience composition, subject matter, and time frames), it is reasonable that you may find yourself needing about the same number of slides each time you speak.

For example, I deliver technical presentations of an hour or more. For these situations over many years, I have determined that I need approximately one slide for every two minutes of speaking, or about 30 slides per hour. That’s my rule of thumb for those situations.

You will have a different rule of thumb, depending on your speaking style, and the situation where you find yourself speaking. Just remember not to use that number as a goal (e.g. I must create 30 slides, or else). Instead, use that number as a sanity check (e.g. Uh oh. I have one hour to speak, but I’ve created 72 slides. I need to take out some material.)

Video: Make Your Slides Count

The creative geniuses at Duarte recently addressed the same question in a wonderfully satirical puppet show video. It is only two minutes long, and well worth your time.

Original link: Duarte “Make Your Slides Count” video

Take out? Take out? No, no, no, no, no. I’m not taking anything out. This is corporate gold. I’m leaving it all in. I’m just going to talk four times faster.

That is absolutely perfect. And so is their summary statement:

Don’t worry about your slide count. Just make your slides count.

Your Turn: What’s Your Opinion?

How do you answer this question? How many slides works for you?

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