The One PowerPoint Rule You Should Never Follow

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 18, 2011 – 6:24 AM

Many of our clients proudly tell me they’re good PowerPoint users because they’ve always adhered to the “One Slide Per Minute” Rule.

That’s when I have to tell them it’s a dumb rule that they need to abandon immediately (I make the point a bit more diplomatically when working with paying clients).

Sure, I understand why speakers are attracted to that rule: It offers them specific guidance that gives them an easy guideline for putting together their presentations. But the rule usually leads to disastrous results, for at least five reasons.

PowerPoint-Projector.jpg

1. Gives Speakers Permission To Create Packed Presentations: The “One Slide Per Minute” rule says nothing about how much information should appear on each slide. As a result, many speakers pack 120 slides worth of information into 60 slides in an effort to fit everything in. Since they present only one slide per minute, they deceive themselves into believing they’ve created a good presentation – when in fact, they’ve only managed to produce a cluttered mess.

2. Nobody Wants To Look at 60 Slides An Hour: If I wanted to be put to sleep, I’d take an Ambien or watch a PBS documentary. When I see one slide per minute, I know I’m in for a snoozer.

3. You’re Competing With Yourself: People can listen to you talk or read your slide. In the battle between the eye and the ear, social science finds that the eye wins, usually by an overwhelming margin. If the audience is reading what’s on the screen, you may as well stop talking. Otherwise, you’re just competing with yourself and wasting your time.

4. It Means Speakers Are Reading, Not Presenting: Speakers who put up slide after slide almost always read their slides to the audience. But since we humans can read five times quicker than you can speak, we’re usually ahead of you. That means you’ll annoy your audience when you continue reading the slides they already finished reading themselves.

5. The Slides Should Be For The Audience, Not You: Too often, slides are created more for the speaker than the audience – the speaker wants to remember what to say next, so he or she simply puts all of their thoughts on the screen. Visuals should be created to help the audience remember your points – not to serve as crib notes for the speaker.

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So What Should You Do?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before creating a PowerPoint slide:

Question 1: Does this slide represent visually what I’m saying verbally? Reinforcing your point with images helps the audience remember points better – but posting a list of uninteresting bulleted sentences quickly leads to audience fatigue.

Question 2: Is this slide intended to help me remember what to say next, or for the audience to better understand the concept I’m trying to explain? If it’s the former, kill the slide.

Question 3: Most importantly, ask yourself whether you need to have a slide at all? Ask whether there’s a more compelling way you can deliver your content without relying on an electronic gadget to do it for you.

My new book, 101 Ways to Open a Speech, is now available at Amazon. You can read more about the book here

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Comments (8)

  1. By John Barnett:

    Brad,

    I cannot say “amen” loud or long enough. And the five reasons you’ve outlined is even worse in the military. It’s like they’re crack addicts and can’t help themselves … they create mega presentations with dozens of slides, hundreds of words per slide, and animated clouds that zoom in from somewhere with information that has nothing really to do with the point of the slide. Geez, I hate that.

    You tell them and you tell them, but it never seems to sink in. And the result is continuing “Death by Powerpoint …”

    Thanks for the great post! I’m putting it up on the digital refrigerator door in the hopes it will impact someone to put thought over flash into the next Powerpoint presentation. Should I hold my breath? 😉

  2. By Mary Denihan:

    Make that a double “amen”. It’s my belief that PP in limited amounts can make a good presentation better. Last time I did a presentation, used one slide. It worked.

  3. By Brad Phillips:

    Mary – Given that you work for a government agency, your email is even MORE impressive. As John suggested in his comment, military and government are among the worst offenders of this rule.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!
    Brad

  4. By Rodger Johnson:

    I had a CEO as a client once. His slide decks were a nightmares! Once I used the same suggestions you give us here, he attracted more attention and authority at speaking engagements than before.

  5. By Randall Dennison:

    Could have done without the lowbrow slam at PBS. But I suppose it’s to be expected when the subject is PowerPoint.

  6. By Brad Phillips:

    Randall,

    In hindsight, I probably could have written “documentary” without naming PBS. PBS indeed runs some wonderful programming. But you can’t really blame me for not being riveted by an 18 hour, slow-moving Ken Burns documentary series on the history of baseball, can you?

    Thanks for reading,
    Brad

  7. By Mark Green:

    I think this article gets the one-slide-per-minute rule a bit off. Nobody I know considers the rule as being a hard and fast, mechanical rule, it is simply a limit (really it should be stated as the NO MORE THAN one slide per minute rule, it does not preclude the use of fewer slides. Nor is it a rule sole rule, it is one of many rules (most of which if viewed on their own outside the context of a broader set of rules would appear stupid). That said, the advise provided in the article is good, but it need not have been so harshly critical of what is understood by most as a general rule, subject to further limitation by many other rules for what constitutes proper and effective use of Powerpoint.

  8. By K. Beerens:

    Completely agree with Mark Green. It does not mean you have to and can only spend 1 min on a slide. It means better not to prepare more slide than you got minutes to talk. If you only get 10/15/20/… min, do not make more than 10/15/20/… slides.

    1) “many speakers pack 120 slides worth of information into 60 slides” => this is the reason for the rule. If they pack in info for 120 slides in 60 slides, they will speak for more the 60 min, probably 120 min. And that will be badly designed slides, containing too much info to clearly explain.

    2) Explaining graphs and figures takes time, take it. More difficult info will take more time to explain. This will reduce the number of slides in your presentation.

    3-4) This is not related to the ‘1 slide/min rule’ but to putting text rather than graphs and figures on your slides. Too much text will make the audience and yourself read. By using graphs and figures your audience will listen to your explanation.

    5) Completely agree with this. But this is a point of proper and thorough preparation of your presentation and not on the ‘1 slide/min rule’. With a good preparation you will control the presentation/slides and not the other way around.

    The 1 slide/min rule can also be seen as “Less is More”. Better say less and transfer the message than to give too much info that people will not be able to follow or take home.
    Very important rule KISS = Keep It Simple and Straight.

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