The Presenter’s Dilemma: How Many Slides Do I Need?

Do these quotes sound familiar?

“I only want to see three slides.”
“My boss says we get one slide per presenter.”
“We don’t want to go over 20 slides for this presentation.”

It’s very common to be restricted to a certain number of slides in a presentation. And it’s a very silly way to do things.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Just as the stating the ability to do the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs (You’re welcome, nerds!) is a nonsensical description of speed, specifying the number of slides in a presentation in order to limit its duration is meaningless. The number of slides in your presentation actually can have very little to do with how long your presentation lasts.

I once saw a 45-minute presentation that consisted of just one slide. Conversely, I usually develop about 60–75 slides for a 45-minute presentation.

The right question isn’t “How many slides should my presentation have?” it’s “How long does this presentation need to be?” Then you match that time to your presentation style and use that as a guide for how many slides you’ll need to create.

How Can a Presentation Have Just One Slide?

The one-slide presenter worked the room like a master. He spoke to us like he was addressing a roomful of friends. He was animated and enthusiastic, moving back and forth to engage the whole audience. He wove in stories based on his own personal experience. The funny thing was that his subject matter—a specific type of industrial machine—could have been as boring as dirt, yet he made it seem like the coolest thing ever.

What was on his slide? His company’s name, his name, and his contact information.

Why Would a 45-Minute Presentation Need 60-75 Slides?

So if this guy can get away with one slide, why do I need so many for my own presentation that lasts the same amount of time? Well, since I teach people how to get the most out of PowerPoint, my presentations tend to contain a lot of animation, slides with very few words, and slides that illustrate only one idea apiece.

The effect for the audience is seamless: everything flows much like a film. But this style tends to require a lot more slides than a more static presentation style.

The next time somebody tells you to limit your presentation to a certain number of slides, push back diplomatically and ask for more information about how long you have to present.

About the Author:

Laura Foley helps people become more fluent in PowerPoint through workshops, consulting, and presentation design services. She has developed presentations and provided training for clients such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions/General Dynamics, Juniper Networks and the Harvard Business School. Her Cheating Death by PowerPoint training has been featured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Simmons College and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.  For more information, visit her website at

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