6×6 Rule

So, several times throughout the most recent conference, I found myself wishing that the 6×6 rule was a standard teaching item in more curriculum… until I realized that most of the people presenting have probably never taken any courses in presenting, so there’s no place in formal education it could fit. So, instead, I’ll share it with people here.

When crafting presentation slides, each slide should have no more than 6 lines, and each line should have no more than 6 words.

There are many reasons for this, but essentially it comes down to the fact that with more than 6×6, the text on the slide starts to to be the text of your talk. This leads to your audience reading your slides, ignoring you, and ending up bored.

The one exception to this I’ve found is in a case that I saw at this FOSS4G conference: the speaker spoke only French, but his slides were slightly more verbose… and in English. So even though he broke the 6×6 rule, it was effective: he was able to communicate his message in English with his slides, and his message more verbosely in French via the talk.

In general though, try following the 6×6 rule. You may find it helpful to prevent you from just reading your slides at conferences.

3 Responses to “6×6 Rule”

  1. rho Says:

    Interestingly, I have encountered this before, but it was in a Java class (um, that’s class as in “place where stuff gets taught”). The lecturer there was trying to convince us to keep our functions short and sweet. The idea being, apparently, that an average human brain can keep 6 things remembered at once. Thus if you have a nice short function you can read through it, keep it all to mind and understand it without having to go back and cross-reference and what not. He then raised the slides in presentations thing as another example of the same thing. If you put too much on the slide, people need to actually concentrate on it to get any benefit from it; if you limit a line to 6 words then they can just internalise it all at once, essentially, and then concentrate on what you’re saying. And by limiting a slide to 6 lines they can still remember all the previous lines without having to go look them up again. It’s a fairly neat bit of psychology.

  2. John Cowan Says:

    I write my slides using a very different rule: lines in slides should be headlines, not captions. Each should be a complete sentence that tells the story, not a mere label for what is being described.

    As for ignoring what I say, if people just look at the captions, they miss the jokes.

  3. John Cowan Says:

    Arrgh. s/just look at the captions/just look at the slides/.