It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first time giving a presentation or fortieth, a quintessential question that always pops up in a presenter’s mind is: how many slides should my presentation include?
Well, this straightforward question doesn’t have a straightforward answer.
What I mean by saying this is that there is no magical number of slides that will guarantee you pocketing an outstanding presentation. Your decision on how many slides your presentation has shouldn’t be based on some rigid rule plucked from an instruction manual or the internet.
Rather, decide the number of slides in your presentation based on your individualized requirements, as well as that of the presentation that you plan on delivering.
However, this doesn’t mean that your presentation should drag on for hours, backed by an abysmal corpus of slides that fly past before the viewer has had the chance to fully comprehend the previous slide.
While it’s important to be flexible in organizing your presentation, it is equally important to ensure that this flexibility doesn’t transmute into redundancy.
Or vice versa: You don’t want to be tarrying over the same five slides throughout an hour-long presentation. The dearth of visual cues will not only make the reader bored but might also make it difficult for the viewer to follow what you’re saying.
So how to ensure that you hit the sweet spot every time?
That’s what this article is all about!
Here is a quick overview of how many slides your presentation should include:
|Duration of Presentation
|Suggested Number Of Slides
SO, HOW MANY SLIDES SHOULD I USE ANYWAY?
To answer your question, I’ve listed out some guidelines below. However, remember that these are only guidelines.
As I mentioned before, there is no fixed rule of thumb for the number of slides that are exactly right for any and every single presentation that you’re going to deliver over the course of your life.
Keep that in mind as you go through the rest of the article.
1. So, what are you trying to say, anyway?
Is your purpose to show the audience X number of slides in X minutes? No!
Your purpose is to convince them. To persuade them. To make them listen and understand your message—whatever it may be.
So, the first and the most important point to determine how many slides your presentation should contain is to decide what message you’re trying to get across. If there is a particular topic that you have to speak on, stick to it.
If not, then ask yourself the following questions:
What is the purpose of my presentation or what is the main underlying message that I am trying to get across?
Who am I trying to get it across to & what is the best way to get it across to my target audience?
Once you’ve determined what you’re trying to say, move on to how you’re going to say it. Ask yourself:
Is there a time limit that I must stick to?
Is there a range or limit of slides that I have been asked to follow?
Is there a particular theme that I have been asked to follow?
What is the setting where the presentation is to be delivered?
The questions listed above contain few of the most important factors to consider before deciding upon the number of slides in your presentation.
Once you’ve determined what your main message is and if there are any guidelines that you must follow/have been asked to follow while delivering it, move on to the second guiding principle:
2. Quality Over Quantity
As with most other things in life, when it comes to the number of slides in your presentation, quality trumps quantity.
The quality of the information included in your slide is a more appropriate determinant of its utility to your presentation than a random goal number of slides that you’re trying to hit.
Don’t just add a new slide for the sake of increasing your total number of slides or because you’re trying to meet a random number that you saw on the internet or heard an ‘expert’ on YouTube declare is the perfect number of slides to include in a presentation.
Rather, decide whether you want to include a particular slide in your presentation or not based on what value it adds to the latter.
A rich corpus of information may impress your viewer, but might actually do nothing to expand their understanding of your presentation.
On the contrary, it might leave them confused about the actual message you’re attempting to get across, or straight up bore them and make them lose interest in the rest of your presentation.
An effective presentation should include only the key points or augment what you’re saying with the help of audio-visual stimuli.
You don’t need to list out every single thing that you’re saying in the presentation. You want the audience’s eyes to be on you and not on the screen behind you. Remember that the audience is there to see you present, and not to read what you’re trying to present.
3. Space It Out
Imagine stepping into an over-crowded bus after a long day of hard work. The sweaty bodies brushing against you, the longing side-glances that you throw at seats that were unoccupied just yesterday but are swarming today, the arm that jostles you every time the bus slows down or lurches forward.
Now imagine stepping into the same bus the following day, only this time it is occupied by only five people instead of fifty, leaving you with an extensive array of empty seats to pick for day-dreaming upon on your way back home.
How do you imagine yourself feeling in both of the scenarios?
Most likely, the way you imagine yourself feeling in the first situation is drastically different than how you imagine yourself feeling in the second scenario.
The first scenario probably made you feel befuddled, irritated, and overwhelmed. If you were on the bus in the second scenario, however, you would feel relaxed, comfortable, and maybe even pleasantly surprised.
Similarly, if your viewer is greeted with a presentation with a scanty number of overcrowded slides, most likely by the second or the third slide, they will find themselves annoyed, overwhelmed and unreceptive, or downright resistant to the message you’re delivering.
On the other hand, a spaced-out, attractive presentation will not only engage your reader’s attention but also make it easier for them to comprehend and retain your message.
So, make sure to space out your presentation and have appropriate ‘breathing room’ in individual slides, even if it means you have to add more of them.
For example, if there are eight comprehensive points under one topic of your presentation, instead of cramming all of them into a single slide, use one slide for one point.
Not only will this make your presentation look more physically attractive, but it will also allow you to add more visual stimuli like videos and pictures for a single point, thus helping to give a boost to your audience’s overall understanding of the material.
4. Time Matters
Before the big day, make sure to practice delivering your presentation a couple of times. Again, there is no set rule for how many times you should practice.
Simply do it as many times as it takes for you to grow comfortable with what you’re saying and remember your topic well enough that you don’t have to keep re-checking the slides over your shoulder over and over again.
As you practice, keep a lookout for how much time it’s taking for you to reach the end of the presentation.
Are you finishing it well before your time limit? Doesn’t matter whether it’s been provided to you by someone else or is simply a target that you’ve set for yourself.
If that’s the case, then increase the number of slides in the presentation. Alternatively, if you feel like adding more slides is redundant, you could also increase the amount of time you spend explaining each slide.
Is your presentation transgressing your time limit?
In that case, you might want to go the opposite way and either decrease the number of slides in your presentation or the amount of time you spend on each slide.
If you find that you’re still struggling with timing your presentation, check out our article on 11 Steps To Help You Keep Time During Your Presentation for some killer tips on timing your presentation!
What is the speed at which you speak? Are you someone who speaks slowly, using eloquent words and slotting in substantial pauses between sentences for added impact? Or do you tend to breeze through your words, keeping your sentences brusque and the tempo of your speech swift?
What is the capacity of your target audience? Are they experts on the topic or novices—this is an important determinant of how much time you’re going to need to spend on each topic/slide.
If your audience is a complete newbie to the topic, you might be required to spend more time describing terms and topics that might have been otherwise familiar to a person who is already well-versed with what you’re saying. This will come into play for you to determine how many slides to include.
You could also ask a mentor or a family member to provide feedback on your presentation. Ask them if they feel you’ve spent too long lingering over a particular slide or if you’ve breezed through a topic so quickly that they’re left confused.
Try incorporating their feedback in your presentation. However, remember that at the end of the day, you know your topic best and you’re the one who’s going to be delivering it. Don’t take their feedback as gospel, but as guiding principles.
5. So, who are you presenting it to, anyway?
Everybody expert has a different idea about how many slides is the “correct” number of slides to have in a presentation. Some people believe that five slides are enough for a twenty-minute presentation, others believe that twenty slides are the best bet for a presentation of the same length.
However, as I’ve mentioned before, there is no set formula for the perfect presentation length.
An array of different factors, and not a single rule, should be kept in mind while determining the length of an individual presentation.
One of the most important factors, besides the audience and the subject matter, is the venue of your presentation. Are you going to deliver your presentation in a workplace or for a school project?
Are you going to be delivering it to a large audience on a big screen or is the setting more intimate, with just a couple of important people as viewers?
If you’re going to deliver a presentation to a big audience, it’s better to minimize the importance of the presentation and focus more on the speech part of your delivery. If the setting is more intimate (eg: if you’re delivering it to your colleagues), you could get away with utilizing a larger number of slides.
6. The Battle Of Slides: Low Count vs. Medium Count vs. High Count
All three types of slide use have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Low Slide Count:
If you’re using a low number of slides (ranging from 1-10 slides, depending on the total duration of the presentation), then the focus of the audience will naturally be directed towards yourself.
This will increase the relative importance of not only what you’re saying, but also how you’re saying it, as the audience will be able to focus more on your gestures, your body language, and your expressions, all of which are important modes of communication.
However, if you’re someone who’s not very comfortable with public speaking, this might turn out to be a disadvantage instead of an advantage, as too many eyes might make you feel self-conscious. If you like this type of approach but are afraid of having too many people looking at you , check out our article on Public Speaking For Introverts: The Why, What & Who (An A-Z Guide), for some tips and tricks to deliver an awesome presentation!
Medium Slide Count:
If there is a lot of important information that you must include in the presentation, don’t cram it all in a few slides just to cut the length of your presentation.
Instead, you could go with a more moderate amount of slides. Here, you’re looking at a range of about 1-2 slides per minute, which leaves you with about 30-60 slides for an hour-long presentation.
This is the average length of most types of presentations. This number of slides will allow you to spread out your topics and not force you to cram a lot of information in a handful of slides.
On the other hand, if you’ve not practiced enough, you might end up losing track of time and spend too long on a particular slide, thus disrupting your time limit. Also, if you add slides just for the sake of increasing your slide count, your audience might pick up on this and you may end up losing their attention, which is crucial to delivering a successful presentation.
High Slide Count:
Many people also prefer using a high number of slides, firing through upwards of 5 slides per minute. This rapid-fire style keeps the audience riveted and engaged, as they have to keep be attentive and stay on the lookout for every new slide.
However, if you’re not well-versed or don’t have enough experience with delivering these types of presentations, your efforts might backfire and make your presentation seem too cluttered and your ideas too far-flung for them to make sense to your audience.
7. Design Matters Too
The design of your presentation is another important determinant of how many slides it’s going to contain. If, for instance, your presentation involves a lot of visual imagery (for instance, if you’re presenting a new design of a product), the number of slides is going to be more.
This is because, in order to draw attention to the pictures, you might end up employing one slide for a single picture, thereby increasing your slide count, even if the actual points or written material is not as exhaustive.
On the other hand, if your slide involves a lot of textual material (for instance, if you’re giving a business presentation), then the number of slides that you use might be less, as a multitude of related points might be fixed on a single slide instead of being spread across multiple slides.
In this scenario, you might end up spending more time on a single slide instead of quickly firing through many of them as it contains more points to be explained and expanded upon.
Similarly, if your presentation contains an equal amount of pictures and explanations (for instance, if you’re doing a school presentation), then your slide count might fall somewhere between the two examples mentioned above.
GETTING A LITTLE MORE SPECIFIC…
I’ve listed below a general range that you can follow while laying down the skeleton of your presentation. Again—and I cannot stress this enough—remember that these are only guidelines.
- Five Minutes Presentation: In the exceptional scenario that you’ve been asked to deliver a presentation lasting under five minutes, you can get away with using fewer slides, somewhere between 5—10. After all, you simply won’t have the time to breeze through 20—30 slides (unless, of course, your presentation involves displaying a lot of pictures, in which case it’s generally wise to use one picture per slide).
- Ten Minutes Presentation: For a presentation that’s to be wrapped up in under ten minutes or less, you can stick to the general guidelines listed above. Anything between 5—20 slides is a good number to aim for.
- Fifteen Minutes Presentation: For a moderate-length presentation lasting somewhere around fifteen minutes, you might want to consider using more slides. A general range is something between 15—30 slides, although you can play around with the number depending on how much time you’re going to be spending on each individual slide and other factors listed in the article.
- Twenty/Thirty Minutes Presentation: Guy Kawasaki advocates a 10/20/30 rule i.e your presentation should have 10 slides, last 20 minutes, and not contain any font smaller than 30pts. However, you don’t necessarily have to follow such a rigid structure. As the length of your presentation increases, it becomes less and less important to ponder over how many slides it exactly has. You can aim for whatever number feels natural to you.
- Forty-Five/Sixty Minutes Presentation: As the length of your presentation increases, chances are that your audience’s attention span will begin to waver or reduce. While you can follow the above-listed guidelines for a sixty-minute presentation as well, for a speech of this duration, it’s important to give prominence to other factors as well. Keep your slides attractive and engaging. Try to include more pictures in each slide. Another important factor is to continue interacting with your audience or involve them in your presentation—this will keep them attentive and less susceptible to boredom.
The above-listed guidelines will help you lay down the structure of your presentation, however, the actual delivery of it is up to you. Choose whatever method suits best your goal and feel the most natural to you. Remember that it is your presentation. You get to decide how to present it.