PowerPoint Hell: Why Do We Put Up With 70 Slide Presentations?

“We spent literally an hour trying to decide which whether the to use a period, capital letters, or the size of the boxes in the presentation. All this discussion went back and forth for so long that I could not believe we could waste all this time on something so trivial. But then again, all of our prep meeting are like this. It seems more time is spent on this than the actual content.”

As my friend told me this, I could just see her stomach churning as she was regretting going into work for the prep session for yet another monstrous deck.

I had lunch with a CHRO friend of mine last week when she told me the story of a vendor presenting a 70 plus PowerPoint slide deck. By the time they were finished, everyone was just plain exhausted and worn out.

But did they get they content right? Well, yes and no.

70 plus slides? Rethink your presentation

PowerPoint has taken over corporate endeavors. You know it is a “major” meeting when someone has a deck of slides. When I see that my thought always is — what in the hell did we use before deck? We talked it through, I think.

I remember reading once about a CEO who would wait until people came in with slides, and he would say, “Just walk me through it and forget the deck.” He didn’t like the time wasted on PowerPoint decks. He just wanted them to tell the story.

I recall presenting a few weeks back and I used an age old technique. I started off by telling a story based on what we were discussing. By framing this story up front, I got instant audience connection to what we were talking about. My deck was a print out with only two (2) slides. We had a great discussion and I did not even pull that tiny deck out until near the end of the meeting.

Mission accomplished.

If you need a 70 slide PowerPoint deck to get your point across, maybe you need to rethink your presentation. Do you actually need all those pages? Not only that, but when you see this level of volume you can rest assured that the slides are busy with circle, semi-circles, multiples of everything, fade in/fade out, etc.

Have you ever driven down a highway and noticed a billboard while you are driving at 60 plus mph? With one glance, you got it. The more info that you add, the less clear your message is.

Is your deck the teleprompter?

I tend to think that these large PowerPoint decks are the cousin of the teleprompter and the brother of the notecards. It makes sure that you will not forget anything. If I put everything on a slide, it keeps me on track.

I remember a politician a few years back got on stage and her notes got pulled out of order — and she was flustered. She kept asking for time to get her notes straight. She was frozen and she could not continue her speech.

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It  makes me wonder: What would happen if your deck was misplaced and you had to do it solo without the aid of the slides?

However, if you concentrate on your story and what you are trying to tell, you will become a lot more confident, and that makes for a stronger connection with your audience.

Simplicity has benefits

The Harvard Business Review‘s Nancy Duarte judges PowerPoint presentations by applying the “glance test,” saying that it should take no more than three (3) seconds for viewers to intellectually process and comprehend a slide.

If it takes any longer than that, the audience is going to be reading your slides and not hearing your message.powerpoint-tips-first-slide-design-1

Simplicity has its benefits. If they are going to read or glance, make it so that they can get to your point within three seconds.

Take a quick look at the slide here and you get what simplicity means. This allows you to tell your story and make the story the business case and tell a compelling story.

So next time you feel a deck beckoning you, let your story be the real story, which will be remembered a lot longer than a 70 plus slide deck.


Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


4 Comments on “PowerPoint Hell: Why Do We Put Up With 70 Slide Presentations?

  1. Amen! For years, I’ve wanted to show up a pitch meeting with a white board. It funny though. I’ve polled many colleagues for quite some time now and asked if they like powerpoint presentations. Most say no. I then ask how they would react if a prospective vendor showed up without one. Most say that they would think they were unprepared. Go figure!

  2. Nice article!

    This is so true, if you keep your slides overloaded with content you can never achieve your goal as a presenter. Your message should be crystal clear with every slide you turn.
    Keeping it simple with good visuals can easily grab the attention of your audience. Here are few tips that I would like to add as they resonate with the article http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/slidecomet-1768968-create-presentations-world/


  3. Good article. There is a simple rule about Power Points in the investment community (credit goes to Guy Kawasaki at Garage Technology Ventures) for presentations and I think it should be reflected in all presentations. 10/20/30 that’s it. It refers to two maximums and one minimum:

    Maximum 10 minute presentation. You can leave extra time for Q&A and general conversation with your audience but the presentation supported by the Power Point should never exceed 10 minutes.

    Maximum 20 Slides. No idea is so complicated it cannot be covered in 20 slides – I’ve seen it done in 10. This teaches the presenter about economy of thought and impression and forces a degree of abstraction onto the slides themselves. You can’t present your whole speech as a series of slides if you only use 10.

    Minimum 30 point font. This means your slide can be read from anywhere in the room. It also means that you will be limited to only a few really cogent thoughts per slide. There is nothing worse than seeing a slide with 14 bullets on it in 5 point font – actually there is: sitting through someone presenting a slide with 14 bullets in 5 point font.

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