top of page


I recently organized a symposium where a majority of the speakers exceeded the times they were allotted. It wasn't a close call, they exceeded their times by extensive amounts. The results were sessions that lasted too long and little time for questions and discussions. It is far from clear that the extra speaking time resulted in better talks, in fact probably the opposite. Going over one's time is often a symptom of not really deciding what the speaker wants to say and not understanding what the audience needs to hear.

Sticking to your time is a useful discipline. It is one tool for forcing the speaker to think through the purpose of the presentation. It is also a polite gesture to both the audience and the organizers of the talk.

The best way to insure that you stay within your time is to dry run your presentation. A dry run provides other advantages, as will be discussed in future "tips."

Remember, speaking faster to get through all your slides does nothing for the audience.

Yes it is somewhat arbitrary, but text slides should have 40 words or less, including the title. It is impossible for the audience to listen to you and read your slide with more than 40 words. As a result they will do both poorly.

During my class on presentation techniques it is not uncommon for students to generate all text slides with 70 or 80 words. We edit them down to 40 words without losing content.

Perhaps the key is to recognize that you don't need complete sentences or paragraphs on a text slide. The words on your slide are cues for you to talk about various points. You can amplify each point with your voice. Use your pointer to highlight the bullet point you want to talk about and add the detail with your voice. In other words the text slide is like a table of contents for the audience with much of the detail in your oral presentation.

No cheating! While 40 is a somewhat arbitrary number, every presentation creator needs this discipline.

36 bold font for titles, 24 bold font for text in the body of the slide!

OK, I confess to using 32 bold for titles or 18 bold for text on the slide, but I try to avoid it. Also use a simple clear font, like Arial, Helvetica, or Times. Nothing fancy. You should assume that anything less than 18 bold is essentially invisible to the audience.

There are two reasons to follow these rules: 1) the obvious one is to help the audience see, and 2) the less obvious one is the discipline it poses on the presentation creator. Now I can hear you now, "I can't possibly get the content I need on a slide using these rules." However you are trying to get too much on the slide. Figure out the point the slide is trying to make and only include words that help you make that point. Also you don't need complete sentences. A slide presentation should be the synergy of audio and visual. Words on a slide are simply cues that you amplify with the words you speak. Take some time to edit down your text.

Occasionally you may need to illustrate something with smaller fonts (e.g. copying something from another source). In that case point to what you've copied and tell the audience that they are not expected to read the detailed message. If they are, then you need to blow up the image. You don't want the audience struggling to read small fonts.

bottom of page