Despite its reputation for delivering dry content in virtual and face-to-face meetings, PowerPoint remains the number one choice for many professionals as other options emerge that offer greater ease of use and flexibility outside of the Microsoft ecosystem.
Part of the presentation platform’s popularity stems from its familiarity: many companies are still using Microsoft-first IT software environments, making PowerPoint the obvious choice for simple presentation design. Simplicity is the second part of this popularity lock, as it takes a minimal amount of time and effort to create a basic PowerPoint presentation on a single topic.
The problem? “Simple” doesn’t always mean “effective”. Employees in various markets, industries and sectors around the world report unbearably long and boring PowerPoint presentations that dealt with details that were of little value. The 7×7 rule provides a framework for improving the form and function of PowerPoint by reducing the volume of text and improving the impact on information.
In this piece we will Break the 7×7 rule in PowerPoint, Best practices and offer some actionable examples of seven times seven solutions in situ.
The PowerPoint problem
Put simply, most viewers don’t like PowerPoint. While the format has the advantage of speed and convenience – and potentially can be used to communicate information quickly and accurately – many presentations are overly long and cluttered with bullet points that seem relevant but are really just digital hot air.
In most cases, the separation between appearance and action is dull at best and irritating at worst. However, as the BBC notes, in extreme cases – such as NASA’s Challenger Shuttle disaster – overlooked information in an overcrowded presentation can have significant real world consequences.
Best bid? To avoid frustration and fatigue with PowerPoint, it’s time for a new framework: the 7×7 rule.
What is the 7×7 rule in PowerPoint?
The 7×7 rule is simple: use no more than seven lines of text – or seven bullets – and no more than seven words per line for any slide. Slide titles are not included in the count.
There are no specific data that support the 7×7 model as an ideal. Some PointPower proselytizers think 8×8 is good enough, while others say 6×6 is slimmer. This is not about the fixed number, but about the underlying idea: Cut out superfluous information to improve the presentation recording.
Slides can still contain images – and should do so if possible. However, if you stick to the 7×7 rule, you can reduce excess data that may be better shared in follow-up emails or one-on-one conversations. In fact, the 7×7 rule is a way to reduce the time employees spend looking at PowerPoints and instead help them focus on slide information that is relevant, contextual, and actionable.
Best practices for the 7×7 rule in PowerPoint
Creating a typical PowerPoint slide is straightforward. However, like any business practice, it can be improved with a standardized set of rules to limit waste and improve efficiency. In most PowerPoint presentations, almost every change has a positive effect.
Let’s break down some of the best practices for creating PowerPoint slides using the 7×7 rule.
1. Single slide, single concept.
Each slide should focus on a single concept rather than trying to connect the points across multiple data points, trends, or ideas. While it’s okay to build on previous slide data as your presentation evolves that individual slide, the single-concept approach helps focus the presentation effort from the start.
2. Pictures increase the impact.
As mentioned above, images are a welcome addition to slides if relevant. If you’re adding unrelated photos just to add some color, don’t. Keep slides, text, and pictures updated.
4. Forget the funny.
Almost everyone has a story about a “funny” PowerPoint joke that wasn’t anything like that. For the most part, these persistent humor efforts are supposedly used to help viewers better remember slide dates. In fact, they’re shifting focus away from your primary goal.
5. Schedule it out.
Before creating your presentation, create a basic outline that highlights your primary concept, how you want to convey it, and how many slides will be needed in total. Then draw your slides. Take a break, review, and cut down wherever possible.
6. Look at the 7x7x7.
If you really want to go all-in with the 7×7 rule, aim to add another 7 and aim for no more than 7 words on each line, no more than 7 lines on each slide, and no more than 7 slides in total. It’s not easy – but it offers a much better chance of getting your point across.
7×7 rule in Powerpoint examples
What does the 7×7 rule look like in practice? It’s one thing to talk about creating a better slide, but it’s easy to fall back on bad habits when it’s time to put a presentation together. It makes sense; Content creators often try to convey a significant amount of information in a short amount of time, and it is easy to get distracted from the idea that all of the data must be there to make the meeting a success.
Let’s start with a slide that is significantly removed from the 7×7 rule:
There is a lot to unzip here. We’re using too many lines and too many words per line. Lines are complex without saying much, and the attempt at humor doesn’t add anything.
Let us try again:
This one is better – we reduced the number of lines to 7 and lost the joke, but most of the lines are still over 7 words and the text is too complicated.
Let’s try again:
This slide is clear and concise, and most lines are less than 7 characters. It offers the same information as the first two versions – it’s just more effective and efficient.
The 7×7 solution
Using 7 lines of text with 7 words or less may not be a silver bullet for all PowerPoint problems, but it is a good starting point if you want to increase audience engagement and limit fatigue.
Bottom line? PowerPoint is not always the ideal format to get your arguments across. However, if you need to create a quick presentation that will suit your audience well, start with the 7×7 solution.