Please don’t be long, please don’t you be very long

The former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is famous for delivering long-winded speeches, once addressed the 1986 communist party congress in Havana for 7 hours and 10 minutes.

fidel_castro Photo (CC) BY-SA 2.0 by Marcelo Montecino

And still, El Comandante’s listenership may have called itself lucky, because PowerPoint was only launched officially in May 1990. By extrapolating the slideware generating habits of some of my colleagues at work, I estimate that El Caballo’s oration might have been good for, say, 750 slides. As some sources claim that you need at least one hour of preparation time for each minute of presentation (which IMHO sounds a bit overdone,) this would have taken El Jefe Maximo a mere 430 hours (or almost 54 working days) of crafting. Maybe in Cuba, time isn’t (or wasn’t) money at all?

Your audience may be spending valuable time and money to attend a presentation too. Don’t waste it. No single presentation should take longer than necessary.

So, how long should the ideal slideshow take? There’s actually a very simple prescription for that, formulated by author and Canva evangelist Guy Kawasaki (about whom I have already written in my “Four storytellers about storytelling” post,) who called it the “The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint”:

A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

And if the time slot that has been reserved for you happens to be longer or shorter than these 20 minutes, here’s another easy-to-use formula for calculating the number of visuals you can afford:


Always begin by deducting 1/5th from your speaking time, and reserve it for questions and answers. Then — assuming that the average presenter spends between 2 and 3 minutes per slide — divide the remaining minutes by 2 and by 3. The results of this simple calculation will give you an upper and lower limit for the number of visuals you can comfortably run through.

More reading:

The joy of presenting naked

In my previous post, I wrote about a situation in which I was confronted with a broken projector, and as such (almost) forced to present “nakedly”. For those who might get wrong thoughts: naked presenting is delivering a presentation without slides (and without hesitation.)

It’s nothing new. The art of storytelling dates from long before PowerPoint and the projector were ever invented. But nowadays, too manypresenters hide themselves behind their slide deck. Although some of the best public speakers I know don’t need (and a few of them don’t use) any visuals to deliver an outstanding talk.


Naked presenting lets you concentrate on your audience and on your message instead of on your Powerpoint-style presentation tools (see also my reasons for not using Prezi.)

For a naked presenter, less is more!

  • When you need to invest less time in graphic material preparation, you can spend more time on building your story, and practicing and rehearsing it.
  • When you’re relying less upon the laptop in front, you have more space to move around the stage and face the people in the back of the room.
  • When you count less on the sexiness of your slides, you may discover the expressive power of your voice and body language.
  • When you give them no slides to read from, people will more attentively listen to your words.
  • When you put less energy in trying to impress your audience (don’t confuse a naked presenter with an exhibitionist!,) you will probably establish a better emotional contact with them.

If –after all these convincing arguments– you’re still too shy to go full monty in front of your customers, you can leave your hat on... and use a flip chart and a few markers to cover your nakedness.

A final note for those in the audience: things may not always be what they seem. It’s a known fact that even Barack Obama uses a teleprompter on the sly.

If you have some spare time, read the revealing Presentation Zen post about presenting naked by Garr Reynolds, as well as these other articles:

Look ‘n’ feel matter – color

Color is a powerful means for presenting information. The tints you choose and the way you use them can have a strong impact on your audience. They may have special meanings in certain cultures (read e.g. the example in an earlier post about the use of red and green on the Japan stock exchange), and even have an emotional appeal (as indexed by Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.)

Emotion and perception. That’s the reason why marketers carefully pick ‘appropriate’ color schemes for their collateral and websites. Did you know that Google apparently tested 41 shades of blue to maximize the click-through rate on hyperlinks?

  • Red is a strong color, with both positive and negative meaning: love, energy, danger, … You can use it to emphasize your messages, but sometimes you better avoid it because of its negative connotation. Also note that red text is often poorly readable, both on a light and a dark background.
  • Blue expresses trust, confidence and loyalty. So it’s a perfect background or foreground for business presentations. At least if you don’t mind coming over as conservative  ̶ which is unfortunately also a synonym for boring.
  • Green represents health, nature and novelty. An ideal tint when you want to talk about the eco-friendliness of your products or the sustainability of your business.
  • Yellow stands for logic and intelligence, but also for caution and cowardice. Unless you put it on a dark background, don’t use yellow fonts.
  • Purple means creativity and innovation. That’s why e.g. Alcatel-Lucent, the company I work with, has chosen it in their logo.
  • Black is most commonly associated with power and elegance. It’s a good and neutral color for your presentations. One caution about using a black (or any other dark) background: it may cost you a lot of ink when printing out handouts of your slides.
  • White, although the opposite of black, is also a neutral shade. Personally, I prefer to work on a white background as it gives my slides a clean look, creates a feeling of open space, and combines perfectly with any other color.

Don’t feed the chameleons! Use colors vividly but wisely. Don’t mix too many of them on one single slide, and avoid improper combinations like red/green (can’t be distinguished by certain color blind people) or orange/blue (seem to vibrate against one another).


“Thrift Store Landscape With a Color Test” by Chad Wys
(paint on found print and frame, 2009)

Earlier in this post, I mentioned Plutchik’s wheel. A color wheel also helps you to understand the relationships between colors. When using colors it’s always good know the theory of primary (red, blue, and yellow), secondary (green, violet, and orange) and tertiary colors (made from combinations of then former six) and know which combinations work and which don’t. If you need some advice, there are a few great tools on the web like ColorBlender or Color Scheme Designer.

As a final note, many of the statements I made above about the use of colors in presentations are also valid for a presenter’s attire. Colors don’t make the man (or the woman), but poor choices can spoil your appearance, take away attention from your message, or even give another meaning to the things you tell.

Next week, I will talk about using images in your presentations.

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

The Bocuse touch

A good story is like a well-plated dish. It follows a recipe with a few ingredients that all blend together. The result is a delight for the eyes, the ears and the brain. A creation that keeps the audience asking for more.

Nouvelle cuisine is a style of cooking that became popular in the 1970s as a reaction to the heavy and calorie-rich French kitchen of that era. Main characteristics of this eclectic way of preparing and presenting food are:

  • Rejection of excessive complication
  • Use of fresh ingredients and natural flavors
  • Smaller portions served
  • No more heavy sauces
  • Strong focus on composition and presentation
  • Experimenting with new combinations and pairings
  • Attention to the dietary needs of guests
  • Interest in new techniques and equipment

nouvelle cuisine

Acknowledging the innovation, elegance and originality of this new kitchen, I can easily draw a parallel with today’s best practices in B2B storytelling:

  • Emphasis on focus and simplicity
  • Dynamic and personalized presentation style
  • Less slides, more story, more interaction
  • No more heavy tables and bullet lists
  • Less time for monologue, more time for dialogue
  • Presentations enriched with images and multimedia.
  • Emphasis on value instead of products
  • Use of new presentation techniques

So, if you want to become the Paul Bocuse of the “nouvelle cuisine of business presentations” then make sure you tell a tasty story, keep your presentations minimalistic, decorate your slides with fresh images and videos, season them with metaphors, examples and anecdotes, and serve them warm to a hungry audience (and keep on reading my blog…)