How much info should you place on a slide?

Posted on October 21, 2009


One way you can help your PowerPoint slides support you is to avoid placing extraneous words on the screen. Your audience will attempt to read everything you show them, so don’t just put up a data sheet to show an image of your product. Everyone will try to read and absorb all the data and you will lose their attention for the length of time that requires.

Isolate the image or words that you want to display and remove everything else. If you are showing a large spreadsheet or large blocks of copy, enlarge or highlight the few numbers or words on which you want the audience to focus and then move on to visually emphasizing the next set of data.

Many rules of thumb have been published regarding the ideal number of words to incorporate in a slide. My feeling is that six words per line, six lines per slide is ideal but can vary slightly depending on the context. If you have 12 bullet points to include under a heading, don’t try to jam them all onto one illegible slide. Put six on one slide and the next six on another. Duplicate the first slide and replace each of the bullets on the second to keep the heading in exactly the same spot on both slides. When you change them, the first set of bullet points will be replaced smoothly by the next set without any visual jumps in the heading.

Additionally, photos generally will hold more interest and do a better job of providing contextual support for you than clip art that may have appeared in dozens of previous presentations. Take your own photos or visit Microsoft’s “clip art” gallery, which actually contains both free photos and clip art organized by category.

You also can find copyright-free photos on the government Web sites for NASA, NOAA, FEMA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Avoid just pulling images from a Google search or directly from Web sites without permission. This practice is a copyright violation.