Slides, Minutes or Gallons? How Do You Measure a Presentation?

by Shelley Ryan on March 28, 2012 · 2 comments


Yesterday I was looking at someone’s PowerPoint deck, offering some quick feedback on ways she could improve it for her upcoming webinar.  (Unsolicited feedback, thank you very much. I just can’t keep my big mouth shut.)  There were 18 slides, each loaded with texty bullets.

I suggested she triple or even quadruple the number of slides by breaking all of that out into a single concept, idea or factoid per slide.

“They told me I’d have enough time for only ten slides.”

You can bet that “they” meant she has roughly ten minutes on the webinar agenda.  Maybe fifteen.  And “they” think that a speaker should unveil one new slide every 1-2 minutes.

Webinar audiences are not goldfish. They’re worse.

You’ve probably heard that when it comes to media (radio, TV, Web, or whatever gadget you’re holding) people have an attention span shorter than a goldfish’s.*  I’m not saying you must offer new visual stimuli every 7.3 seconds during your webinar, of course.  But you do need to dangle something interesting for your participants to look at before they feel an impulse to swim off to Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram.

So go on, swing a sledgehammer at those bullet-ridden slides.  Break them up and streamline the text to just a few key words, numbers or images.  Verbosity belongs in your webinar script and handout, not on the screen.

*Some fishy footnotes

  • A study conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs in 2000 showed the average soundbite length for the presidential candidates on the network nightly news has dropped to 7.3 seconds, a 26% decline since 1988 (9.8 seconds) and an 83% drop from the 1968 presidential election.   And last year NPR reported that the average length of a soundbite in broadcast news stories is a little under nine seconds.  Translation?  Soundbites are shrinking to match our current attention span.  (Or perhaps the media itself has attention deficit disorder.)
  • Peter Shankman once claimed that consumers have a 2.6 second attention span, but I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating.
  • It takes about nine seconds to say something that’s 140 characters in length.
  • Researchers with too much time on their hands believe that the attention span of a goldfish lasts 3-9 seconds.  Goldfish have a memory span of three months, though.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marianne Carr August 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

I like to use a lot of short slides during my talk — kind of like in action films where the visuals keep moving. So THANK YOU for this! I once did an hour long presentation at which my six year old Godson sat quietly because of the activity on the screen. He had no idea what I was talking about — Social Innovation–but he paid attention. Isn’t that the most we can hope to accomplish sometimes? Cheers!


Shelley Ryan August 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I often test my material on my tweenager, Marianne. But a six-year-old? Man, your stuff must be AWESOME!! :)


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