Thursday, August 19, 2010

For Virtual Presentations a Slide Per Minute (or More) May Work Best

More evidence of our mounting inability to concentrate on anything that isn't singing, dancing and twittering in front of us... just a few years ago my rule of thumb was one PowerPoint slide for every five minutes of presentation. At most.

They had to be darn good slides. Charts. Sample screenshots. No stock images or bullet-point-list extravaganzas. But if any of speakers at our conferences had too many slides I'd tell them to condense and cut. People can't concentrate and understand if you're whipping along at breakneck speed.

Recently, though, I've begun to add in more and more slides to my presentations. Perhaps one slide for every 2-3 minutes offline and one for every 60 seconds online. Otherwise you just lose the audience. You fritter away their attention if one slide stays up there too long while you drone on and on.

This Tuesday I did a lengthy speech -- an online tutorial on membership site marketing. It had 45 slides for 75 minutes of talking. I did it live on GoToWebinar, so as I spoke I could see the "audience attention" bar flickering at me. The bar measures involvement, I'm not sure how, but probably seeing if people are surfing other windows or not. It was very educational. Whenever I changed slides, the attention bar would pop up to 83-100% involvement. When I talked for more than about 30 seconds while sitting on one slide, the bar would slowly flicker downwards until it sat at about 50%.

Wow. When I did a recorded version of the same tutorial later that night (GoToWebinar is great for live webinars, but the recording quality isn't fabulous, so I try to re-record in Camtasia for posterity even though it's more work), I cut out some of the slight meanderings and brought the speech in at precisely 61 minutes. So, it's probably better now.

However, for my next tutorial, I'm going to ramp up the slide count and try to get it to one per every 50 seconds. The key, though, is I won't be presenting such densely populated slides. Less content per slide. Just enough to be useful and support the speech itself with examples. And to give that continual "flickering" faster-slideshow-feeling that I think may work best in this environment in the Twitter age we now all live in.


  1. I remember you commenting on how Bryan and I present too many slides. It was valid. I'm glad to see people are catching up with us ;-)

  2. do we know that we're not simply getting to see feedback from what we already knew was going on anyway? I mean, we don't write direct mail to keep everyone reading. We write it to keep a much smaller percentage reading, and less than 5% acting. If you're a huckster at a carnival giving your spiel, do you worry more about the folks at the fringe of the crowd wandering off, or the couple people up front with the excitement in their eyes, taking it all in? Do what keeps everyone interested and I really doubt you'll still be keep those unusual few (who will actually act) excited any more.

  3. Anne, we're working on making recordings for GoToWebinar even more painless, in the meantime you might want to try - it's free ;)

    Bernardo de Albergaria

  4. First, I have to concur with John's thoughts. Obviously it's more beneficial to have a generally-interested audience than a generally-uninterested one. But the ability to monitor their reactions in real-time, and catering your presentation accordingly, runs the risk of pandering to your audience the way a politician panders to public opinion polls.

    Second, what are your thoughts about animated slides? While I know that this effect (like any effect) can be overdone, I have to think that a thoughtfully-animated slide would have almost the same effect as switching to a new one?

  5. Hi Anne! I gotcha beat! I did 121 Slides in 5 minutes for a budget committee presentation.

    It smoked, And so did I. Fired on the spot. HAHAHAHHA

  6. Hi Anne,

    That level of attention going away from the webinar is definitely normal. Give people 10 seconds of free time in today's wired society and they are off to their e-mail screen, checking a sports score, or tweeting.

    When stuff really counts, I'll do 3-4 slides per minute. In fairness, those 3-4 slides might just be "motion" or new content appearing on a slide. (Example, a bullet at a time instead of the whole list of bullet points --- even though I rarely use bullets.)

    The other thing that works really well is to make it a point to mix in commands and prompts that encourage the audience to look.

    "This is a really important point, take a look at this chart."

    "I didn't pick this photo by chance, look at it closely."

    "Notice where the green line on this chart starts to dip. What happens there? Well..."

    It helps to make the visual parts of the presentation "interactive" ... as opposed to simple existing as "background" to look at from time to time. People will pay attention to it if you sell them on the value of doing so.

    Nice post, and, I'm loving your new SSI content (that's how I made my way over to your blog today). :-)

    Be well,
    Michael Cage

  7. I think that too often we use "attention deficit" as an excuse for why people don't like our content. It's actually not even a new excuse. I've been hearing it for the past twenty years when reading rules of thumb for various types of media.

    The reality is that people stop engaging when they lose interest. Most people don't tweet or surf on their iPhones during a movie nor do they read a book for only one minute at a time and go off and do something else. A TED talk is 18 minutes and some have less than five slides.

    The problem is that too many presentations are information-focused rather than user focused. They try to push the most amount of information in the least amount of time possible. Often what gets lost is the chance to engage someone in actually thinking about what you've said. If you challenge people's thinking, force them to question their assumptions, show them that their beliefs about how the world works don't hold up, they will stay engaged. If you spew facts, you'd better have a lot of pretty charts because that's about the only thing that's going to keep their attention.