People often ask us about the rules for PowerPoint. Some examples include, “What’s the rule for…
- The number of bullets on a slide?”
- The number of words per bullet?”
- The number of slides a presentation should have?”
- The right font to use?”
- The right size font to use?”
We also hear apologies like these:
- “I know this is a lousy slide, but I didn’t have time to fix it.”
- “You’re going to hate this slide, but my manager requires this format.”
- “Sorry this is such a busy slide, but …”
Our response is always this: Relax. We’re Not the PowerPoint Police.
When we say this in our presentation skills workshops, there are two typical responses.
- Puzzlement. It’s as if we can hear the person thinking, “Come on. You’re the presentation expert. You should have rules about PowerPoint!”
- Relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Those rules about PowerPoint never made any sense to me.”
It’s true we’re presentation experts; and it’s also true that many of the rules out there don’t make any sense.
We’re not saying that there aren’t basic design guidelines that can enhance the design of a slide. What we are saying is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that must always be followed.
Because life isn’t that simple.
Imagine Walt Disney in a meeting where he had to present the 7 Dwarfs concept via PowerPoint. Unfortunately for Walt, some trainer had told him years ago that he could never have more than 6 bullets per slide. What’s he to do? Split them up onto separate slides? That doesn’t make any sense.
Instead, he needs to be a pragmatist, ignore the rule, and list all 7 dwarfs together on one slide. (He could use just their pictures, but that assumes he’d remember their names. That’s a dangerous assumption if Walt’s experiencing nervousness that day.)
But, less is more, right?
Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to PowerPoint, but if following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule and must be set aside.
We like to think of PowerPoint as a tool to provide structure and to trigger the presenter’s thoughts. You are your presentation, not the slides. Use them to guide you through the presentation, rather than being the presentation. It will make your life easier. It will make the task of following you easier as well.
About the Author:
Greg Owen-Boger is vice president of Turpin Communication, a presentation skills consulting company based in Chicago. He also is co-author of the compelling new book, The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. For more information about the book or the company, visit www.turpincommunication.com