A PowerPoint Riddle

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I’ve got a riddle for you. Which is heavier: a 10-pound bag of rocks, or a 10-pound bag of feathers?

The answer, of course, is neither. They weigh the same amount (I noticed this riddle works better when it’s said, not written, but oh well). This riddle came to mind when I was thinking about presentation lengths. Often I get a lot of pushback from clients when they hand over a 10-slide presentation and get back what’s now a 30-slide presentation. So I just ask them the same riddle.

What takes longer: A 10-slide presentation when you remain on each slide for one minute, or a 30-slide presentation where you change the slide every 20 seconds?

Neither. They both take 10 minutes. That’s because the number of slides doesn’t dictate the length of your presentation. Of course, it has an effect on it. It would be seizure-inducing if you tried to present 1,000 slides in 10 minutes. But within reason, as long as the presenter keeps a good pace for their presentation style and every slide serves a purpose, then don’t judge the length (in time) of a presentation by the size of the PowerPoint.

Nancy Duarte told a story in her fantastic book, Resonate, of how she had a speaking engagement at a conference. The conference organizers (who I have issues with in general) asked for her slides ahead of time. After providing the slides, Nancy was told by the conference organizers that her time slot had been reduced from 60 minutes to 45. Accordingly, she adjusted her presentation and accompanying visuals. When she arrived to present, she realized that her time slot had not been reduced. It was still 60 minutes. Confused, she approached the organizers. They told her that once they saw her slides, they didn’t think it was possible for her to deliver the presentation in under 60 minutes, so they gave her a false time constraint. Nancy told them that the presentation she provided them was perfectly timed to be delivered in 60 minutes (of course, because Nancy always practices her presentations ahead of time). Thus, rightfully so, now that she had prepared for a 45 minute presentation, they were getting a 45 minute presentation.

Most poorly designed presentations include slides filled with text. The ideas that the presenter is trying to convey are suffocating. Breaking out one slide into multiple slides doesn’t increase the amount of information being presented, it simply allows each idea to shine. Instead of spending two minutes on one slide, spend 30 seconds on each of four slides.

If you still don’t believe you can’t move from slide to slide in a fairly rapid pace, I’ll leave you with a video of Larry Lessig whose presentation style is often referred to as, naturally, the Lessig Style. He takes the idea of separating your ideas onto individual slides to the absolute extreme. Still, his delivery style fits his presentation design style and create constant movement and change which helps keep the attention of his audience. I’m not saying you should design your presentations this way, but it goes to show what can truly be accomplished.


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  • libertymaniac

    Apes don’t have tails by the way Mr. Souza (RIP).