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Projected Words Per Minute: A Window Into The Potential Effectiveness Of Presentation Slides

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Communication - Needs and Methods

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1000.1 - 15.1000.14



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Paper Authors


Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University

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Michael Alley is an associate professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer, 2003) and gives many professional workshops on presentations to engineers and scientists in the United States and Europe.

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Joanna Garner Pennsylvania State University, Berks Campus

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Dr. Joanna K Garner is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Penn State University, Berks College. Her research interests focus on the application of cognitive psychological principles to the improvement of student learning outcomes.

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Sarah Zappe Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Sarah Zappe is the Director of Assessment and Instructional Support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Pennsylvania State University. Her background is in educational psychology with an emphasis on educational testing and assessment.

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Projected Words per Minute: A Window into the Potential Effectiveness of Presentation Slides

Abstract This paper proposes a metric for gauging the potential effectiveness of presentation slides: projected words per minute. In comparison with the commonly used metric of words per slide, projected words per minute might be better at assessing the cognitive load that the audience experiences when simultaneously listening to words spoken by the presenter and reading words projected on the presenter’s slides. Both of these sources of words contribute to the audience’s cognitive load. Although the number of projected words per minute will not directly indicate how effective a slide is, it does provide insight into a slide’s potential effectiveness. This paper calculates this metric for representative presentations in two common- practice situations. At the 2008 ASEE National Conference, best paper presentations averaged about 35 projected words per minute. Also, at a 2009 symposium of engineering graduate students at a large mid-Atlantic research university, a representative sampling of presentations averaged more than 40 words per minute. In addition, the paper calculates this metric for representative presentations that follow alternative slide structures. For instance, in a large set of assertion–evidence presentations created by international science and engineering Ph.D. students for whom English is a second language, the projected words per minute were less than 20. That number contrasts dramatically with the more than 40 projected words per minute from U.S. graduate students. Another alternative slide structure considered is the slide:ology structure often found in talks on the popular web-site In a technical talk by Bill Gates that follows this slide:ology structure, the projected words per minute was 12. A final alternative slide structure is the Larry Lessig approach. In a well received talk that follows this approach, the number of projected words per minute was 45, which is higher than for the other approaches. However, this example deserves more scrutiny because in this approach only a few words appear on the screen at any time. For that reason, the effect on cognitive load could be quite different from the effect of other slide designs. While these comparisons provide insights into the potential effectiveness of these slides, one should remember that any recommendations for the number of projected words per minute should depend on the level of technical understanding that the audience has about the subject. Also, rather than replacing words per slide as a metric, we advocate that the metric of projected words per minute be coupled to words per slide because the combination reveal much about the potential effectiveness of a slide set.

Introduction Many reports such as The Engineer of 20201 call for improving the presentation skills of our engineering students. For many presentations, having effective visual aids is a key for

Alley, M., & Garner, J., & Zappe, S. (2010, June), Projected Words Per Minute: A Window Into The Potential Effectiveness Of Presentation Slides Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16059

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015