Focus Your Slides by Consumption Method

Slides come in all shapes and sizes. Ditch the generalized rules for slide formatting and start with the consumer of your presentation for best fit.
Joey Alfano
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Co-Founder of Superchart
November 15, 2022

Slide based presentation software is ideal for laying out ideas, especially in a business context. This is why tools like Google Slides, Keynote, and PowerPoint are so pervasively used for business reporting needs. They give you a lot of flexibility and style options within a familiar canvas.

Most of the tools we use for work require very structured information from the start. A blank slide is exactly the opposite. It doesn't pretend to know what type of information you're going to include. It's perfectly fine and accepting if you want charts/graphs, text, and business graphics all in the same place. It will allow you to format and design to your heart's desire. It provides near endless configurability and remains approachable to any user. It allows you to express yourself and put a personal touch (or commentary) alongside your report.

… but People Like (and Need) Rules…

Endless configurability is nice, until you want things to be organized and repeatable. Trying to keep presentations consistent across a large sales team is near impossible.

In order to combat the growing pile of sub-optimal slides and presentations, slide gurus have continued to set rules around the proper information and structure of slides. Here are just a few examples. You'll notice a theme.

  • The 2/4/8 Rule: two minutes of content on a slide, no more than four bullet points a slide, and no more than eight words per bullet point.
  • The 5/5/5 Rule: no more than five words per line, five lines per slide, or five text heavy slides in a row.
  • The 10/20/30 Rule: ten slides, twenty minutes of presentation, and thirty point font.
  • The 6x6 Rule: no more than six bullet points per slide and no more than six words per bullet point.

All of these rules are focused on live presentations. Though there aren't many verifiable statistics on the matter, we'd venture to guess that most slide decks are either never presented live or never presented in their entirety. Many more are created as business reports or leave behind decks.

Some Really Great Presentations Follow None of These Rules

Let's look at a couple of good examples to understand why decks don't always follow the same standards.

Startup Genome's Global Startup Ecosystem Report

Market analysis reports often end up in slide format. They're text heavy, but integrate a significant amount of information and data. That data can be in tables and/or complex visualizations.

Startup Genome has been producing useful reports like this on the startup ecosystem. The example below contains numerous fonts and sizes (12 pt to 30+pt), hundreds of slides, and hundreds of words per slide. There is no intent to present it live, but rather to read the report like a book. Because of this, they follow none of the aforementioned 'best practices' for slide creation. And yet, they end with a very compelling report in slide format.

Startup Genome GIF slide example.
Startup Genome Slides

AirBNB's Product Slides and Pitch Deck

Product overviews are often found broken out into a slide based presentation. Most of the time, these simply include screenshots and maybe some commentary on functionality. They're incredibly visual in nature, but not necessarily meant to be presented live.

A great example of this is in the Product section of AirBNB's example pitch deck on Slidebean. It's solely images, both decorative and functional screenshots. It's laid out so that the reader can pass the deck along to someone else and it still makes perfect sense without any additional commentary.

AirBNB GIF of product slides from Slidebean.
AirBNB Product Slides

Google's 'How Google Works' Book Preview

Often times, employee onboarding materials and ways of working are distributed in slide format and are never actually presented. This allows an employee to read through the material on their own time while also giving an HR department the flexibility to lay out information appropriately.

Google has a great example of this type of material. Before releasing a whole book on the topic, Google released slides that give a very clear representation of company culture and ways of working. It is part animation and part written storytelling. It's proof once again that slides are used for a variety of purposes.

How Google Works GIF slides example
How Google Works Slides

Starting with the Slide Consumption Method

Given the fact that slides and presentations do (and should) come in all shapes and sizes, the creation of a presentation should start with the consumption method. Instead of following rules on text size and total bullet points, ask yourself these three questions to determine the proper format for consumption:

1) How Will the ‘End Users’ of the Presentation Consume the Content?

Is the deck going to be presented live? If so, what is the size of the audience? How will they be able to see the content on slide? Will they have access to the content after the presentation?

If the goal is not to present live, how will the deck be distributed? Will it be printed out or distributed digitally? How much control will you have over the distribution or how widely will it be distributed?

2) What Is the Profile of the Intended Audience?

Is the audience internal to your organization? If so, are these executives or employees? How much time will they have to review the content? And at what level will they understand the information contained in the deck? Are they intimately familiar with the content or only able to understand summarized information?

If it's an external audience, are these customers/clients, investors/advisors, partners, etc? How familiar are they with you and/or your company? How are they most likely to review the content and how does the presentation help them do so?

3) What Is the Intended Outcome for the Slides?

Is it solely informational? Are you intending to drive a decision? If a consumer of the deck walks away with a single takeaway, what is that conclusion? And how is the setup of information beneficial in continuing to drive toward that conclusion?

Conclusion

In conclusion, avoid hard and fast rules on slide content without understanding the presentation consumption method. Some slides should have lots of text, and that is ok. Some slides should have no text, and that is ok too. Start with the intended audience and their most likely consumption path, then use that as a basis to understand the appropriate layout of information.

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