Keeping it Simple for PowerPoint Slides

“If you lock a soldier in a room with a cannon ball he’ll either lose it, break it, or eat it.” – Command Sergeant Major Lenton

Some people love to complicate things. Being one of these people, I can say in our defense that we’re just trying to make it “better”. Usually we’re doing just the opposite, unfortunately. We know about the KISS* principle, but nobody defined simplicity for us yet. Here’s a definition I heard this week that I really like:

Simplicity is the inability to f**k it up.

Many good example of needless complication is found in presentations. When we’re nervous or emotional we’re not always at our best, and public speaking is a great way to scare normally competent and composed people into a puddle of lumpy pudding. So here’s a simple rule to follow when creating a slide presentation. If you absolutely need to use a slide presentation. Consider first not using PowerPoint if you can.

10/20/30 Rule

10 – No more than 10 slides. Get to the point. If you don’t know what your point is, or what you’re expecting from your audience , then go back to your presentation and distill it. Are you asking them to make a decision, be educated, be inspired, act? Get focus, get results.

20 – No more than 20 minutes a presentation. This is a variation of the 10 rule. Get really clear on what you want from your audience, then strip away everything that doesn’t do with that focus. Being prepared and focused is a huge message, and the message to your audience is this: I respect you and your time enough to actually think and prepare enough to get to the point. I spent the time and thought on this topic so you don’t have to.

30 – Minimum 30 point font. This isn’t an eye test. Do your audience a favour and leave everything you think you need to read out loud in your notes. 6 words per line, and 6 lines per slide is plenty. Alternately, take the age of the oldest member of your audience and divide by two. That’s your font size. Don’t put everything you’re going to say on the slides because you don’t know the material well enough.

Here’s another example of a presentation that would have benefited from a bit of focus. It’s great that the presenter put so much thought into it. It’s too bad that he or she didn’t take the next step and figure out what the point was. As the General said: “When we understand this slide, we’ll have won the war  [in Afghanistan]“.

*Keep It Simple Stupid, or Keep it Simple Scouter

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