PPT Design- Is Less Really More?

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You have profiled your audience. You are clear on what message/point you want to put across. Question is how do I design this message? How much text can I use before a negative impact takes place on communication?

Let’s look at 3 different approaches to putting text on slides.

Approach 1: Slideuments (slide+document)
This first approach is where a person “presents” using a document. Not a slide designed for actual delivery purposes.  This style is still surprisingly common. On average 40-50% of the slides I see in the corporate world here in Greater China fall into this category.

This is where a presenter covers their whole slide with text. Minimum coverage of 80+ words to anything up to a maximum coverage of 300 words.

3 Reasons why this approach is still common?
- No clear (laser focus) from presenteron key message
- “Safer” in the eyes of the presenter as all the information is displayed
- Takes some time to change “document slides” into “delivery” ones
Problem with the slidument approach is that according to Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) your audience doesn’t know whether to read your slide or listen to you. After a few minutes the audience will most likely lose focus, become bored and the whole meeting or presentation is a waste of time. A very negative effect on learning outcomes and communication is the net result.

Note: “Delivery” slides ensure that the presenter has value. No value = no point in presenting the information. BUT…text heavier slides can be used for non-delivery purposes. This can be for filing/recording purposes. It is still important however to think about slide design and formatting for readability though.

Approach 2: Minimal Text  (Lessig or Takashi methods)
This second approach is the complete opposite of the Slidument approach. A great example of this can be seen in Steve Jobs or TED talk presentations. Very few words are used on a PPT slide (15 words or less). Words are often supplemented by pictures. This approach is becoming increasingly popular. It can be a very effective way to create anticipation and bring a more story-telling style to communicating your message.

Sounds good. Why don’t more people use this less is more approach?

-Requires more “planning” “design” + “Rehearsal time” .
-Delivery skills of the presenter must be very good
-Requires audience to follow you throughout the presentation –no “visual aid” used for large parts of the presentation

Approach 3: Moderate Approach (Text reinforce method)
As the name suggests, this is a middle road of the first two approaches. At its heart is the 4x5 rule.
4 bullets + 5 words per bullet with only key words remaining. Maximum 20 words. Points need to be stripped to their minimum. Pictures + visuals should be used to represent text throughout.  

Animation is used to control information flow to help with narration and re-inforceyour main message. As the presentation moves on so does the next snippet of text/picture/visual on your slide.

Research (Yue et al 2013) suggests that if your delivery content (the actual words you say) is slightly different from what is written on your slides then it will make your brain work harder cognitively BUT no work overload.

In conclusion, when taking into consideration overall effectiveness + realistic preparation times for busy people, we would recommend the moderate text approach for daily work presentations. However if you have time to prepare, polish and are more of an advanced presenter then aim for less text and more towards the minimal text approach - less is more.

Would be great to hear from you on this topic. Do you agree? What are your experiences? We will publish the best ideas in our next article.

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