We’re asked this question a lot, and we think there’s no one right answer. The same presentation can be delivered using fifty slides, ten, one or none.
But there are a few parameters that can be used as a guide when deciding how many slides are appropriate for a particular business presentation. Longer presentations can benefit from more slides, since the slides help to retain audience attention. Complex subjects can benefit from as many slides as are needed to elucidate complicated ideas and concepts.
But in general, the number of slides used is a matter of choice. The bottom line here has to do with the PURPOSE of the slides.
Using slides to maximize the impact of your story
This is our preferred (and the most common) approach. You have a story to tell, and you want to maximize the impact of your delivery.
In this case, we slice the story into pieces, each one conveying an important message or concept, and we create a slide for each slice.
If you create lean slides that complement (not duplicate) your message, this approach has many benefits:
- It associates the visuals with the messages, which aids in retention and recall. It’s easier to remember a message that’s been delivered with a visual cue.
- It clearly defines where a message or topic starts and ends. It creates sub-stories and helps an audience to mentally organize the pieces of the whole content.
- It helps the presenter to follow a pre-defined flow, one that touches on both reason and emotion, without the fear of skipping a key message.
- It helps to create not-boring presentations, especially when you’re using slides with very little text. Visuals help a presenter to be entertaining.
The list of benefits that result from the use of lean and complementary slides is in fact much longer than what I can fit in this post.
In this case, basically, the number of slides is dependent on the length of the story and the number of topics/messages you want to convey.
Using slides to elucidate technical information
If all you’re concerned with is using slides to explain a structure, flow or process, you may choose to limit your visuals to elements that comprise those themes and spend a lot of time on each slide.
This category includes flow charts, structural diagrams, organizational charts, process charts, and so forth.
Some structures or architectures are nearly impossible to explain without visual support. In this case, the number of slides is sharply reduced, limited to the number of structures you need to explain.
Since this issue very often arises with technical presentations, a word of caution is needed. If you decide to use slides ONLY for this type of graphic message, it’s important to remember that this is only PART of the whole. If you want to engage, entertain and move your audience, your STORY should go beyond the technical explanation of flows and structures and be told in a way that moves the audience toward your objective.
And moving an audience toward a pre-defined objective is rarely accomplished with graphics alone, even when an audience DOES understand your technical explanations.
Using a slide show as teleprompter
This is the worst case scenario. And the most common.
In this scenario, the presenter is not well prepared. The presenter NEEDS the slides to deliver the speech. The content can’t be delivered without it.
And so the presenter ends up reading the slides to the audience. The consequences are devastating: boredom and disengagement. Nobody will remember a thing.
This is not desirable, to put it mildly. But if you find yourself in this situation, try at least to minimize the amount of text used in the slides. And if you can’t do this, try to create more slides, so that you have less text per slide.
Using no slides
This is necessary in many situations when it’s not possible to use a computer or projector, or when you’re caught by surprise, having found a great opportunity to present without notice.
But the no-slide approach also puts a much heavier burden on the presenter. Since there are no slides to support the story, the presenter needs to be well trained and has to “own” the story. Because the speech will be the only tool available to move the audience.
And while this is do-able, it requires fine presenting skills and a great, carefully crafted story.
So how many slides do you need to deliver a great business presentation?
Think of the number of slides as a consequence of your goal, context and story, and not as a pre-determined parameter you need to stick to.
Just keep in mind that the slides are there to support and complement the story. The slides are never the story.