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10/20/30: Why the Rule Should Be Used in Presentations

Are you familiar with the 10/20/30 rule? It states that a presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and should not have a font sizes less than 30 pt. 

This rule was made due to the gradual decrease of people’s attention spans. Making presentations concise and straightforward will save time while still getting the core message across. 

Let us elaborate.

10 Slides 

It can be quite a challenge to comprehend more than 10 concepts during a meeting. 

The 10/20/30 rule suggests using 10 slides to discuss your core message, and provides the following example flow of topics for investor proposals and venture capitalist presentations:

  • Problem 
  • Your solution 
  • Business model 
  • Underlying magic/technology 
  • Marketing and sales 
  • Competition 
  • Team 
  • Projections and milestones 
  • Status and timeline 
  • Summary and call-to-action 

Remember these if you want to get your point across in a concise and straightforward way. Depending on the type of presentation you’re giving, you can tweak these to fit your purpose, but try to keep your slides to a 10 slide minimum, with a visible flow like the one above.

20 Minutes 

Ideally, a 10-slide presentation would only take 20 minutes to finish. Beyond that and you’ll start losing your audience’s attention. 

Keep your presentations short so you can address questions and other concerns at the end. 

30pt Font Size 

People usually use smaller font sizes to cram chunks of information into their slides. Doing so might distract your audience from listening to you and leave them unable to focus or retain the information you present. They may also question whether you are familiar with your own material. A straightforward presentation will assure the audience that you know the topic well enough to explain it in a way that they will understand, especially if they’re new to the concept. 

Use a larger font and remove the unnecessary details. Remember, your presentation shouldn’t do the talking for you, but instead, be there to guide your audience. 

Use the 10/20/30 rule as a consistent baseline to keep your audience engaged during your next presentation. Working within its boundaries will push you to craft a more refined presentation that focuses purely on the essentials, leaving out any distractions for your audience. It’s important to remember that people naturally have a limit to their attention span. This simple and effective rule is meant to guide you in creating a presentation that fits fully within the peak time of your audience’s attention. It’s at that point when your message is most effective and will lead to a more memorable experience for all.

Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule of Presentation: Is It Still Relevant?

PowerPoint is a superb presentation tool that can be an effective visual aid for professional speakers when appropriately used. However, at the hands of inexperienced presenters who have no eye for design, it can pave the way for jarring and unattractive slides. Sad to say, the business world is teeming with mediocre pitch decks that just don’t do justice to the ability of PowerPoint as an excellent design tool. Luckily, there are people like Canva Chief Evangelist Guy Kawasaki, who can show the noobs how it should be done.

Kawasaki advocated the 10-20-30 Rule of PowerPoint, which banks on the idea that a presentation “should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” Although Kawasaki originally meant it for entrepreneurs and startup business owners, this principle applies to all presentations. Following this guide can avoid basic design mistakes and ultimately stand out from the vast sea of lackluster presentations.

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Why the 10-20-30 Rule Is Still Relevant Today

Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule is now more than a decade old—which, we can all agree, is a long time for any virtual rule to last, with the constant and almost abrupt changes that technology makes. Although PowerPoint is still the most recognizable presentation design software in recent history, it’s no longer the only one in the book. Several competitors have emerged, and they all have something relevant to offer. Apart from that, how people use PowerPoint has changed over time. What was invaluable ten years ago may not be as significant today.

This begs the question, “Does the 10-20-30 Rule still apply?” The answer to this is short and clear: YES. Here’s why.

1. Presenters still cram several ideas into one pitch deck

You’d think a lot would have changed in a decade. Well, in the case of slide design, nothing much has improved. Don’t get this wrong—agencies specializing in presentation design have emerged over the years and elevated the landscape. The individual presenters who have not fully maximized the use of PowerPoint still make the same mistakes. Despite professionals strongly advising against it, some presenters still cram multiple ideas into one pitch deck. They don’t even bother to filter out the unnecessary stuff and keep only the crucial points.

When Kawasaki first proposed the 10-20-30 Rule, he also suggested ten topics for the ten slides: the problem, the solution, the business model, the underlying technology, sales and marketing, the competition, the team, projections and milestones, status and timeline, and summary and call to action.

So, instead of filling each slide with unnecessary text, why not try to identify your salient points first and then make an outline based on them? Use as little text as possible to avoid overwhelming your audience with a barrage of ideas. If a slide isn’t necessary, do away with it. Remember, you are the star of your presentation, not the pitch deck or anything else. Make sure that all focus remains on you.

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2. People’s attention span is getting shorter

We’re in the age of social media, where the best content is short and fast, and people appreciate things that don’t take much time. Attention spans have become relatively more straightforward, so people are growing more impatient and expectant—a combination that is hard to satisfy. This is why when delivering a presentation, you should always be considerate of your audience’s time and level of interest. Even if you’re given an hour to present, prepare for a speech that doesn’t last longer than twenty minutes. You can use the extra time to set up your equipment or hold a Q&A session.

“But I have something significant to say!” you may argue. That doesn’t give you any reason to go beyond the suggested time frame. Look at the universally-renowned TED talks, for example. Speakers are expected to deliver their speeches in eighteen minutes or less, which doesn’t stop them from communicating brilliant ideas worth sharing. If you have an imposed time constraint, you’ll be forced to edit your speech meticulously until it’s down to the bare necessities. Trim down all the unnecessary stuff to put the essentials in the spotlight.

3. Readability is a crucial factor that’s still being sidelined

The number one rule of presentations is simple: The audience is the boss. Wherever you are in the presentation, you should always put the audience at the forefront of your mind. For instance, what the people in the front row see should also be seen clearly by those in the back row. Optimize the font size of your text to accommodate all of your viewers. When you see people squinting at your slide, take the hint that something’s not right.

Another reason why the thirty-point font rule should still be reinforced today is that it encourages you to limit the number of words you can put in each slide. As much as possible, don’t overload your slides with information. Remember that your goal is not to bombard your audience with ideas but to present them with a few that can improve their lives.

Is the 10-20-30 Rule Absolute?

Kawasaki didn’t mean for the 10-20-30 Rule to be followed religiously by all business presenters. Instead, he set it as a guideline for people who want to improve their pitch decks and, consequently, their presentations. The fact remains that each situation is unique, so there’s no hard-and-fast rule that applies to all.

Instead of asking how many slides you should have, ask how many you need. Also, instead of going with the twenty-minute rule, why not apply the one-third rule, which suggests that the length of your speech should be one-third of the time you’re given? That is, after all, the original idea that Kawasaki proposed. Lastly, you can bend the thirty-point-font rule without breaking it. It’s only the minimum font size recommended, so you can go higher as the number of words you use per slide decreases. Ultimately, you should consider the needs of your audience instead of mindlessly jumping on the bandwagon. What works for one may not always work for you.

Twelve years later, Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule is still as effective as ever. If every presenter applies these three timeless guidelines, the landscape of presentation design will be infinitely better.

Resources:

Dlugan, Andrew. “The 10-20-30 Rule: Guy Kawasaki on PowerPoint.” Six Minutes. June 10, 2010. sixminutes.dlugan.com/10-20-30-rule-guy-kawasaki-powerpoint

Jonson, Laura. “The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint: Does It Still Work?” SlideShare. January 13, 2016. blog.slideshare.net/2016/01/13/the-102030-rule-of-powerpoint-does-it-still-work

Kawasaki, Guy. “The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.” Guy Kawasaki. December 30, 2005. guykawasaki.com/the_102030_rule

“Follow the 10-20-30 Rule for a Perfect PowerPoint Presentation.” Presentation Load. October 17, 2013. blog.presentationload.com/follow-10-20-30-rule-perfect-powerpoint-presentation

Apply the 10/20/30 Rule to Your PowerPoint Presentations Now

Guy Kawasaki is a successful venture capitalist who has been writing books about the trade since 1987.

A few years back, he wrote a short blog advocating a simple rule for PowerPoint & pitch deck presentations. He called it the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.

According to the 10/20/30 rule:

…a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

Kawasaki came up with this quick presentation style due to his line of business, citing how he’d often listen to dozens of pitches in a short period of time.

However, even if you’re not in the venture capital business, the 10/20/30 rule can still be applicable to your goals.

Given people’s increasingly shortening attention spans, keeping your presentation compact can save all of you time while still getting the meat of your message across.

Here we expound on each of Kawasaki’s points. But first, the 10/20/30 Rule in his own words:

Rule #1: 10 Slides

Kawasaki pointed out that it’s challenging to comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting.

Most people assume that you need to be highly detailed in order to be impressive, but this isn’t always the case.

The 10/20/30 rule also suggests that you use the ten slides to tackle all the topics important to your audience. For a venture capitalist, these topics are the following:

  1. Problem
  2. Your solution
  3. Business model
  4. Underlying magic/technology
  5. Marketing and sales
  6. Competition
  7. Team
  8. Projections and milestones
  9. Status and timeline
  10. Summary and call to action

Use this list as a guide when you’re trying to condense your presentations into neat, salient points.

Depending on the type of presentation you’re giving, you can tweak these to fit your purpose, but try to keep your slides to a minimum, with a visible flow like the one above.

Rule #2: 20 Minutes

You should be done with your ten-slide presentation in twenty minutes.

Kawasaki would often allot an hour to hear an entrepreneurial pitch, but most of the time gets lost in other things. (For instance, your laptop might take a while to sync with the projector.)

Emergencies might also pull your audience away from the meeting. It’s best to keep your presentation short so that you’ll also have time to address questions and other concerns.

Rule #3: 30-pt Font Size

Kawasaki observed that the only reason people used smaller font sizes is to be able to cram huge chunks of text into a slide.

In doing so, your audience may perceive that you’re not familiar with the material and that you’re using the PowerPoint as a teleprompter.

The 10/20/30 rule forces you to use a larger font, so you can cut back on unnecessary details. Remember: you’re the one who has to do the talking, not your PowerPoint presentation.

10 slides in 20 minutes using a font no smaller than 30 points. Easy enough, right?

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