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How many slides should you use in a presentation?

March 1, 2010

One of my favourite FAQ’s regarding presentations is “how many slides should I use in my presentation” I think the answer here is invariably “it depends” with a small sprinkling of “enough to tell your story effectively but no more”.

The idea that there is some correct number of slides to have in a presentation strikes me as being slightly absurd. I know that Guy Kawasaki (who has gone off the rails a bit as far as I am concerned) promotes his 30/20/10 method or something along those lines, but the notion that you can fit a rigid structure like that to ANY presentation is just plain wrong. Every presentation is different and so too is the number of slides needed to communicate effectively.

Firstly, it is worth acknowledging that all slides are not created equal, for example in one slide you may wish to show a photograph, where as in others you may wish to display a graph or some text, these obviously differ in the amount of content being communicated. Perhaps you need to show 10 images to support your story… should that mean that you have already reached your “limit” and can’t add any more slides… of course not!

I have given presentations where I have had close to 100 slides delivered in less than 20 minutes, I have seen other presentations where there were more than this used. The reality is that it doesn’t matter how many slides you use, if it helps you communicate your story/message/idea more effectively and naturally then no one will care if you use 3,000 slides.

I like the comparison of powerpoint presentations to TV documentaries, imagine if you were creating a documentary and I told you “you must only have 10 different camera shots, I don’t care what your topic is, 10 is your lot”, you’d probably say it was absurd… which indeed it would be! Such a limit would not help you tell your story and would inevitably lead the most boring documentary imaginable.

So in summary, use the right about of slides… If you have a slide with 10 bullet points on it why not spread it out over 3 slides? Maybe throw in some supporting imagery? Forgetting your slide “limit” will help your presentation greatly and your audience will thank you for it.

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