Presentation and writing lessons from the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Or, the REAL cause of Death By PowerPoint.

What can a childrens' book author teach us about what makes a good presentation?


Don't think kids are an easy audience. Kids demand clarity. They have the same short attention span we have, but they don't have our learned tolerance to put up with being bored. While we might feel like it, read a boring presentation to a child and they actually will cry.

So what does the Very Hungry Caterpillar author Eric Carle teach us? Don't put too much on the page.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was published 40 years ago this year, and has sold over 30 million copies. In an interview, Eric talks about an early experience in publishing that led him to his simple, engaging, uncluttered style:

Why did you start making children’s books?
Way back, when I was in advertising, someone asked me to illustrate what they called ‘educational material’, and I thought it was pretty awful. They put too much on the pages – I would say 32 good ideas on one page makes a terrible book. Then Bill Martin Jr asked if I’d illustrate his book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It turned me on – the simplicity of the text, the rhythm of that book. I learned from Bill: you take one idea and spread it over 32 pages.

How can we apply this to business? Same way. When in doubt, make another slide.

There's a rule of thumb that too many slides in a presentation is what causes death by powerpoint. That rule is wrong. What causes Death By Powerpoint is too many ideas per slide.

Normally, those too many ideas are crammed on the slide in the form of bullets, but pictures, illustrations and flow-diagrams can all accomplish the same thing: Idea clutter.

If you want to keep your audience engaged and if you want to keep your messages clear, reduce the number of ideas per slide. (see previous post, Clarity Rule - Only One Point), and then, like Eric, maybe your presentation will also reach 30 million people.

I read this book to my kid. Who knew it would invade my professional life too?
Munch munch.


  1. See the Google home page today (20th March)!

    I just read a post over on ProBlogger that is a nice follow on to this one.

    See it here:

    Greg Stewart