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Every Slide Counts

How much is a post-it note worth? The answer might be less than half a penny if you buy a 12-pad pack at Staples for $5.99. Most people won’t stop to pick up a penny on the street, even fewer worry about wasting a post-it note.

every-slide-counts-03-506pxThen again, you might get a different answer if you ask my friend Roger. You see, Roger organizes his life with post-it notes. His office is a matrix of 1.5 x 2 inch color squares. They are everywhere. Lined up in rows on the desk, stuck onto stuff on the walls, attached to piles of paper stacked here and there. Each note carries a coded instruction – a critical word or two or three in Roger’s impeccably neat printing. Red notes for the most important tasks, yellow for less critical and other colors to denote various types of actions needed.

If you ask Roger what a post-it note is worth, he might tell you that a note to follow up with an important new prospect attached to her business card could be worth a six figure account.

So let me ask you, what is that PowerPoint slide you just created worth?

PPT is so ubiquitous and is used for so many things, it is easy to think of slides as nothing more than digital post-it notes. If it takes 30 seconds to bang out a simple bullet slide, then it costs a company about 21 cents to make that slide (based on a $50K annual salary). Now I am not sure a good slide can be made in 30 seconds, but a fast keyboarder could certainly come up with 4 or 6 bullet points in half a minute.

So is a PowerPoint slide worth 21 cents? (Or if using office supply accounting, is a slide worth 42 post-it notes, 885 staples or not quite 12 rubber bands?)

Although I am not aware of any formal research in this area, I believe the cost of creating and maintaining business presentations in the United States is enormous. Below, I have pulled results from several surveys conducted by Research Presentation Strategies (RPS) in order to take a very rough stab at how much US businesses spend on making PowerPoint presentations.
Based on the 2006 RPS PowerPoint Use survey, a typical presentation consists of 25 slides and includes, on average, the following:

  • 1 title slide
  • 16 bullet slides
  • 1 ordered list
  • 2 charts
  • 5 graphic slides that include a combination of clip art, images or illustrations.

Based on our experience creating presentations, this typical presentation would take a total of 54 hours to create and cost $3,147. This estimate is based on a person making $80,000 total compensation doing most of the work, but also assumes 4 other team members/managers are involved in reviewing the presentation at various points during development. The average cost of each slide in this model is $125.89.

Now let’s try to generalize this a bit. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that there are 56 million white collar workers in the US. Another RPS survey earlier this year found that 47% use PowerPoint to some extent in their job. That’s a whopping 26 million people who might be using PPT on a regular (i.e. monthly) basis.

We know that most people collaborate on presentations, so let’s assume that only one out of 10 individuals are working on unique presentations and that individuals create only 1 presentation per month (the RPS 2014 PPT Use survey found that 89% create 1 to 5 presentations per month).

We also know that 88% of PPT users will re-use slides, so let’s assume that all slides created will be re-used in 5 presentations. That means that only 20% of presentations created use new and unique slides. That would result in the creation of about 500,000 new presentations each month.

At $3,147 per presentation, we are talking about a cost of almost 19 billion dollars per year. (500,000 x $3,147 x 12 months.) If that sounds like a big number to you, well it is – but it is just barely 1 tenth of 1% of the US GDP. So, is it possible that we spend 0.1% of our GDP creating PowerPoint presentations?

While no company is likely to have a line item on their P&L for PowerPoint presentations, it seems reasonable to think that the cost of developing presentations is significant. Keep in mind that we have not even attempted to consider opportunity costs, as in my friend Roger’s critically important post-it note.

The big question is, how can companies manage their presentation development to ensure that every single slide counts?

After all, for every $126 slide you create, you could have bought 25,242 post-it notes.

. . . . . . .

Your turn: Do these back-of-the-envelope calculations match your experience? What’s your estimate of what a slide is worth or what making all these presentations is costing US businesses? Let us know in a comment. We’re very interested in hearing what you have to say.

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