The No. 1 PowerPoint rule every presenter should ignore

Ever heard the ‘one slide per minute’ rule? It’s garbage. Here’s why. Plus, the three questions every speaker should answer about his or her presentation.

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 provides a specific and easy guideline for putting together a presentation. 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 produced 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 can read five times quicker than you can speak, the audience is usually ahead of you. That means you’ll annoy them 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 No. 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 No. 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 No. 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.

Visit the Mr. Media Training Blog to see the 21 Most Essential Media Training Links. Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog and president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training.

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