Forums

I have been to several presentations which are highly technical in nature (I am a network administrator by trade). These presentations are given by highly knowledgeable people to an audience of "peers" who come from many different companies.

I have seen presentations that last 2 hours and that have 150+ slides. Interestingly enough, I found most of them to be extremely valuable and very engaging. Further, it seemed that to convey the complex topics the quantity of slides was necessary (if no whiteboard for interactive drawing was present).

Given the nature of these presentations, is this too many slides? I can certainly appreciate the need to keep the slides to an absolute minimum when presenting to people like executives or those not necessarily in the same field or level, but are there different rules for presenting technical topics to technical peers?

Thanks for the great podcasts!

Mark's picture

You are in the minority - in my experience a TINY minority - if you find 2 hour, 150-slide presentations to be good/effective. This is one slide every 45 seconds or so... it's just crazy.

It is WAAY too many slides.

Mark

jprlopez's picture

technical presentations having 150+ slides... I wonder if these are really presentations or technical trainings.

I would not be surprised nor bored if it were trainings that had interactive sessions in between and paced appropriately.

but going through the entire 150 slides in two hours, this is just me, but I would personally find that mind numbing :)

aspiringceo's picture

I spent Thursday and Friday at a pan european workshop which by its nature was technical and research orientated, part of the workshop consisted of each of the member countries giving a 15 to 20 min presentation. The slide count for the 9 presentations was 9, 12, 16, 19, 21, 22, 24, and a mind numbing 67 ( this particular presentation also used a blue background with white, light blue and red text, which meant that the red couldnt be seen on the projection screen)

A few of the presentations used excel tables which couldnt be seen as they were too small. Most used weird and wonderful animation. Some just read directly from the screen (yea, thanks I can read) and 1 managed to get 118 words (I counted I was that bored ) on a single slide along with a title in large font.

As for me (using my new found MT skills), well my 20 min presentation had no animation, no fancy fonts and black text on an off white background. Each slide consisted of bullet points and I used a total of 5 slides.

All of the presenters sat during their presentations, I stood.

I wonder why I got complimented and the insistance that I attend the next workshop in May. Thanks Mike and Mark

trandell's picture

It really depends on how deep the topic is, but I agree that 150+ sounds like this fellow is an awful information designer. A training *might* be able to get away with that if the intention is for the audience to walk away with an electronic or printed copy to begin with and not to read 150+ slides.

The key is to keep your slide count as low as possible (duh!). Keep asking yourself questions like "What would happen if I took this slide out?", "Can I combine any slides?". I abhor PowerPoint as it is forcing the cannibalization of language by making it acceptable to write in sentence fragments and incomplete thoughts, but we're stuck with this evil, so do your best with it.

If you want to read an interesting take on how PowerPoint is ruining our language, read Edward Tufte's "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within".

Here are couple more references to check out on writing and thinking clearly.

http://www.ai.uga.edu/mc/WriteThinkLearn_files/frame.htm
http://grcpublishing.grc.nasa.gov/editing/vidcover.cfm
https://mit.imoat.net/handbook/

aspiringceo's picture

Thanks for the links. I have to write a paper on my project in the next few months and the links will help me a lot.

Edmund

rwwh's picture

The question is not really whether the 150 slides all contain usable information (they might), but whether the audience could retain anything.

I am a chemist myself, and I do violate the "no more than 6" rule regularly in scientific presentations to make place for many inductive and deductive arguments (demanded by a scientific audience).

For almost all other presentations, one should try to limit the information that has to come across to the audience to [b]one[/b] fact. Mention it seven times, and half of the audience will say they heard it once :?: Adding any other message than the core message in the same presentation will only weaken it.

GlennR's picture

I recently revamped my powerpoint presentation. Note that it is not a technical presentation, rather I was introducing CRM at a new staff orientation.

Heavily influenced by MT and http://www.presentationzen.com/ I switched from text-based slides to slides using pictures to illustrate each point. I found nearly all of the images on Google Images.

For example, instead of creating a bullet point that said, "Turning Data Into Knowledge," I had a picture of Brent Spiner, "Data" from Star Trek: Next Generation, next to a picture of a wall of bookcases. Yes, it did get a chuckle.

My next goal is to reduce the number of slides I used.

Tip: Want to know if your font is big enough. Depending on your monitor size, if you stand 6-8 feet back from your it, and you can still read the text or see the picture clearly, then you should be okay.

Please avoid certain shades of green and yellow. Your audience may contain people who have varying degrees of color blindness, and one of them may be interviewing you for a position in the future.

chuckbo's picture

Your mileage may vary, but the rule of thumb I use when I'm creating presentations is that I average 3 minutes/slide. In fact, it's really more like I spend about 5 minutes for every significant slide, but I like to have header slides that I just use to signal when I'm moving into a new area. Since my agenda and/or intro has already forecasted the outline, I find that having those headers helps people keep up with where you are and stay comfortable that your timing is on track.

chuck

pmoriarty's picture

I am a big fan of the 10/20/30 rule as outlined by Guy Kawasaki in [url=http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html]his blog post[/url].

In short, it says:

10 slides
20 minutes for the total presentation
30 point font is the smallest you should use

While Guy talks primarily about making a pitch to a VC, I think the underlying concepts can be applied to any presentation. In a technical presentation, I would stick to introducing the big ideas and any relevant diagrams. Speak to the big ideas and the diagrams.

mjpeterson's picture

The 150 slides in 2 hours is a presenter is focusing on themselves not the audience. That type of presenter is showing what they know and showing much they know or how much data they have, not about what the audience will understand or get out of the presentation. I bet if you asked almost anyone from that audience even an hour after the presentation they will have forgotten nearly everything. If no one remembers any of your information after the presentation is over, have you really met your goals for the presentation.

pneuhardt's picture

150 slides in a technical presentation says to me that there are two issues in play. One is the common confusion between a presentation and documentation. Documentation is a record containing all the details and analysis that go in to a project as well as a detailed description of the expected end result. A presentation is a summary of the project that conveys ideas and concepts with only enough detail to support the discussion, not necessarily the conclusions reached. It is, at most, a Cliff Notes view in to the project.

The second factor is that when a presentation is given to a technical audience (and let's face it, technical audiences are top-heavy with high-C people), it’s creators tend to play to the high-C disdain for presentations as "show" and try to come off more as “real” documentation. And as we know, documentation (substance) over presentation (style) is all the high-C folks are interested in to begin with, or so they will tell you. (For the record, I’m a technical person from way back and in now way do I feel that presentations are all style and not substance. I may be a gear-head, but I’m as low-C as they come. Still, I know many a technician who would describe this situation in exactly these terms.)

(A third, less polite factor I can think of is that any 150+ slide presentation designed for any time span less than a 2-day seminar is probably more about demonstrating the PowerPoint skills of the presenter than it is about the information being conveyed, but I’m trying to cut back on sarcasm and overly opinionated ramblings for Lent.)

I am currently giving presentations on the same topic (a new system development project due to complete this summer) to two audiences: technical staff and executive management. As my company is being bought out, I have to give this spiel to both our current organizations and to those of the new owners. Both audiences get 40 minutes of me presenting and 20 minutes Q&A after. Both presentations have 9 slides, and the first 5 slides of both presentations are the same. The execs get one slide for a technical overview and 3 on matters such as ROI, workflow efficiencies and business growth opportunities. For the technical folks, the numbers are reversed.

The only people in either audience that have expressed a feeling of being shortchanged are the high-C technical geeks who didn’t get enough “documentation” in the slides. To a person, these are the folks that didn’t want to be there anyway because presentations are “a waste of time that would be better spent in doing and not in talking.” I honestly don’t think I could have ever made these folks happy in a presentation format. The best I could do was offer them my phone number and email address if they had questions after reading the full documentation set provided to them on the company intranet. Those technical people who are actually interested in learning more about how the software they build is used in the “real world” were all happy with the presentation (but only because the documentation was also available to them.)

Mark's picture

I'm sorry this has taken me so long. I regret my absence.

Rwwh says something very powerful above - what can the audience retain? It's ALWAYS about the audience. Folks just CAN'T process that much.

Again, my apologies for my delay.

Mark

jhack's picture

thought I'd share this info on how to give a bad presentation:

http://www.guidestar.org/DisplayArticle.do?articleId=1148

John