How many slides is too many slides for your presentation and how many is just right? All the answers you need to this age-old PowerPoint question are right here.
You’d think it would be a simple answer to a simple question: How many slides should I use for my presentation? And you’re right, there’s a very simple answer coming up. There’s also a longer answer too, one that will give you a load of useful pointers on pinpointing that sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone where the speech-to-slide ratio is just right.
So, without further ado, here’s the short answer: on average, you will need 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation. A slide every two minutes; that’s an easy rule of thumb to remember.
We’ve still got another 700 words to go however, so if you’re thinking this is the end of the matter, gosh no. We’re just getting started. If you want to level up your presentation game – and why wouldn’t you? – the secret to crafting a devilishly good presentation lies in the detail that comes next.
How many slides is too many slides?
Before we zero in on that Goldilocks zone, let’s discuss what’s so wrong with having too many slides in your presentation. Create 20 slides for a 20-minute presentation and you simply cycle through them twice as fast, right? One slide per minute may sound manageable – and there may be some instances where it will prove manageable – but 99% of them time, it’s a flat no. Unless you’re treating your in-laws to an after-dinner slideshow of your holiday snaps, whizzing through the deck at 90 miles an hour is only going to induce vertigo, or at the very least a severe case of “Huh?”
To evoke Fight Club’s refrain of “You are not your job”, your slideshow is not your presentation. It’s an aid to your presentation. It’s you that everyone’s come to see. You’re the star of your own show and it is your delivery, humour, poise and all the rest of it that will make or break your presentation. Great slides will certainly help, especially great slides delivered at just the right pace, but they alone can’t do the work for you. TED talkers are a great example of supreme public speaking. These keynote speakers are capable of pulling up a solitary slide and then riffing on it for five minutes. Watching TED Talks is a great way of learning how a slide can prompt the discussion rather than the other way around.
It may seem frustratingly vague to encounter articles, this one included, which talk in general terms about the number of slides to incorporate into a presentation, but that’s because a good slideshow is like a good burrito. Yes, you read that right. Your favourite burrito might go something like “Pulled pork, spicy rice, super hot salsa and hold the guac” while your mate’s might go “Beef, rice, mild salsa, cheese and pile on the guacamole like there’s been an explosion in an avocado grove”. (Do avocados grow in groves? That’s one to ask Siri later). In other words, there’s no singular right answer.
That’s not to say that that you can cram in as many or as few slides as you like and if anyone objects, well, it’s your burrito and you can serve it up any which way you like. There are still guiding principles, some of which we’ve outlined above. Here are a few more principles to factor in when assembling your presentation:
How many slides is too few slides?
Slides are particularly good for displaying the sort of visuals that cannot be imparted with words alone: Charts. Graphs. Images. Video. They’re also great for summarising your key points, allowing your audience to focus on the most important stuff, because with the best will in the world, they’re not going to recall everything you say, wonderful as your words undoubtedly are.
Many speakers create slides for their own benefit as much as their audience’s; as a fallback should they need prompting on what comes next. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but you shouldn’t fall into the trap of stuffing your presentation with slides as an insurance policy in case you lose your way. Include what you need and, if you need additional reminders, refer to your own notes.
If it came down to it, we’d favour 10 awesome looking slides over 20 average ones. You’ve only got so much time to prepare, so expend your energies on making slides that matter. It’ll ramp up the quality and it will force you to riff off the bullet points each one contains rather than simply parroting off what’s on-screen.
When it comes to editing your slides, don’t be afraid to be ruthless. Look back over each slide in your deck and ask whether it’s serving a purpose or whether its content would be better conveyed verbally. If you favour minimalism over the kitchen sink approach, there really is no lower limit on the number of slides you can use in your presentation. More than three slides, we’ll wager, but beyond that it’s really up to you.
So there you have it: take one slide for every two minutes of presentation time as your rule of thumb. Then take that rule and bend it as you see fit, adding salsa, lettuce, refried beans and whatever else you deem necessary. It’s your burrito. Just make sure it’s a good one.