We write a lot about the importance of minimalism, whether it’s in writing, in presentations, or in image use – brevity is a useful principle that will rarely steer you wrong. When looking directly at presentations, particularly when it comes to startups and capital investment – keep to the point. The 10/20/30 rule is a throwback theory developed in the corporate-financial sector that resonates in presentation design.
Guy Kawasaki is a successful venture capitalist operating in Silicon Valley. After decades of watching entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas, he developed the 10/20/30 Rule. This rule, according to its eponymous blog post written by Kawasaki in 2005, “a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.”
Kawasaki admits that most of the presentations and pitches he attends are long-winded rubbish. Whether raising capital, making a sale, or forming a partnership, presenters tend to fill their pitches with as much information as possible rather than keep things concise and to the point.
Slides and Length: Keep it Brief
According to Kawasaki, ten slides is optimal for PowerPoint presentations since most people can’t comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. He noted that the ten topics that most venture capitalists are interested in are: i) problem, ii) solution, iii) business model, iv) underlying technology, v) sales and marketing, vi) competition, vii) team, viii) projections and milestones, ix) status and timeline, x) summary and call to action.
With just ten slides at a presenter’s disposal, twenty minutes seems like an adequate amount of time to make a sales pitch (spending roughly two minutes per slide). Even if you’re allotted a full hour, it’s best to leave some buffer time for late arrivals at the start and discussion/questions at the end.
Big Points for Fonts
Size thirty-point font goes back to what we’ve written about presentations time and again: keep text to a minimal. Packing your slides with text is not helpful for you or your audience – on-screen text should support what you’re saying; not reiterate it verbatim. Furthermore, if the audience notices you’re reading from your slides, they will either zone out from what you’re saying or read ahead and put your presentation out of sync with the audience.
Kawasaki noted that the two reasons people mistakenly use small font is because they don’t know their presentation content well enough and they believe using more text makes it more convincing. Both of these are understandable, but completely wrong.
“Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points,” he writes. “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. If “thirty points,” is too dogmatic, the I offer you an algorithm: find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That’s your optimal font size.”
While Kawasaki developed the 10/20/30 rule over 15 years ago, they still hold weight today. In this era of social media and 24-hour news cycles, attention spans are shortening. Imagine if someone in the 1990s came up with the concept of Vine (a video sharing platform with a limit of six seconds); it would have never worked because audiences back then were more willing to concentrate. Nowadays, there are so many distractions that our attention is much harder to maintain – people put Netflix on TV while browsing social media on their phones. This reinforces the notions of 10/20/30 – keep is short and simple if you want to get your message across.
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