The Right Number of Slides

People often ask me, “What is the right number of slides for a 20-minute (or 30-minute, or 40-minute, etc.) presentation.” I always respond the same way: “I don’t know. Three, 20, 50, 17, none?”

The right number of slides

There is no right answer. It depends on a number of variables, including the audience, the subject and the context. However, the number of slides in your presentation is less important than the way in which they are designed and used. I would rather watch a presentation with 50 well designed slides than one with 15 poorly designed slides.

Of course, you cannot disregard the time element. If you have 10 minutes and 200 slides, you’ll succeed in giving your audience a headache and not much else. You should use as many (well designed) slides as are necessary to enhance and support your message. No more, no less.

In 2010, I wrote a post on the same idea after reading an article by Seth Godin. I was prompted to revisit the issue after recently coming across a wonderful slide presentation on BBC News Magazine that is narrated by John Hockenberry, an American journalist and commentator who has been in a wheelchair since a car accident left him paralyzed.

In this presentation, Hockenberry shares the real message that people around the world should take away from the 2012 Paralympics that were held in London. The presentation lasts only three minutes but has, by my count, 45 slides. That’s one slide every four seconds. Yet not one of them was superfluous or out of place.

Many people mistakenly believe that having more slides is inherently bad. So they end up cramming too much information on fewer slides. You are much better off spreading the information across more slides. That way, you give each idea its own space and it is easier for the audience to digest. And you will probably be able to cover the material in less time.

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  1. Nice… You can probably hear me saying “Amen” from here! My answer is always “As few as you need to get the job done”. 🙂

  2. John,
    Very good video/show. But John Hockenberry’s voice is inimitably strong. He’s telling a story. Whether 7 or 77 slides, if the story is good — and told good, then the audience will sit back satisfied.
    John Kluempers

  3. When it comes to scientific presentations, I like to tell people “It’s less about the amount of slides than about the amount of information in your presentation and per slide.” A presentation with three slides packed chock full of barely legible information is not made better by the fact it only has three slides but worse. Had the same information been distributed on ten slides or possibly even twenty, it would be far more digestible.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

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CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

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World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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