One idea per slide. It’s not that complicated

I wrote this post in 2009, I published it in March 2020, and am republishing it again

A lot of texts that talk about presentation design cite a very clear rule: each slide has to contain only one idea. Here’s a slide from a presentation deck that says just that.

And here’s the next slide in the same presentation

Can you count how many ideas there are on this slide? I see four of them.

Can we do better?

First of all, we need to remember that most of the time, the slides accompany the presenters and not replace them. This means that you don’t have to put everything you say as a slide. In our case, you can simply show the first slide and give more details orally. On the other hand, let’s face it, the presenters often use slides to remined themselves of what they want to say. 

So, if you need to expand your idea, split the sub-ideas into slides.

You can add some nice illustrations to connect the information and emotion. 

Making it more technical

“Yo!”, I can hear you saying, “Motivational slides are one thing, and technical presentation is a completely different thing! Also,” you continue, “We have things to do, we don’t have time searching the net for cute pics”. I hear you. So let me try improving a fairly technical slide, a slide that presents different types of machine learning.
Does slide like this look familiar to you?

First of all, the easiest solution is to split the ideas into individual slides.

It was simple, wasn’t it. The result is so much more digestible! Plus, the frequent changes of slides help your audience stay awake.

Here’s another, more graphical attempt

When I show the first slide in the deck above, I tell my audience that I am about to talk about different machine learning algorithms. Then, I switch to the next slide, talk about the first algorithm, then about the next one, and then mention the “others”. In this approach, each slide has only one idea. Notice also how the titles in these last slides are smaller than the contents. In these slides, they are used for navigation and are therefore less important.  In the last slide, I got a bit crazy and added so much information that everybody understands that this information isn’t meant to be read but rather serves as an illustration. This is a risky approach, I admit, but it’s worth testing.

To sum up

“One idea per slide” means one idea per slide. The simplest way to enforce this rule is to devote one slide per a sentence. Remember, adding slides is free, the audience attention is not.

By Boris Gorelik

Machine learning, data science and visualization


  1. Cracking post, thank you. I’d just like to add one point: don’t assume that you actually need a slide. If the content isn’t visual (isn’t, for example, a graph) and the language is familiar, why even use a slide?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: