PowerPoint Math: When in Rome, do as the Romans do

In my previous post, I mentioned an article by BBC Magazine that contains some interesting information about PowerPoint. Here are two figures from that article worth pondering:

  • It is estimated that businesses make around 30 million PowerPoint presentations every day.
  • Including time for starting up and shutting down, the average PowerPoint session lasts 250 minutes.

Those figures, if accurate, are incredible. Let’s break them down a bit more.

In order not to be sensationalist, let’s assume that the above figures wildly overestimate the reality. Let’s assume that instead of 30 million PowerPoint presentations a day, there are only 1 million per day (i.e., 3.3% of the given figure). And let’s assume that the average PowerPoint presentation lasts exactly 60 minutes and not 250 minutes (i.e., one quarter of the given figure).

Let’s now add one final factor and assume that the average PowerPoint presentation involves 15 people (audience, presenter and technicians all included). Fair? OK. Let’s see how the math works out.

1,000,000 presentations x 1 hour x 15 people

= 15,000,000 hours of people’s time each day

So far, so good. But 15 million is a big number to get our heads around. Let break it down further.

15,000,000 hours = 625,000 days = 1,712 years

1,712 years!? The Roman Empire didn’t last that long!

"Caesar, we've got it all worked out. First, we'll bore the Carthaginians to death with bullet point after bullet point. Then we'll conquer them. From Carthage we'll head east to Cappadocia and numb them with charts."

That figure – 1,712 years of people’s time devoted to a PowerPoint presentation every day – is well and truly breath-taking. And don’t forget, that’s my conservative number!

Now, many of those presentations are interesting and worthwhile. But you and I both know that a significant number of them are a waste of time. That is a shame.

Rome wasn’t built in a day; likewise, your PowerPoint presentation shouldn’t be cobbled together in haste. Put some effort into it. Make it stimulating and useful for your audience. If you don’t, and if you present often, your reputation as a public speaker will, like the Roman Empire, suffer its own Decline and Fall – and it won’t take nearly as long.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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11 Responses to PowerPoint Math: When in Rome, do as the Romans do

  1. John Kluempers says:

    I loved how you recalcuated those hours into years and put that into use humorously by saying that’s longer than the existence of the Roman empire. I bet some people at PP presentations think very much the same thing — or even longer. Like the Big Bang.
    Keep it up!

  2. John:

    I thought about your use of Rome and came up with another empire instead:



    • John Zimmer says:

      Richard, thanks for taking the time to write the article. I like the construction-of-the-pyramids anaology. With luck, this dialogue will not only lead to a few more useful PowerPoints, it will stimulate interest in ancient history. Cheers! John

  3. Dear John,

    Congratulations. You actually found the reason why the Roman Empire broke down. Fortunately there is compensation in store. In my training as an adult educator I was asked once: Do you have slides… or do you have something to say. To have or to be… that is the question.


  4. John:

    It’s probably a coincidence that you came up with the same 15 million man-hours per day that Dave Paradi estimated back in 2003. However, Dave took it one step further and also put a dollar value on it.
    See: http://www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com/articles/wasting_250M_bad_ppt.htm

    Also, the 250 minutes refers to the session time for using the software to prepare a presentation, rather than the time for giving it. See Slide 3 here: http://www.comit.dk/Files/Billeder/c10_campaign/DK%20Introducing%20Exchange%20Server%202010-u%20demo.pdf


    • John Zimmer says:

      Richard, thanks for the comment and the links. I had not seen the article by Dave Paradi. It is interesting that he started with the same 30-million-presentations-per-day figure that I got from the BBC and then applies different conservative factors to arrive at the same number of hours.

      Adding a financial cost was a great idea. (I note that Dave wrote another post to help organizations figure out just how much they are losing – http://www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com/articles/real_cost_presn.htm.)

      The scary thing is that Dave’s article was written in 2003 so with inflation that figure is bound to be higher today. An even scarier thought: that both of our conservative projections are too conservative!



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  6. Brought a great smile to my face, did this, particularly the map caption!
    Well worked out from the original figures, John. I’m still amazed even with your conservatism.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Chris, thanks much for the comment. I try to keep the posts balanced between informative and entertaining, so feedback like yours is much appreciated and a great motivator to carry on. As for my conservatism, I think that, subconsciously, I was too afraid to deal with the real magnitude of the problem! John

  7. Max Atkinson says:

    Thanks for giving the piece I did last year for the BBC website another plug!

    And congratulations on coming up with even more alarming numbers than I managed a few years ago – when I calculated that the cost of boring presentations to the UK economy was in excess of £7.8 billion a year, mainly because of PowerPoint. http://bit.ly/cb3FQv

    If only more people would read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the history and analysis of the pros & cons of PowerPoint in my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ (http://bit.ly/9VPZLb) companies and organizations could simultaneously save billions and improve the quality of life of audiences!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Cheers, Max. Happy to do it. I encourage all of my readers to check out Max’s blog and books. They are chuck-full of useful information on presentations and much else besides.

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