How many PowerPoint slides should I have?

by Peter Watts

When people feel they need something to be really big, you have to wonder if they’re compensating for something.

Let’s take super-sized slide-decks for example. What hidden inadequacies might all that PowerPoint be trying to hide?

If your megabytes are bulking into gigabytes, take a moment to check that you’re not compensating for something:

Inadequate preparation?
Presenting direct from an unmodified standard slide-deck of a couple of hundred catch-all slides is a sure-fire sign of a presenter who did no more preparation beyond bringing their power chord.

Inadequate confidence?
When in doubt, leave nothing out! Going into battle armed with every single slide you can possibly find is a frequent clue that you don’t know your message.

Inadequate audience understanding?
If you don’t understand the audience, it’s awful hard to meet their needs. The one-size-fits-all maxi-presentation is the inevitable response.

Inadequate product knowledge?
When you don’t know your product, the slides have to do the work for you; after all, you’re relying on them for all the information.

Inadequate skills?
Giant-sized PowerPoints are no compensation for mini-sized skills. Competent presenters tame slide-decks down to manageable proportions. Really skilled presenters hardly use slide-decks at all.

Consistently strip your slide decks down to reveal their messages, or audiences might start stripping you down to reveal what you’re hiding.

Check the amount of talk-time that each slide is giving you. Good working slides will sustain you for at least three minutes of talk-time. As you grow in experience, each slide should be capable of sustaining you for ever longer periods:

  • Beginner: Three minutes
  • Intermediate: Five minutes
  • Pro: Seven minutes
  • Über-Pro: Who needs slides?

As your confidence levels develop, try having sections of your presentation where you switch off the slides altogether and talk directly to your audience.

How many PowerPoint slides should you have? As few as possible.


  1. Peter, agree with almost every word. By coincidence I have just made an argument that even great speeches can be improved with a couple of slides….To sum up my argument in a sentence, for those of us with visual minds writing up the key points may help retention.
    See what you think..

    • Hi Bill. Having read your post, I think you’re absolutely right. Slides, or rather visuals, are an important aspect of getting the message across, especially considering the number of people whose preferred medium is visual.

      At the same time, I think of some of the great speeches, such as MLK’s “I have a dream”. No visuals there, just an incredible orator with an amazing voice and a ringing message.

      Such speeches are rare though, the exception, as are the speakers who make them. For the rest of us, a few selected slides will add the emphasis of reinforcing the vital main points.

      Great blog article!

  2. Useful article, thank you. You’ve just saved audiences everywhere from slide after slide after slide of badly- and rapidly-presented data. Here’s a crazy idea — when you present, create your visual as you go along! Even if you’re not an artist, you can use a paper flipchart and a fat-tipped marker to great effect. Literally, you can illustrate your point as you make it. If you can’t draw it on the spot, try this: Lightly draw on a flipchart pad before you go into the presentation room, then just trace the lines as you speak. Just a thought, but in my experience it really gains the attention of the audience.

    • It’s a great idea: Live creation of your slides via flipchart. I’m a big fan of the art. Using a flipchart adds that 3D quality of live performance, and I’ll be putting up a blog on the subject in the coming weeks. I’d be interested to have your comments added to it once it’s on the site. Do you have any pictures of what a well drawn flipchart can look like? I’d love to add them to the post

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