Increase slide impact by reducing the cognitive load

Business Benefits

Improve the clarity and impact of your presentation.


Limit each slide to one main point, and only include content on the slide that illustrates or reinforces that one main point.

Use McKinsey titles: single, declarative statements that give the main point or takeaway of each slide.

For instance, a slide could show a chart with revenue for each month of the year. Revenue by Month would not be a McKinsey title for the slide, but August Was a Record Month for Revenue would be.

If a descriptor of what is shown on the slide is needed (Revenue by Month in the example above), add it as a subtitle beneath the McKinsey title and make the text smaller and lighter in color.

Ensure that any content included in the body of the slide reinforces the key point in the McKinsey title. This is called vertical logic: the main point is made at the top of the slide and then reading down (vertically) simply reinforces it.

Reading through just the (McKinsey) titles in a presentation should provide a clear and concise summary of the entire presentation. This is called horizontal logic.

Declutter the slides by removing all extraneous information like repeated corporate logos, slide numbers, and borders around images.

Remove as many repeating, decorative graphical elements as possible (this may be constrained by the corporate style guide):

  • The corporate logo typically does not need to be on every slide.
  • Slide numbers are often not needed.
  • Copyright notices can be removed unless the material truly needs to include a copyright mark.
  • Remove borders around embedded data visualizations and diagrams.
  • Remove or lighten “divider” lines in the body of the slide unless they are absolutely necessary.

Avoid using bullets.

Bullets are effective in written documents (and playbooks!), but they are ineffective in presentation slides.

If bullets are being used to enumerate multiple points, then consider if each point should get its own slide.

If a brief list is needed, remove the bullet characters themselves and add a bit of vertical space between each list item to separate them.

Limit the text to highly abbreviated key points.

After creating a slide, copy the text into the Notes area of the slide - the section that does not show on the slide itself, but can be included when printing handouts - and then aggressively trim the text that remains on the slide.

Find specific imagery that reinforces the key point for each slide.

Imagery includes: data visualizations, diagrams, and pictures.

The more specific the image is at conveying the point of the slide, the less text is needed.

Use “off-slide” areas like the notes or appendices for more detailed material.

Your audience might expect a copy of the slides after the presentation. The slides you use don’t need to stand alone as reviewable content; you can add detailed, supplemental information to the Notes and appendix sections.