How Much Does Slide Order Matter?

We commonly face the challenge of how to place our presentation slides in some order. Should I talk about the problem first? Or the solution? Or show our sales performance? Or maybe tell a story? Or show a video

In the end, we muddle through somehow. But did you know the order you present information makes a huge difference in getting an audience’s buy-in? A couple of examples come to mind to bring the point to life.


1. Text order.

Imagine I’m describing a businessman to you:

Smart, generous, strong-willed, ruthless, focused, impatient, dogged

Do you have an overall positive or negative impression of this man? How about if I describe him like this?

Ruthless, impatient, strong-willed, focused, smart, generous, dogged

Is your impression the same? Or changed? Most likely, you will find the person easier to like in example 1 and harder to like in example 2, even though I use the same words in both cases. That’s because the first few words influence how we view the rest of the words.

Order matters. The lesson: lead with the slides that put the audience in the best emotional frame of mind. It will influence how they interpret everything else.


2. Video order.

I’m reading a book now called “Words that Work” where the author describes a focus group he held to find out what people thought of presidential candidate Ross Perot. He played three tapes in this order – 1) a Perot biography, 2) people talking admiringly about Perot, and finally 3) a speech by Perot. Normally, people were very favorable toward Perot.

But one day, he found his first two tapes were not rewound. So he started with the third video of Perot’s speech, then followed up with the biography and testimonials. This time, people were violently opposed to Perot. In his speech he sounded irritable and loud. People were turned off by him at the outset and when the biography and testimonials were played, the audience focused on negative qualities rather than positive.

Order matters. The lesson: avoid leading with anything that will bias your audience against the rest of your content.


3. A smoke and a prayer

Two men were living and working at a church, where they were required to pray several hours per day. Both were smokers and they asked the priest if they were allowed to smoke during prayer hour.

The next day the two men met at prayer. The first said, “the priest told me no”.  The second man lit up a cigarette and said “Well, he told me yes.”

“What!” sputtered the first man, “How did you get him to agree?”

“Easy,” said the second man, “How did you ask him?”

“I just said, is it okay if I smoke while I’m praying.”

The second man responded, “I asked is it okay if I pray while I’m smoking.”

Order matters.


About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

4 thoughts on “How Much Does Slide Order Matter?

  1. Very good points! now the hard part is figuring out which of the facts we want to present are better perceived so we can start with those.

    1. Hi Brian – I also love the Luntz book. Many books are not much more than “brochureware” for the author. The Luntz book is packed with useful ideas on how to use words to frame your ideas for maximum impact. Highly recommended reading.

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