The number of slides you are allowed to use for your presentation seems to be very important to event managers. This is a very common constraint, and it is truly hard to figure out where this ‘rule’ is coming from. I’m writing this blog now because I heard it again today. I was asked to speak at a webinar about pitching ideas in a virtual meeting, and so I planned a short phone call with the organizer of the webinar to figure out the details. After a few minutes into the discussion I was asked to teach the audience how to pitch their idea on a single slide. Remember, this is about pitching your idea in virtual meetings.

I can think of a few situations where this could work, but a virtual meeting is not one of them. Quite the opposite.

A virtual meeting should use more slides.

I am really support using slides. I think visual support can bring many ideas to life, and in this case it’s for a pitch, a short presentation, so slides can be a great asset here. Images are just really hard to forget, and you absolutely want your idea to linger in the mind of your audience so they can heed your call to action! That action usually comes some time after the presentation anyway. So let’s make sure it sticks. Let me give you my perspective on the number of slides you should use. And please ignore the image used for this blog. It is just as useless as the slide-count-rule.

1. To start with, I’ve seen brilliant presentations with probably 100+ slides presented in maybe 20 minutes. I’ve also seen many brilliant presentations that only use a slide or two. In both cases, it was the presenter that made it work with the situation they were in.  

2. If you give a limitation on the number of slides, people will find other ways to achieve the same, and with that compromise the experience. ‘’You can only use 10 slides!’’ Okay, then I’ll just throw in a gazillion animations. Good luck with the distribution of the hand-outs.

3. There is no correlation between the number of slides and the time needed to tell a story. If you tell me I have 30 minutes, that is a clearly understandable limitation, and we can all work with that. It’s now up to me to figure out how to use that time, and how many slides I will need.

4. Our example at the start of this blog was about having your idea on a single slide. It’s always nice if you can pull that off, because this limitation can help you bring the idea back to its core, and focus only on the essential information. But please don’t present this, as it means that all information would be presented at once. And this is virtual; we don’t even know where you are on the slide. This way your audience is reading – and when they’re reading, they are not listening. I always use the Billboard-rule (or 3-second rule): if it take the audience more than 3 seconds to understand what’s on screen, you need to split it. Just like Billboards, they only need our attention for a few seconds.

5. If anything, a virtual meeting should use more slides, because the attention span is just shorter. When something changes on screen it pulls people back in; it startles them, and wakes the up. This is a great tool to keep their attention just a bit longer. But make sure you reduce the amount of information presented on each slide, to keep it digestible. And you should be fine.

Please note that it’s about the change on screen, not the need to use slides. If you share slides virtually, via Zoom or any other tool, at this time you are hardly visible to the audience – your slides will over about 90% of the screen. Sometimes it’s better to stop sharing and get everyone’s webcam on screen. This help you to create that human connection again.