Limiting slides in your presentation is a mistake

Your boss has asked you to create a ‘five slide presentation’. Here’s why you should push back.

Lyndon Nicholson
Oct 21, 2019 · 3 min read

The majority of the presentations we give in our lives will have limits set by others. This could be your aforementioned boss hoping to keep your pitch short and to the point, or the event you’re speaking at wanting to keep to their schedule. These limits can often be beneficial, helping you to plan the structure of your presentation.

Limits on slides

However, being told to limit your presentation to a set number of slides is, in my opinion, a massive mistake on the part of the person setting the limit. Working to a fixed number of slides is never a good way to build a presentation. At best it will result in cramped, poorly designed slides, and at worst it’ll ruin the flow your talk and make you look like a total amateur.

My two decades in the presentation design industry has taught me that an effective, impactful slide is one with very little superfluous information on it. With a limit set on your number of slides it becomes a toss up between intentionally cutting vital information from your presentation, or abandoning good design.

Both will result in a poor presentation and an audience who aren’t engaged.

Limits on time

Having a limit placed on your time, however, offers actual freedom. With a clear idea of how much time you have, you can use as many slides as you need to get your message across effectively. You plan the structure of your presentation around the best way to hammer home your points while keeping your audience’s interest.

There will be no need to stuff your slides with data, therefore each one will look better and be easier to understand. Your audience, after all, can’t read your slides while also listening to what you’re saying. With no slide limit set, you can use a whole slide for one particular point — even if you have a dozen points to make.

Just remember that your slide deck is not your presentation. Don’t go mental just because you have no limit on the number of slides you can use… because your audience definitely will. Transitioning to a new slide every few seconds, simply because you can, will be just as confusing to them as a slide filled with three graphs, nine images, and 300 words.

As Guy Kawasaki advises: “Ten slides in your deck, 20 minutes maximum, 30pt text minimum.”

Fixing problems, not causing them

Simply put, many people think they are removing a problem by limiting the number of slides in a presentation. But they’re really not, and they’ll be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Setting the number of slides really stifles the presenter’s creatively and ability to convey what they need their audience to understand.

If you’re setting someone the challenge of creating a presentation and want to see the very best work they can produce, limit their time, not their slides.

And presenters… whatever number of slides you go for, just remember to make each and every one of them count.

Lyndon Nicholson

Written by

Lyndon Nicholson is one of the UK’s leading experts on presentation design and public speaking. He is the Founder and CEO of Future Present.

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