May 14, 2009

How many slides for a 30 minute presentation?

I have already answered this question in one of my previous post here (How many slides should your presentation have?). Then why am I writing on it again? In the last one month I have seen umpteen number of Google searches for this. There are scores of people out there who are facing this question and so I thought I will nail this issue once and for all.

The Question: How many slides for a 30/20/10 or 5 minute presentation?
The Answer: It does not matter. Have the right content, say one thing per slide and finish before the allotted time. Do not worry how many slides your presentation runs into.

Even if you realize that there is no ideal number there are various reasons which will make you worry about the original question. This is something I want to discuss in today's post. The reasons why you are forced to think on the number of slides?

Concern #1: Printing handouts. Lesser number of slides means lesser number of prints.
Concern #2: Time management. If I have more slides I will exceed the time

Answer #1: If you are going to present more slides then you need more prints. This might make your handout bulky and will have lesser content on each page. Looks like waste of space right? Wrong! You should never print slides and give it as handouts in the first place. A handout should be prepared separately and should capture the main points of your presentation. Why print something which cannot stand alone without your presence. Read more on handouts: Pick of the Week: Why do you need Handouts?

Answer #2: Time management is the main concern why people want to know how many slides is right. You can manage time by planning like this: If you have three sections in your presentation and 30 minutes, then first decide on how many minutes should you spend behind each section. If you allocate 10 minutes for section 1 then ask yourself, "How much content should I share with my audience so that i finish within 10 minutes?".

The presentation content is your input (leading indicator) and the no. of slides is your output (lagging indicator). To manage time, focus on the input that goes into the presentation and not the output.

Once you have zeroed-in on the right content it all depends on your presentation style. If you present visuals and want small bits of information per slide then you might run into many slides. If you are putting up complex information (a table for example) and want to elaborate on it, then just 2/3 slides might take up 10 minutes.

The bottom line is, do not worry on the number of slides. Know how much time you have and decide on how much information can you share within that time. How does it matter if your presentation has 10 slides or 20?

It's not over yet. To end today's post let me ask you something. Arvind, a sales manager, has to make a 20 minute presentation in his office and his boss has put a upper cap of 5 slides. Arvind does not feel that he can 'put' all the content in just 5 slides. What should he do? How can he put 10 slides' matter into 5? How can he circumvent the law without breaking it?

Update (Sept 2013)
I have written a new post about it.
Presentation FAQs: #1 How many slides in my presentation?


  1. To comply witht the 5 slide mandate, Arvind should only put information onthe slides that is absolutely critical in explaining his point like graphs, charts and architecture diagrams and a bulleted list of conclusions as the last slide. If Arvind is knowledgeable about the topic he is going to be speaking on he shold have no trouble speaking to it eloquently without the aid of slides. Arvind should also remember that many times depending on the material being presented utilizing a whtie board or flip chart may be more effective.

    Regardless of whether there is a mandate on the number of slides to be used (which seems parochial, but Arvind's boss is probably doing this to train his employees in becoming more effective presenters) limiting their number, speaking eloquently with your knowledge ont he subject matter and utilizing other aids is a good idea.

  2. Hi Riz,

    I agree with your ideas on presenting the core idea and chopping off the dead weight.

    There are actually two ways of looking at the question I posed.

    1. The boss wants Arvind to present clearly and hence is putting a restriction. In this case Arvind should put thought behind the objectives of his presentation and come with a to-the-point presentation.

    2. There is a second angle. Many a times slide restrictions are put whimsically and in those cases you find it tough follow. There are ways of putting 10 slides' content on 5 slides.

    One is by putting 'anchor texts' which prompt you to talk on the point at length. These anchors might be one word or a group of words.

    There are other ways you can put the content of 10 slides into 1. Think about it.

  3. know your content. The slides should contain as few words as possible as the words will come from you, the presenter. Instead, the slides can contain images that enrich the meaning of your words or graphs/tables that provide evidence for your argument

  4. Agree with you Emma. The lesser the words on a slide the better. The only way to do it is to 'know your content' thoroughly. This will only happen when you plan out properly and practice multiple times.