Slide numbering in PowerPoint is stupid. Discuss.

boring slide numberingMore often than not, people ask me to include slide numbers on their decks. Maybe it makes them feel like they’re accomplishing something if they glance at the screen and see that they’re on slide 92, I don’t know. But putting slide numbers on your decks is a holdover from the last century and if you do it you should stop immediately! Why? Consider the following:

  • PowerPoint is not a print medium. How many times have you watched TV and seen a counter ticking down the minutes until the end of the program? Answer: never. Since PowerPoint is primarily a visual, on-screen medium, calling attention to the passage of time by including sequential slide numbering is pointless. To the audience, PowerPoint presentations are measured in the length of time it takes to deliver them, not the number of slides they contain.
  • Animations can inflate the size of the deck. It is often easier to break animations across a series of slides so that elements can be edited easily. To the audience it looks exactly the same as if everything’s on the same slide…except if the slides are numbered. In this case, slide numbers can be confusing (“How did we start on slide 3 and end up on slide 10? Did I miss something?”).
  • Slide numbering is distracting. How would you feel if you were at a presentation when suddenly you noticed that the speaker was on slide 110? Would you think “Boy, this presenter sure has a lot of knowledge to impart!” or “Holy cow, 110 slides? How much more of this do I have to endure?” By numbering slides, you bring your audience out of the moment and give them an opportunity to speculate on how many slides they’ve seen and how many are yet to come. Don’t distract your audience (Squirrel!); allow them to focus on the most important part of your presentation: you.
  • PowerPoint already keeps track of slide numbering. All slides in a PowerPoint deck are numbered in the Outline, Slide Sorter, and Notes views. So my clients can tell me “Please change the image on slide 5” and I know exactly where to go in the document.

So if slide numbering detracts from visual, kinetic storytelling, makes it look as though the audience might have missed something, is distracting, and doesn’t help during editing, why do it?

Your turn

You know where I stand on slide numbering, now I’d like to hear from you. Do you number your slides? Why or why not?


2 Responses to Slide numbering in PowerPoint is stupid. Discuss.

  1. AnnaBanana says:

    Put me down in the “No Numbering” column.

    It’s nice to be able to be able to reorganize a presentation at will or to use a slide you love in a later presentation (bad me). The numbers were ok when we wanted to make it easy to order slides in a carousel but… since we no longer rely on such contraptions, the numbers have become redundant.

    Thanks Ms. Foley for another great Design Dispatch!

  2. Arte R says:

    In general I am against numbering, adding logos , overtly catchy designs on slides. Anything that takes attention of your audience away. Like you mentioned, they may get side-tracked by the numbers.
    However, there is one time we always use numbers – when we create presentations for clients. This helps them provide slide wise feedback 🙂 Its in dull gray color and not at all prominent.
    So we use numbering for our audience -not theirs!

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