PowerPoint rules to live by

Hosted by Neil Amato

How many slides should be in a PowerPoint presentation? What are some steps to ensure your presentation has a consistent format? Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, has answers to these questions. He's one of the Journal of Accountancy's Technology Q&A authors, the general manager at Botkeeper, and someone always looking to improve presentation skills.

In this podcast episode, Patrick expands on some of his advanced PowerPoint tips from the November issue of the JofA and discusses ways to avoid common PowerPoint mistakes.

Also, listeners can get caught up on recent news related to:

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • The importance of using a master slide in PowerPoint presentations.
  • How the Morph and Slide Zoom tools can make presentations smoother.
  • The differences between presenting to a small group in person and presenting to a large online audience.
  • Patrick's rule of thumb for determining the minimum text size in slides.
  • The number of slides that should be in a presentation and the amount of time Patrick generally devotes to each slide.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato. Byron Patrick's name should be a familiar one to readers of the Journal of Accountancy. He is a CPA who co-authors the Technology Q&A feature. On this episode, Byron and I are talking about taking presentation skills to the next level, focusing on PowerPoint, but also on how to get better in all aspects of sharing information with groups large and small. You'll hear that interview right after this word from our sponsor.

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Amato: Today, Byron, I'm going to start with a story about PowerPoint gone wrong from a recent Journal of Accountancy article. Basically, a CPA looked forward to learning about a topic, in this case, it was blockchain. The PowerPoint slides used in the presentation were so overloaded with information that the comment from another attendee was, "I think I know less about blockchain now than when we started." What I want to know, Byron, is how can someone who wants to share knowledge makes sure they're not confusing someone with too much information on a slide?

Byron Patrick: That's a common challenge. I see it frequently. I have a few rules that I live by when I'm giving presentations. I try to put the minimum amount of content I can on the slide. If the slide is going to be shared for educational purposes, you can stuff additional content into the notes of the slide, and when you share it, make sure those notes print. But ideally, a PowerPoint presentation isn't a really good place to try to create a user manual or something like that. If there's really that much content, write a case study, write a whitepaper, write an article. That's a good place for a lot of content, but the PowerPoint presentation itself should just be a framework for discussion.

Amato: I think that's a really good rule and good reminder to start. You wrote a Tech Q&A article a few months back, which is different than the one I just referenced. We'll link to both of those in the show notes for this episode. Your article was on more advanced PowerPoint options. What are a few of those, and how can they make presentations better?

Patrick: It was a few ideas, or tools, features within PowerPoint that I think can help really enhance the flow of the conversation. One of the things that can be distracting when you watch a PowerPoint presentation or a presenter is when each slide looks completely different from the other, and the structure of the presentation is just — something is off. It's just one thing to distract from what you're actually saying.

The first tip in the article is using a master slide. Master slides will create a template so that you can create a consistent format for all of your slides, and you don't have to worry about things like getting the logo in the right place every time or getting the page number in the right place every time. Really helpful for just ensuring that consistency.

Another thing that comes up frequently — and I'm a big proponent of using images on my slides. Imagery helps to reinforce the messaging, makes actually the presentation more memorable, and it does create challenge sometimes if you put a bunch of images on a slide. Trying to select the proper image can be a challenge. There's actually a tool or a selection pane that allows you to hide images without necessarily moving them, to allow you to get behind the image that you actually want to modify. That's just more of a usability feature that I really like.

Another, I would say probably my favorite enhancement that they've added recently is the Morph transition. I used to spend so much time trying to create a smooth transition, where maybe an image would move from the bottom corner of a slide and when I'd go to the next one, it would grow and get larger and move to the top of the slide. You could do it, there were ways to do it, but it always looked really like — it never came out smooth.

But the Morph transition actually allows you to make a duplicate of the slide, move that image, adjust it to how you want, and then it automatically handles making it look smooth. I think that's just a really slick way to add some animation to your presentation.

I've seen plenty of examples where people have overdone it with the animations. Again, one of the rules that I like to follow is don't be distracting. Make sure that your slides enhance the presentation, but don't distract from the presentation. These are the things that I think that can really help with that.

Another thing that I really like, and this is personal to my presentation style, but I enjoy being able to bounce around based on content that the audience wants to listen to. There's a feature that they've recently rolled out called Slide Zoom, where you can have a group of slides that all have a related subject, and you can drop those slides into a main slide. It becomes choose your own adventure. You could have three topics on that slide or five topics, and you can actually click on the slide for the subject you want to go to, and it will bring you back home when you've completed that slide set and run through. It's hard to talk through without having a slide deck to show you. But it's really a choose-your-own-adventure style of building a presentation.

Amato: That might not be the best podcast topic, but hey, we have the article link and that has screenshots, right? You'll be able to have a visual there.

Patrick: One of the things that I can do is I've actually created a slide deck that has examples of ways to use these tools. When this podcast is released, I can just tweet out a link to it so people can actually play with it and see what we're talking about.

Amato: That's awesome. Now, what are the differences between a PowerPoint presentation to a room of 12 and one to an online audience of 1,200 people?

Patrick: Part of it depends on certainly the topic or the subject. But a room of 12 gives you the ability to really create content that is very specific to that audience. If you were doing a presentation to 1,000 people in an online type of format, you're going to want to try to create that presentation to be something that will be good for a large, broad audience without overdoing it. That smaller group, you could actually create content that is really very specific. Maybe even put some extra content in there that's meaningful for that 12. Where if you're doing it for the 1,000, I think you need to keep slides high-level enough, again, just to guide the conversation.

Amato: Do you have any rules about how many slides should be in a presentation?

Patrick: I don't have any hard rules, but I do have some general rules. I'm a fan of less is more, especially when it comes to a presentation. If you find yourself creating 60 slides and you only have a 30-minute window to present, 30 seconds per slide is not enough. I personally like to be on a single slide anywhere from 3–5 minutes generally. If I have a 30-minute presentation, that's going to be somewhere around 10–15 slides at the most is how I like to approach it.

Here is a rule of thumb. The trick is you take a guess of the age of the oldest person that's going to be in the room, divide that number in half, and that's the smallest font that you are allowed to use. If your content can't fit with that font, then you have too much content.

Amato: Wow. So I'm going to do some quick math and say that if you think the oldest person in the room is 48, then your content should be 24-point type.

Patrick: Minimum. Exactly.

Amato: Wow. I'm impressed by my math skills, but I picked a number that was easy to divide. Anyway, great. Thank you for that. That's a good rule. I also liked the number of slides per minute you're presenting because obviously it's different. If you know you have 10 minutes, you're not going to present as much as if you have an hour or an hour and a half.

Maybe there's someone out there who has made the 2022 resolution that they're going to get better at presenting. Beyond just PowerPoint, what advice would you offer on that topic?

Patrick: That has been one of my personal initiatives to always be improving my presentation skills. I have personally jumped into a lot of watching TED Talks. TED Talks I find to be just really excellent speakers. You can learn a lot from seeing the way in which they present. I'll spend a lot of time watching those TED Talks. There are plenty of books out there. Talk Like Ted is a great book for improving your presentation skills. Another one that is accounting-focused is Taking the Numb Out of Numbers. Peter Margaritis put together a really great book of helping accountants to improve their presentation skills and their storytelling.

Amato: That's a good example, Taking the Numb Out of Numbers. I like that title. Anything to add in closing?

Patrick: When it comes to creating presentations, less is more. Don't overdo it, don't overdo the content. In fact, the slides themselves should not tell the story. You as the presenter should tell the story, the slides just guide you. And have fun with it. Nobody likes a boring presentation, so have fun with it. Make it something that people are going to remember when they walk out of the room or sign off of the webinar.

Amato: That's Byron Patrick; thanks to him for being on the podcast.

In other news, the AICPA has again asked the IRS to delay K-2 and K-3 reporting requirements.

Numerous state and regional CPA societies joined in urging a delay until 2023 of required reporting by partnerships and S corporations of items of international tax relevance. Paul Bonner has that coverage.

And the Securities and Exchange Commission voted late last week to require certain institutional investment managers to report information related to short sales each month. Jeff Drew has the article on the SEC seeking more disclosures, which we will link to in the show notes for this episode.

Thanks for listening to the Journal of Accountancy podcast.