PowerPoint Basics


The way people typically design PowerPoint slides is a joke, mostly due to outdated guidelines. PowerPoint practitioners used to say, "You shouldn't have more than five bullets on each slide, with no more than six words per bullet and one minute spent on each slide."

PowerPoint Basics-2

But here’s the math.  Let’s say you’re doing a 60-minute presentation.


5 bullets x 6 words per bullet = 30 words a slide
30 words a slide x 60 slides = 1,800 words


There are colleges in this country that don’t assign 1,800-word term papers until you’re a sophomore!  Having done the math, is it reasonable to expect your audience to read an 1,800-word essay over your shoulder, while you’re talking, in the course of a single hour?  Keep in mind they’re also trying to listen and understand what you're saying.


When you think about it in that context, it’s ridiculous. Designers like Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds have offered more streamlined concepts; both have written excellent books on PowerPoint design as well.  I’d recommend reading their work on your own time, but for now I’ll stick with the basics.


To begin with, an overflow of words isn’t going to work for you, so what should you do instead?  It’s simple: use a very dramatic picture. Have a story to tell. Use another dramatic picture. Pair it with another story. Repeat. Words and reading don’t necessarily run the show.  It’s about keeping the audience’s interest. The presentation is a visual guide.


You may think, "Well, I've got to tell these people some technical details about what we're trying to sell." Great. That doesn't belong on the slide. That belongs in a handout where people can take notes and then take it home with them.  You have to be discerning as you decide how much information shows up on the wall and how much information winds up in people's hands.


In short, a presentation doesn’t have to revolve around words and details.  It’s about the message and the value you’re trying to communicate.  If you want to set yourself apart from the others, simplify your PowerPoint.  In some ways, it’s like poetry – if nothing can be added or taken away without changing its core meaning, then you’re in good shape.

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Posted by Mark Jewell

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