PowerPoint 101 is an ongoing series about designing better PowerPoint presentations.
PowerPoint is an amazing tool. It can be used to create everything from stunning, movie-quality animations, to simple, effective slides that communicate a single key idea. But too often, people treat slides like pages in a book: they cram in bullet point after bullet point, layered over hard-to-read charts and pixelated images.
So whether you are a beginner who is still learning the best way to create slides, or an experienced hand looking to enhance your skills, an easy way to test new strategies and refine your approach is to apply some rules to your slide creation. In the past, we’ve talked about the 10-20-30 Rule and the 5-5-5 Rule, and today we’re going to share another popular rule for designing effective PowerPoints: the 7x7 Rule.
What is the 7x7 Rule for PowerPoint?
The 7x7 Rule says that, for each slide in your presentation, you should use no more than:
7 lines (or bullets) per slide
7 (or fewer) words per line
Easy, right? But why does a rule like this even exist? What’s the purpose of following these sorts of guidelines, rather than simply designing slides intuitively?
Why the 7x7 Rule helps you make better PowerPoints
Perhaps the most common mistake that people make when designing PowerPoint presentations is putting too much information onto a single slide.
In general, the best practice is to keep each slide focused on a single topic, with the minimum number of words needed to make your point. For people who are deeply familiar with the story they are telling in a PowerPoint, it can be easy to think that every piece of information is essential, and that leaving things out does a disservice to your offering and leaves the audience without a full picture of the topic. That’s because including too much information makes it harder for the audience to follow and retain your information.
The 7x7 Rule is a simple method for keeping your information concise, and it helps to ensure that each slide is focused on a single key point.
When (and how) to use the 7x7 Rule
The 7x7 Rule tends to work best when you are editing down to that amount of information, rather than trying to fill in the blanks to get to 7 lines and 7 words.
One way that we have found effective is to start by writing out everything you want to say in your presentation. Next, you should break those points down and choose one key message for each slide. From there, it’s a simple step to edit the longform information down to 7x7.
Remember, 7x7 is the maximum amount of content you want to include on a slide, not a goal to try and reach. If you are consistently using all 7 words and 7 lines, you may end up missing out on the value that the rule really offers.
A note on following rules in PowerPoint
As with the other rules, the 7x7 Rule is a guideline, not a fixed format that you should always adhere to. Our belief is that content should guide design, as opposed to adding content just to fill a gap.
So while we encourage you to test out the 7x7 Rule the next time you make a PowerPoint, we believe that it should be a part of your design process, and not the only thing you think about.