You. Yes, you. You're using too much text on your slides!

You! Yes, you. You're using too much text on your slides!


A lesson from my graduate psychometrics course has stuck with me over the years. We were talking about how to develop response options for a scale. He asked us:

Let's say you were asked to rate how often you weighed yourself. Your options are rarely, sometimes, and a lot. How often would you need to weigh yourself for you to choose "a lot?" 

*Pause* 

Before I tell you my answer, I want to know how YOU would answer that question. How often would you need to weigh yourself for you to choose "a lot"? 

*Restart*

We all knew what the point of this exercise was, so no one was surprised that we all had different answers. My answer was "once a month." I was on the far end (less frequent) compared to my fellow students--most others said "weekly" or "daily." One person even said "more than once a day."

The same thing happened when I asked my Facebook group this question (p.s. you should totally join!). Responses ranged from "daily" to "more than a couple times a week" to "Half of the week" to "every other day." Then one smart woman skipped right to the heart of the matter and suggested I change the rating scale to be more specific & it turned into a thread about making a better scale (hehe, I LOVE my FB group!).

This is an important reminder that we often interpret the same word, concept, or phrase in vastly different ways. 

I've noticed the same thing when it comes to the phrase "too much text" when talking about presentation slide design. 

Defining "Too Much Text" 

If you do a search for presentation design tips, "don't add too much text" is usually top of the list (and one of the rare occasions I agree with internet advice about presentation design). 

And when I talk to people about slide design, most agree with me that "too much text" on a slide is a bad thing or commiserate with me that "other people" use too much text. Yet, when I look at their slides, there's WAY too much text on them! 

A big reason for this is that "too much text" is both subjective and relative. Maybe, I thought to myself upon this reflection, it was time for me to get more concrete about what *I* meant by "too much text." 

So I created a rating system, which I'm calling the Banish All That Text Scale, or BATTS.

0 = OMG please end my suffering
1 =  Death by powerpoint
2 = Le Sigh, I'm bored
3 = Okay, not bad! 
4 = Stellar slide!

Real Life Slide Examples & Their Scores

I'm going to use real life examples of slides I've seen and score them using the highly-scientific BATTS. 

OK well, obviously I changed the actual text and design a little bit so these aren't identifiable. But, I kept the same word count and font size, used a similar template design when they did, and matched the text to the level of detail they initially provided. 

FYI: Because tone is hard to portray through text, I want to be clear that I'm not shaming or making fun of anyone. Everyone has to start somewhere. I've looked back on my own slides and laughed at them or thought "wow, what was I thinking?!" I just think it's important to be able to compassionately laugh at ourselves once and a while. This is my way of adding a little humor and silliness to the topic (probably a coping mechanism for all my work on domestic violence). Not everything needs to be talked about in a serious way, and presentation design is one of those things. 


SCORE 0 -- OMG Please End My Suffering

 
 

This is an example based on the WORST webinar I've ever attended. This person literally pasted their entire speech--word for word--onto the slides. Sure there were some visuals, but they were tiny and used inappropriately. There was a custom template, but they were dark with light text and felt like clutter on top of already-cluttered slides. The experience was so painful I ended up minimizing the screen and pretended it was podcast, which of course meant I started "multi-tasking" (i.e., doing other stuff) and don't remember half of it. Too bad, because it seemed like good content. 


SCORE 0 -- OMG Please End My Suffering

 
 

This slide didn't stand a chance to do well on my rating scale. I recommend you only do 1-3 points per slide, and this one has 10. Instant deal breaker--that's way too much crammed onto one slide. Plus, there are tons of words on this slide. 76 words, to be exact. Each of these bullets could easily be cut down by half.


SCORE 0 -- OMG Please End My Suffering

 
 

Here's another one that is similar to the previous example, but a more distracting template was used and the font was actually a size 12.

Size. TWELVE font. 

Even for a webinar where people are close to their monitors, a size 12 is really hard to read. And look at those bullets -- they're basically full sentences. That's a big no-no.


SCORE 1 -- Death By Powerpoint

 
 

Okay so this one is slightly better...slightly. We at least have a larger font size and only 5 bullet points. That's still too many bullets and most of them are complete sentences when they should just be a few key words each. And the bullets are large, bright, and stand out too much so they are distracting. Remember, the decorations in templates don't count as visuals so this really is still a wall of text. 


SCORE 2 -- Le Sigh, I'm Bored

 
 

Ok. We finally dropped the template kind of...there was a small image but it wasn't too distracting, so that gives this slide an automatic boost. Plus, even though there are still too many bullet points, they at least only take up 1 line, which reduces that feeling of looking at a giant wall of text. 

Oh, and that full citation? Get rid of it. The text is too small and the audience doesn't need to SEE that citation in the moment. Prepare a handout of references or have one ready and offer to email them to anyone who wants them. 

I would prefer to see a slide like this over any of the ones I've shown before because it's pretty clean and simple. But, it's a little bit too simple. It's just a bunch of numbers thrown at you, none of which you'll remember later on. 


SCORE 2 -- Le Sigh, I'm Bored

 
 

This is one about as simple as the last one, which is why it gets the same score. But, this at least has a larger font size and overall less text. Plus, notice how the text in these bullet points aren't full sentences? That's more of what you should strive for when you're adding text to your slides (but there's still room for improvement!).


SCORE 3 -- Okay, Not bad!

 
 

Excellent, now we're getting somewhere! The big change here is that we have a visual, which is a huge step in the right direction. Also, notice that there are only 3 bullets! YAY! And, even better, the bullet points are key words

There are still design issues with this one, like the fact that the image didn’t make sense in relation to the text and the alignments are all off (and more). But, now that there’s not as much text, we can actually work on those :)


How to get a SCORE 4 -- STELLAR SLIDES

Now I will take this last example and show you my transformation to move it from "OK, not bad!" to "STELLAR SLIDES." 

 
 

Bam. Look. At. That. Is that not a perfect image to reflect dog training? Yes, yes it is. The dog is running toward the person and the picture does not have a lot of clutter surrounding it. The colors allowed me to create a heading in a dark color, and then use a light color for the body. That establishes a nice hierarchy. 

And look at how much text I used for each point: 1-2 words. That's it (and no bullets needed!). I even used a plus sign to replace "positive." Oh, and of course, the font size is large (size 46).   

But there's a way to make this even more stellar. Wanna see how?

These slides are highly visual, engaging, and effective.

Ready to get all that text off your slides and create more visual slides?

Sign up for this free sample of Countdown to Stellar Slides! 

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Thanks for reading!

with joy,
Dr. Echo Rivera