PowerPoint 101: The 5/5/5 Rule



When it comes to presentations, we believe that content should drive design. That is, the way that you structure and organize your presentation should follow the needs of the content, rather than a rigid structure.


But this is a lot of work, and isn’t always easy, particularly if you are still learning the ropes of presentation design and storytelling. That’s where rules come in. If you’re struggling to get started, or are unsure of how best to structure a PowerPoint presentation, rules can offer an easy on-ramp to help you get going. And the 5/5/5 Rule is both one of the simplest and most effective.


What is the 5/5/5 Rule

The 5/5/5 Rule explains what it is right in the name: when creating slides for your presentation, use at most:

  • 5 words on a single line

  • 5 lines of text on a single slide

  • 5 slides that apply the first two rules in a row

Now, let’s take a closer look at each part of the rule, and see how it helps build a better presentation.


5 words on a single line

Presentations are multi-dimensional. They rely on a combination of written words, spoken language, and visual storytelling to effectively communicate information. So if you are writing out lengthy, complete sentences in order to make sure that “all the information is there,” you are missing the point (and the value) of PowerPoint.


By applying the “5 words per line” rule, you’re ensuring that your writing stays sharp and clear, and that the audience is focused more on you than on the screen. As we noted in our blog 3 ways to up your PowerPoint game, too much content can actually lead to less information retention, which is very counterproductive.


5 lines of text on a single slide

When we are designing PowerPoints for clients, we have our own general rule we try to follow: one idea per slide.


That’s because people tend to think of a slide as a single unit of content. This tells the brain to keep those ideas together, creating associations between bits of info and helping us to cement them in our minds. And if a seminal piece of neuroscience is true, we can hold “seven, plus or minus two” pieces of short-term information in our brains.


By limiting yourself to 5 lines of text, not only are you helping to make your presentation more effective, you’re also helping your audience to internalize more of the information your trying to share.


(No more than) 5 slides that apply the first two rules in a row

If you followed the first two rules to the letter on every slide in your PowerPoint, you could still have way too much content for an effective presentation. So if you catch yourself relying too heavily on the first two 5’s, you should take a step back and look for ways to vary your content.


This could mean trimming back certain slides to reduce the amount of content, adding in more images/infographics, or simply removing some slides altogether.


When to use the 5/5/5 Rule

The purpose of this rule isn’t to blindly apply it to every PowerPoint you make. Rather, it’s to force you to take a step back and carefully consider each slide you’re creating for it’s content as well as keep the audience’s considerations front and center.


It’s also a great way to outline your content. If you’re ever feeling stuck on how to get started with a big presentation, creating content within the 5/5/5 Rule can help you to structure your presentation just enough that you can ignore the rule.

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