In previous articles we’ve written about form over function and in those articles we stress the importance of knowing what your presentation needs to do and the constraints it must fit into before creating it. A major component of actually bringing a presentation to life that fits within those constraints is understanding the concept of what we call sentence scaling. Perhaps there’s another term for it (none that we’ve found) but the idea behind sentence scaling is simple: one idea (or point) can be written in many ways, from a full sentence to a single word.

Sentence scaling works like this:

scaling 1


Full sentences.

Presentations that use full sentences are best for sending ahead to be read by an audience or as a stand-alone. If you’re not going to actually ever present something, or if it will more than likely be read by many other people after you’ve actually presented it, using full sentences can be invaluable. Full sentences provide the context and plain language to be able to communicate any sort of idea. In theory, everything (or the most important things) that you speak to when giving a presentation would be placed on a slide using full sentences.

A big watch-out with using full sentences is that presenters are inclined to stand there and just read from the slide. Don’t do this. You’ll bore everyone to death, plus they can read it for themselves. To avoid this, bold a few words on the slide so they pop out as visual cues for you.

Full sentence example: “The man owned exactly fifty-five sea turtles, all of which were on the endangered species list and illegally obtained.

Slide example:

scaling 2


Contracted sentences.

If you haven’t rehearsed as much as you should have, or don’t know all the material by heart yet, using short phrases throughout your deck instead of full sentences is probably where you should land. This is kind of a nice middle ground between a one-word talking point cue and a full sentence. Contracted sentences take up less visual space and still allow your audience to scan the slide while you’re talking. Lastly, presenters are less likely to just stand there and read the slide as they’re forced to fill in the blanks of the sentences that are incomplete.

Contracted sentence example“55 illegal and endangered sea turtles”

Slide example:

scaling 3


Minimal phrases.

Shortest and most simple of the three, a minimal phrase a sentence at all; it’s really just a word or two. It’s a short phrase that only serves a reminder to the presenter about what to talk about next. Minimal phrases, like the name suggests, usually only contain the most basic of information and is usually only best when creating decks that are not meant to be read as a stand-alone. A voice over is almost always essential for audiences to be able to understand the material being presented.

Written example: “55 sea turtles

Slide example: 

scaling 4

The above example only makes sense with a voice over from a presenter where the presenter would speak to the audience about why mallards are better than pigeons and a few facts that back that up.

That’s one majestic duck (image credit: TexasEagle on Flickr). I think that might be evidence enough as to why mallards are greater than pigeons… but that’s just me.

Do you use any other techniques when writing out points in your decks?


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