PowerPoint Math: The 10-20-30 Rule

Today we look at another PowerPoint “rule”, this one from venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki.

Guy Kawasaki
Guy Kawasaki

According to Kawasaki, a PowerPoint presentation should have 10 slides maximum, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points. Although he designed the rule for presentations to venture capitalists, Kawasaki says that it applies to “any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.”

Let’s look at Kawasaki’s rationale for the 10-20-30 Rule:

10 slides

“Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting—and venture capitalists are very normal. … If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business.”

20 minutes

“Sure, you have an hour time slot, but you’re using a Windows laptop, so it will take forty minutes to make it work with the projector. Even if setup goes perfectly, people will arrive late and have to leave early. In a perfect world, you give your pitch in twenty minutes, and you have forty minutes left for discussion.”

30-point font

“The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. … Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well.”

Below is a short clip in which Guy Kawasaki explains his rule. It humorous, insightful and worth two minutes of your time.

In a recent post, I wrote that the 1-6-6 Rule for PowerPoint is not a good rulle at all. What do I think of the 10-20-30 Rule? I like it, even if I don’t necessarily agree that one must rigidly adhere to each of its elements:

10 slides

Will your presentation implode if you have eleven slides? I suspect not. In fact, when thinking about this issue, I was reminded of this scene from the 1984 classic mock musical documentary This is Spinal Tap:

But I agree with the philosophy. Do not overload your presentation with information. Your audience will not be able to absorb it. Hit the key points. You can always provide more details afterwards.

20 minutes

Same issue, really. Would a well-crafted 25-minute presentation be so terrible? Probably not. But here too, I like Kawasaki’s minimalist approach. Rigorously sticking to 20 minutes will force you to think about what is important and what can be omitted. And nobody is going to hold it against you if you speak for less than your allotted time.

By keeping the presentation brief, you can expand on points of interest to your audience during the Q&A session. And remember that people’s attention starts to decrease after just 10 minutes, so shorter is better.

30-point font

An excellent suggestion. Keeping your font large will force you to choose your words judiciously and will also make it easier fo your audience to read your slides. (Of course, you should not just use text – be sure to add some visuals.)

So there you have it. A PowerPoint “rule” from Guy Kawasaki worth considering the next time you have a presentation coming up.

Photo courtesy of VGrigas

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  1. You’re absolutely right–the “10” portion is a little suspect to me. I’d have to know more about the content of the presentation…for some, 10 slides would be way too many!

  2. I’m not sure that I agree with any rule involving PowerPoint, unless it’s ‘Think whether you need slides at all before you use this technology’! Great you’re raising the issue John. I’ve blogged about this myself and I’d really welcome any view you or your readers have on my take on the subject.

    1. A nice approach, Sander. Having a blend of elements in one’s presentation (whiteboard, slides, props, talking without support, etc.) also keeps the audience’s interest. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Thanks for the analysis John. Like you, I think the intent is good, but the rigidity is pretty silly.

    And as you pointed out to me about Seth Godin (who said “No more than 6 words per slide – ever”), Guy Kawasaki breaks his own rule too. So it seems to be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”. To me, that puts a huge dent in their credibility.

    By the way, Phil Waknell has a great post about 10-20-30 too. And he even shows a photo of a slide to demonstrate that 30 points is sometimes WAY too small. (For an example of Guy breaking the 10-20-30 rule, see the YouTube link in my comment on Phil’s post.)

    1. Thanks, Craig. I think that “rules” such as the ones we are discussing if people use them to adhere to general principles (not too much text; large font; etc.). But absolutes rarely work in all situations. Thanks for sharing the link to Phil’s post. I will have a look.

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