Can you Time a Presentation to Perfection?

“Make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them”. – Seth Godin

I have just started following Paul Johnstone, who is a a Management Communications Speaker and this article he authored links nicely with my recent blog on ‘Making PowerPoint more Effective’. I have reproduced in it’s entirety below…great hints and tips for anyone presenting…

Probably the most often asked question about PowerPoint is -But how many slides should my presentation have?

How Many Slides is Too Many Slides?

People love PowerPoint because they can do so much with it.  And I remember when I first asked for guidance on how many slides should I use, I got the standard answer of the 1990’s.  One slide a minute.    Interestingly when I presented my one slide a minute, I got praise and brick-bats in about the same proportion.  This told me that the advise I received was flawed.  Back then I had no idea what I should do so reluctantly I stuck with one slide a minute.

I’ll come back to the number of slides shortly but right now I want to ask you a question.    What is the purpose of your presentation?

I ask you that because the slides you use ‘should’ be proportionate to your message.

Is your Message Complex?

In other words can you get your point across with minimal fuss?  This refers to your audience rather than your message.  If presenting scientific data to other scientists, your presentation will be different to presenting to business people.  Which leaves the question what is important to consider is the complexity of the ideas being presented?ym-jargon_1008292c2

Here is where I differ from the oft stated ‘perceived wisdom’ of talking for at least 30 seconds per slide.  This advice has been pedalled for many years as almost a cure all for presenters.

Just calculate the following for me please?

You have 20 minutes to fill and 30 seconds a slide.  The best speed for presenters to speak at is between 100 and 120 words a minute.

OK at the quickest delivery speed of 120 words a minute how many words do you have per slide?  Then how many slides will you have?

I’m sure you quickly worked that out as 40 slides each covering 60 words.

Would you feel comfortable sitting through a slide show like that?  Some of you may, but the majority will not.

Some presentation coaches suggest all sorts of complex ways of working out how many slides and what sort of slides you need.  For me that is looking at the issue from the wrong perspective.

Concepts Matter

Every Slide you use should support one concept.

Because I believe this is important I’ll say it again.  Every Slide you use should support one concept!

You may be thinking, that’s OK for you to say but how many concepts should I have in my slide show?    Clients quite often ask me this question.  The answer lies in the main points you are trying to promote.

As an example, if you are presenting to a business audience looking for partners in a new venture what do you think your three main pints are?

mixedmessagesblog1After you have set out the big picture ‘The Context’, you will take your audience on ajourney that will end up with them coming to the conclusion that they want to be involved in this venture.

Your opening theme may be the current systems and associated issues.  Then you may follow that with Benefits you have identified from doing things differently.  Finishing with why your product or service is best placed to deliver the new benefits.




Calculate Time Per Context

Looking at your presentation now there are Five sections:

1 Opening: 2. Current situation:  3. The benefits of change: 4 Your offering: 5 The Close

You still have 20 minutes so how do you slice and dice this to fit the time you have?

That depends on where you believe most emphasis is best spent.  If I’m presenting in this style I spend more time on the benefits of change, you may feel differently.

When you are rehearsing you will start to get a feel for the times, but remember speaking at the fastest 120 words a minute you only have 2400 words.  Please resist the temptation to cram them in because you believe them to be important.  If you do that you stand a very good chance of losing your audience.

You will probably have more than one concept per section.  This will be dependent on your topic.  My preferred method is allow approximately 2 minutes per side and ensure my words fit with the concept. There are advanced techniques for dealing with this, however by taking no more than 2 minutes per slide you should not bore your audience.

What is your most important Section?

There is a quick method for estimation ‘general’ times I sometimes use.  The concept or section that is most important to you will be the one consuming most time.  Let’s say that section 3. benefits of change to the current system is the one for you.  Allow 6 minutes which is 30% of your presentation time.Lost and Confused Signpost

Then allocate time to each of the other sections.  My preferred split is Opening 2 minutes, The current situation 5 minutes. The benefits of change, your main section will be 6 minutes.

Your offering 4 minutes and the close 3 minutes.  This takes you neatly to your allocated Twenty minutes.

However, I’ve noticed that some people run through the slides more quickly when they practice.  This happens most frequently when you rehearse in silence.  When rehearsing a presentation it should be done aloud.  Next doors dog knows most of my presentations, well he’s head most of them, several times.

Use Timing Check Points

The one thing most organisers hate is presenters that go over time. Therefore the most important point, is to ensure that you don’t go over your time!  Calculate your section timing check points.  For example in your 20-minute pitch you should know exactly what needs to have been covered at each section point.

Most of you will have a kitchen timer or count-down timer on your phone.  Start by practicing one section at a time.  Using your timer you should start to get a feel for how much you need to cut out, or if you need to as words to your presentation.

I use this technique for every presentation I give and it works perfectly.  To accompany this I use two 3 X5 cards.  One with any points I may need help wit and a Timing card – occasionally I use the countdown timer on my phone (only if I can set it to vibrate) I tend to review these just before I step up.   Along with my Mantra it’s the last thing I do before I speak.

Oh and when rehearsing always double check your timings.  It’s much better to get it wrong at rehearsal than in front of your audience!  I have made mistakes on my timing in the past which is why I always double check as an absolute minimum.

 How Many Slides Do I Need?

Just enough.  Much of what you do will evolve with trial and feedback. You could start with the 10, 20. 30 framework.  confusing-signsHowever I will recommend a book for you to read.  The person I learned more from as far as how visuals are received by your audience is, Professor Stephen Kosslyn.  In his book Clear and to the point, he explodes a lot of popular misconceptions that surround PowerPoint.  I suggest you pick up a copy, it’s full of sound advice.

If time is against you, why not try Pecha Kucha or Ignite as a presentation format.

Go to the original article and his website with this link.



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