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5x5 rule in PowerPoint [How to use it]

As the Creative Director at Ink Narrates, a presentation design agency, I'm always on the lookout for ways to help our clients create more impactful and engaging presentations. Just last week, I was on a video call with one of our long-time clients, discussing their upcoming investor pitch deck.

"I feel like our presentations just aren't hitting the mark lately," James, the CEO, said with a sigh. "The information is all there, but I can't help but notice people's eyes glazing over halfway through. We need to find a way to make our slides more concise and visually appealing."

I nodded in understanding. Today, attention spans are shorter than ever, and a cluttered, text-heavy slide can be an audience's worst nightmare. That's when I remembered a simple yet powerful technique that has revolutionized the way we approach slide design: the 5x5 rule.

"James, have you ever heard of the 5x5 rule for PowerPoint presentations?" I asked.

When he shook his head, I knew I had to share this game-changing approach with him – and with all of you, dear readers.

What is the 5x5 rule in presentation design?

The 5x5 rule is a guideline that suggests you should use no more than five words per line of text and no more than five lines of text per slide. Sounds simple, right? But this deceptively straightforward rule can have a profound impact on the clarity and effectiveness of your presentations.

Here's why the 5x5 rule works:

With a maximum of 25 words per slide, you're forced to distill your key points into their most essential form. This laser-focus prevents you from cramming too much information onto a single slide, which can overwhelm and confuse your audience.

By limiting the amount of text, you create more white space on your slides. This negative space not only makes your content more readable but also allows your visuals – whether they're charts, diagrams, or high-quality images – to shine.

When your slides are clean and uncluttered, your audience is more likely to stay engaged with your presentation. They won't be distracted by dense walls of text or struggling to decipher convoluted phrases. Instead, they can focus on your message and your delivery.

Now, let's dive into how you can apply the 5x5 rule to your own presentations:

1. Start with an Outline

Before you even open PowerPoint, take some time to outline your presentation's key points. Identify the main ideas you want to convey and the supporting details for each one. This will help you organize your thoughts and determine which information is essential for your slides.

2. Write Concise Headlines

For each slide, craft a concise headline that summarizes the main point in five words or fewer. This headline should be large enough to be easily readable from the back of the room.

3. Use Bullet Points Sparingly

While bullet points can be helpful for listing key details, be mindful of how many you include on a single slide. Aim for no more than five bullet points, each with a maximum of five words.

4. Embrace Visuals

With less text on your slides, you'll have more space to incorporate visually compelling elements like charts, graphs, diagrams, and high-quality images. These visuals can help reinforce your key points and make your presentation more engaging and memorable.

5. Practice Your Delivery

The 5x5 rule isn't just about creating clean slides; it's also about mastering your delivery. With minimal text on your slides, you'll need to expand on your points verbally. Practice your presentation out loud to ensure your explanations are clear and engaging.

Example of the 5 by 5 Rule in Action

Let’s imagine that you’re giving a presentation on the benefits of meditation. Here’s an example of a slide content that follows the 5x5 rule.

  • Increases focus

  • Reduces stress

  • Improves sleep

  • Boosts immunity

  • Enhances overall well-being

See how simple and easy to understand? Now, compare it to a slide content that doesn’t follow the 5x5 rule.

Meditation has been shown to increase focus and reduce stress, improve sleep and boost immunity, and enhance overall well-being, making it an important tool for modern-day life.

The second slide is cluttered and difficult to understand. Your audience will likely struggle to stay focused and remember what you’re saying.


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