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 stupid 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.

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.

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.

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Related: The Five Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes

Related: Three Things To Do When The PowerPoint Crashes

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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