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The 20-minute Presentation Checklist

If you’ve been given only 20 minutes, 10 minutes, or even 5 minutes to make your point, you don’t need to jam everything you ever learned into that precious time.  It won’t make you look smarter. Let’s take a look at what’s possible.  Below are three TED Talks that I find to be amazing examples of short presentations.

How many slides should be in a 20 minute presentation?

There is a lot of advice about slides and it usually starts with a rule about what you should or shouldn’t do. My experience tells me that people often rely too heavily on slides. Don’t think of your slides as your content.

20-minute Presentation Example

Take a look at this example from a compelling presentation by Jane McGonigal titled The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years Of Life.

Did Jane make her point? Just like in her presentation, you should think about your slides as your co-facilitator.

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In 2018 ATD published my thoughts on this in a booklet called PowerPoint: Your Co-Facilitator. When you design your slides, ask yourself how many times you want your audience looking at the slides and not listening to you? Years ago, my company, Endurance Learning, worked with a manufacturing company and reduced their slide deck from hundreds to 13 for a day and a half training session. This training program continued to be successfully implemented for years with 13 slides. The number isn’t as important as what work the slides do for you.

How many slides should you have in a 10 minute presentation?

Shorter presentations come with new challenges. In a 10 minute presentation, you should be very careful. Conventional wisdom would say that you can have roughly 5 slides at 2 minutes each. Just like when you had to edit your essay down from 3 pages to 1, a shorter presentation will challenge you to only show the slides that matter. Even the slightest change of pace or adjustment to your talking points could have you leaving slides on the proverbial cutting room floor.

10-minute Presentation Example

Take a look at this compelling presentation by Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing.

How many slides should you have in a 5 minute presentation?

Now we’re talking! You may have gotten the sense above that the rules aren’t as important as why you’re using the slides. When you get to a 5 minute presentation (and maybe even on the 20 and 10 minute presentations), you should ask yourself why you are using slides.

5-minute Presentation Example

How important are slides in this 5-minute presentation by William Kamkwamba titled How I Harnessed The Wind?

There are, of course, examples where you can take a short presentation with rapid-fire slides. I talked about Pecha Kucha before and showed how you can make it incredibly fun and engaging. That said, Pecha Kucha is a very specific format that is often used at events where a group of people are presenting in this format. For your 5 minute presentation, think about what you want to achieve and ask yourself if slides will be a critical part of supporting that message.

Designing Slides for Short Presentations

How can you emulate great short presentations the next time you’re asked to make a short presentation – in a staff meeting or in a public symposium?  Try incorporating the following elements:

  1. Give Your Presentation a Compelling Title: Who doesn’t want to know more just by reading the title?
  2. Find a Hook: Within the first minute, there’s a reason for me to pay attention – whether it’s looking at photos of an empty grocery store or how I can increase my lifespan. There’s something in these presentations for me.
  3. Remove Physical Barrier and Crutches: There’s no podium between the speaker and the audience. The speaker just feels more accessible.
  4. Focus on Making Attractive Visual Aids: Though PowerPoint is used, there’s not a single template. There are no bullet points. The slides have vivid, dramatic images and few words. Even statistics and scientific evidence is easy to digest. If you want to learn more consider checking out the podcast with Connie Malamed about visual design. In it she says, “When the visual design is poor, when there’s a lot of extraneous information, when things aren’t aligned, when it’s sloppy, it detracts from the learning. It makes it harder for people to visually process the screen or the slide in terms of e-learning and in terms of job aids or manuals, books, it’s the same story.”
  5. Encourage Active Listening: The Jane McGonigal presentation especially uses this strategy by giving the audience an assignment at the beginning (“I want you to think about how you’ll spend your extra minutes and hours of life”). She also intersperses questions throughout, inviting the audience to think for a moment before she proceeds. You should also check out the discussion with Melissa Marshall about creating engaging technical presentations. In it, she says that “… the concept of being a tour guide for the slide is even more important than it’s ever been, which is to very methodically walk people through what they should be noticing, what’s important about it.”
  6. Provide Concrete, Real-life Examples: We could have been exposed to the numbers of people without power in Malawi or mind-numbing charts on the science behind gaming, but the presenters instead chose to share stories and make an emotional connection. Since we live in the real world (and not in theory or in books), presentations are more gripping when they’re about what we do and how the numbers or the theories actually impact us.
  7. Share Your Passion: Each presenter shared their passion through their obvious preparation, their voice intonations and they allowed their personalities to show. They’re not just smart, but they care about both their topic and their audience.
  8. Tie It All Together: The speakers didn’t simply end by saying “thank you.” Their thank-you to the audience came in the form of a brief summary, wrap-up and call to action.

The next time you have a chance to present, don’t just do what’s easy. Use some of these tips and deliver a meaningful presentation!

What inspiration have you gotten from TED talks? Have you used this formula to sharpen your 20-minute, 10-minute or 5-minute presentation?

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