Despite its reputation for delivering dry content in virtual and in-person meetings, PowerPoint remains the essential choice for many professionals, even as other options emerge that offer greater usability and flexibility outside of the Microsoft ecosystem.
Part of the popularity of the presentation platform is its familiarity – many organizations are still running Microsoft’s early computing environments, which power point the obvious choice for a simple presentation design. Simplicity provides the second part of this permutation of popularity, as creating a basic PowerPoint presentation on a single topic requires minimal time and effort.
The problem? “Simple” does not always mean “effective”. Staff in markets, industries and verticals around the world have stories about unbearably long and boring PowerPoint presentations that were long on details but lacking in value. The 7×7 ruler provides a framework to help improve the form and function of PowerPoint by reducing the volume of text and improving the impact of information.
The PowerPoint problem
Simply put, most viewers don’t like PowerPoint. While the format has the advantage of speed and convenience – and can potentially be used to communicate information quickly and concisely – many presentations are too long and overloaded with bullet bonanzas that appear relevant but are really just digital hot air.
In most cases, the disconnect between appearance and action is boring at best and irritating at worst. As indicated by the BBCHowever, in extreme cases – like the NASA Shuttle Challenger disaster – information overlooked in an overloaded presentation can have significant consequences in the real world.
Best bet? To avoid PowerPoint’s frustration and fatigue, it’s time to create a new frame: the 7×7 ruler.
What is the 7×7 rule in PowerPoint?
The 7×7 rule is simple: For each slide, use no more than seven lines of text – or seven bullets – and no more than seven words per line. Slide titles are not included in the count.
There is no specific data supporting the 7×7 model as the ideal; some PointPower proselytizers consider the 8×8 to be quite good while others say the 6×6 is more streamlined. The point here is not the exact number, but the idea behind it: remove extraneous information to improve presentation use.
Slides can still contain images – and should, whenever possible – but adhering to the 7×7 rule helps reduce excess data that could be better shared in follow-up emails or one-on-one chats. This is because the 7×7 rule is a way to cut down on the time staff spend pretending to care about PowerPoints and help them focus on relevant, contextual, and actionable slide information.
Best practices for the 7×7 ruler in PowerPoint
Creating a typical PowerPoint slide is simple. Like any business practice, however, it can be improved with a standardized set of rules designed to limit waste and improve efficiency. And when it comes to most PowerPoint presentations, almost any change has a positive impact.
Let’s describe some of the best practices for creating PowerPoint slides with the 7×7 ruler.
1. Unique slide, unique concept.
Each slide should address a single concept rather than trying to connect the dots between multiple data points, trends, or ideas. While it’s okay to build on data from previous slides as your presentation progresses on a single slide, the one-concept approach helps focus presentation efforts from the start.
2. Images increase impact.
As noted above, images are a welcome addition to slides, as long as they are relevant. If you find yourself adding unrelated stock photos just to add color, don’t. Keep slides, text, and images on track.
4. Forget the funny.
Almost everyone has a story about a “funny” PowerPoint joke that was none of that. In most cases, these muscular humor efforts are meant to help viewers remember the data on the slides better. In fact, they distract from your main focus.
5. Plan it.
Before you create your presentation, create a basic outline that highlights your main concept, how you plan to deliver it, and how many slides in total it should take. Then write your slides. Take a break, review them and reduce them as much as possible.
6. Consider the 7x7x7.
If you really want to go all-in on the 7×7 ruler, consider adding another 7 and aiming for no more than 7 words in each line, no more than 7 lines on each slide, and no more than 7 slides in total. It’s not easy, but offers a much better chance to get your point across.
7×7 rule in Powerpoint examples
So what does the 7×7 rule look like in practice? It’s one thing to talk about making a better slide, but it’s easy to fall back into bad habits when it’s time to prepare for a presentation. It makes sense; content creators often try to convey a significant amount of information in a short period of time, and it’s easy to get distracted by the idea that every piece of data needs to be included for the meeting to be a success.
Let’s start with a slide that’s noticeably removed from the 7×7 rule:
There is a lot to unpack here. We use too many lines and too many words per line. The lines are complex without saying much, and the attempt at humor adds nothing.
Let’s 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 long and the text is too complicated.
Let’s try again:
This slide is clear and concise and most lines are less than 7 characters long. It offers the same information as the first two versions – it’s just more effective and efficient.
The 7×7 solution
While using 7 lines of text with 7 words or less isn’t a silver bullet for all PowerPoint issues, it’s a good place to start if you want to increase viewer engagement and limit fatigue. .
At the end of the line? PowerPoint isn’t always the perfect format to get your point across, but if you need to create a quick presentation that your audience will enjoy, start with the 7×7 solution.