What “5 Slides Only” Really Means

There has been an increasing trend in companies these days of insisting presentations be limited to just a few slides. I’m hearing more and more from clients that bosses are demanding “5 slides only” or “10 slides maximum” for an internal presentation.

So, what does this actually mean and how do you handle a situation like this?

Slide Number Agnostic

First of all, I have always been slide number agnostic. For an on-screen presentation, it makes no difference if you present 10 minutes worth of content with one slide or with 20 slides. In my trainings, I routinely use upwards of 100 slides per hour.


But herein lies the clue for you when given a cap on number of slides. Anyone who asks you to limit your number of slides is actually asking you to limit and focus your content. Most people assume content is related to slide number the way that a newspaper article is related to word count. But it’s just not true. It’s quite possible to put 60 minutes of content onto 5 slides—and that’s precisely what some people do…

It’s About Time Allotted

The first step in answering this challenge is to truly examine how much time you have to present. When preparing a presentation, overall time and time per slide are two of the most important metrics to consider. If you’re given 5 minutes to present next year’s sales strategy, that’s a pretty good indication that this is not the place to discuss the work history of your 25 new sales reps and the 15-phase implementation plan for the new B2C website. Given 5 minutes, you can only address the big picture and the actionable takeaway, if any.

They Just Want the Big Picture

And that gets us to what most people are actually asking for when they ask for a cap on slides. They simply want the big picture and the takeaway. But for whatever reason, corporate America has failed time and again in adequately expressing and teaching people how to deliver this. Raise your hand if you’ve ever delivered more than you knew you were asked for. Why did you do it? Well, nobody has ever been fired for including too much…

So, let’s accept some collective blame here, and now understand why you are being limited to 5 slides only. It is a clumsy attempt to force people to not put needless details up on the screen.

So How Do You Handle the Slide Cap Request?

Clarify the presentation’s objectives with whoever has requested the slide cap. Talk in terms of time allotted to present and ask what level of detail and takeaway is required. In most cases, people don’t want all the detail behind the overall message. If it seems as though the requested information can fit into the allotted time, but is still more than what will comfortably fit on 5 slides with one message per slide, then ask for an exception and explain why. If the requested information is too much for your allotted time, then ask to provide additional content in a handout that will never be projected. Detailed tables and endless research notes have a place—just not on the screen in a live presentation. And keep in mind:

“5 Slides Only” = “Just Give Me the Big Picture”

visual training presentation