Some clues for better presentations?


Whenever Merlin Mann writes an article, you can expect it to stay on the del.icio.us popular page for days on end, and this article on making presentations better shows you why. I was particularly intrigued by the 10/20/30 Rule, which states that every Power Point (or Keynote, in my case) presentation should:

  • Be no more than 10 slides long;
  • Be no longer than 20 minutes in length; and
  • Be in at least 30-point font.

This is an awfully compelling rule, simply because I’m terrible about putting too much stuff into my presentations. I’ve been using what I call the 1.5 Rule, which just states that the number of slides in a presentation times 1.5 equals the number of minutes it will take. But lately that’s been more like the 2.2 rule, or worse, and there’s nothing worse than budgeting 30 minutes for a lecture in a class and ending up needing two days to do it.

I designed two presentations that I gave today around this rule, and to my shock I actually finished both of them within 20 minutes. That gives me time for such unthinkable things as Q&A with the students or, had this been a class meeting later in the term, practice on the material. If you want to see, I’ve posted both of these presentations in the Box.net widget in the sidebar (keep scrolling and look to the right).

My first meeting with Calculus Preparation is tomorrow and I did a similar presentation for them. And the 10/20/30 Rule is a nice fit for how I want to do this Calculus Prep class — I want to spend no more than 20 minutes in lecture and no less than 20 minutes in hands-on practice in almost every class.

Doing serious preparation to spend no more than 20 minutes per class period lecturing brings an important issue to the point: How much information can the professor expect to convey in 20 minutes? And how much information should be conveyed by the professor in 20 minutes, or in an entire class for that matter? You don’t want to lecture all the time and never give practice time, because the students won’t learn it and won’t get a chance to ask questions the moment they arise. But you also don’t want to just do the course via discovery learning, for, er, the same reasons.

I think perhaps the ideal is to prepare an information-packed, high signal-to-noise ratio presentation that makes the main ideas of the day’s subject crystal clear in a minimalist time frame — leaving not only time to work but also leaving an uncluttered structure for the concepts that students don’t have to work against.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Some clues for better presentations?

  1. Unless I’m mistaken, Kawasaki originally built the 10/20/30 PowerPoint rule for venture capitalists who went too long on their pitches. While I believe there are far worse goals than pursuing that rule, I think we’re mixing presenters and audiences here.

  2. That depends. In one sense, you’re right of course — when I teach precalculus, I’m not just making a sales pitch or trying to persuade. There’s information to convey and means I have to take to make sure that it’s been conveyed properly and converted into a modest foundation of skill. So a bound on length/time/font size might not fit well with my purposes while it does with the kinds of people Kawasaki talked about.

    But on the other hand, there’s not much difference in a venture capitalist’s over-long presentation and a calculus professor’s over-long presentation — both lose their audience and compress information needlessly and would benefit from a rule that would help prevent going long.

    In the presentations I posted here, I was definitely NOT trying to teach anything but rather convey an idea of what the courses were about and give students the lay of the land. To my mind that’s pretty closely related to the venture capitalist’s task. If I were teaching logarithms, I wouldn’t necessarily feel constrained by a 20-minute rule — but I’d be interested in anything that keeps from going on and on and on.