PowerPoint Slide Content: How Much Is Too Much?

Q and A - Renovate Communication Design, LLC“Debby” (not her real name) got a copy of Presentation Renovation this week and we’ve been trading emails. She coordinates the learning efforts in her organization and has an instructor whose PowerPoint slides are filled to the brim with text and details.

Debby is looking for a better way.

The other instructors in her organization also have varying degrees of comfort and ability with technology, design, and teaching skills. Debby’s trying to figure out how to help them as well.

Debby’s problems are probably a lot like yours. So what could she–and you–do?

Here’s how I responded to Debby.

As you’ll see, we’re advocates of less–not more–on slides, a concept that’s easy to understand but, for many, hard to practice. Too much information on a slide becomes a crutch for the presenter, and a distracting one at that. Since our brains can only focus on one thing at a time, our audiences will choose either our message or our slides–and that’s not a choice we want them to make.

As a challenge, you might encourage your “too much detail” person to prepare a lesson with:

  1. No slides
  2. Slides with no more than 6 words
  3. Slides with no words, only pictures

You might even try it yourself. My guess is you’ll find it difficult but it will force you to develop a stronger lesson, and one that your audience may be more likely to remember.

Another exercise you could try with all of your teachers is Pecha Kucha (PK). Pecha Kucha is a method of presenting–you get 20 slides, each automatically timed for 20 seconds each (more details here). The entire presentation, then, is only six minutes and forty seconds. It’s both challenging and a lot of fun.

PK was originally developed as a way for artists and designers to share their latest projects in bars and restaurants, like karaoke for presentations. If you do some group training sessions, have your teachers try it with anything at first: a family vacation, a personal project or hobby, what an average day is like–whatever. Once they’ve done that, then have them try it with an actual lesson. Pick a text or topic and develop it with 20 slides at 20 seconds each. You could even try a 1/2 PK–10 slides (instead of 20) for 20 seconds each.

The point of doing the PK exercises with your teachers is NOT to get them to deliver PK lessons; instead, it exposes them to a different (and perhaps more creative) way of thinking about their lessons and their presentations.

That’s a start. What would you do?

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