Article Category: Visual Aids

The 10-20-30 Rule: Guy Kawasaki on PowerPoint


You’ve just been asked to give a project update to your colleagues at next week’s lunch-hour seminar.

Quick…
How many slides will you use?
How much text can you put on them?
How long should you speak — the whole hour, or less?

Don’t know? Guy Kawasaki, a famous author and venture capitalist, has the answers and they may surprise you.

What is the 10-20-30 Rule for PowerPoint?

Guy Kawasaki framed his 10-20-30 Rule for PowerPoint as:

  • 10 slides are the optimal number to use for a presentation.
  • 20 minutes is the longest amount of time you should speak.
  • 30 point font is the smallest font size you should use on your slides.

You can read his pitch here, and you can see his pitch below (or here):

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What I Love About the 10-20-30 Rule for PowerPoint

If everyone were to follow this advice, the overall quality of business presentations everywhere would improve dramatically. If you stop reading now and follow this advice religiously, I wouldn’t complain too much.

#1: 10 Slides Constrains the Presenter to Choose Wisely

Sure, 10 may seem like an arbitrary number, but putting a limit on the number of slides you are allowed is a valuable constraint. Most people probably have 20, or 30, or 100 slides for a 1-hour presentation. Trimming this number down to 10 forces you to evaluate the necessity of each and every slide. Just like every element of your presentation, if the slide isn’t necessary, it should be cut.

It also encourages a presenter to design wisely. Often a single well-designed diagram eliminates the need for 5 bullet-point slides.

#2: 20 Minutes is Long Enough to Communicate Something Big

Often a single well-designed diagram eliminates the need for 5 bullet-point slides.

Just like the constraint on the number of slides, a constraint on your speaking time will force you to edit mercilessly. Trim the sidebar jokes. Trim the gratuitous “I’m happy to be here” pleasantries. Trim the stories which aren’t essential to conveying your message. Trim the details that only 5% of the audience cares about — send them out via email later. When you are able to trim all the extras, you can communicate with precision and concision.

Martin Luther King Jr. only needed 17 minutes to share his dream. What makes you think you need more?

#3: 30-Point Font Guarantees Readability

Unless you have a very large audience and a very small projector screen (it has happened to me), 30-point font should be readable by everyone in your audience.  Bigger is probably better, but this is a sensible lower threshold to adopt.

While a 30-point font still allows you to put too many words on a slide, at least your audience will be able to read them.

What I Hate About the 10-20-30 Rule for PowerPoint

There are very few strict rules for public speaking, and these don’t qualify. Here’s a few reasons why you should consider them guidelines, but not rules.

#1: Every Situation is Unique

First, remember Guy Kawasaki’s context for the rule: 1-hour presentations from entrepreneurs to venture capitalists. He’s a successful venture capitalist, so let’s assume his rule is perfect for that scenario.

But does this scenario match your next presentation? If not, then be careful about applying the wisdom to your personal situation.

#2: There’s no Perfect Number of Slides

Develop your content first, and then add slides as necessary.

“How many slides should I have?” is one of the most frequent questions I hear. Somebody asks it every time I deliver my PowerPoint design course.

The wrong answers are numerous:

  • You should always have 10 slides
  • You should always have one slide per minute
  • You should always have one slide per major point
  • You should have no more than 5 slides

The right answer is: How many slides do you need?

How many slides are necessary for you to convey your message in an effective and memorable way? It might be zero. It might be one. It might be 200. It depends heavily on the nature of your content, the message you are delivering, and the complexity of your slides.

Develop your content first, and then add slides as necessary.

#3: There’s no Perfect Duration to Speak

The 20 minute suggestion assumes a 1-hour time slot. So, the rule is really saying that you should speak for one-third of your allowed time and leave two-thirds for Q&A. That’s not a bad guideline. In fact, it’s a very good general guideline.

But, it depends. Maybe the format of your event just doesn’t allow for Q&A within or after the presentation. Maybe you are doing a product demo which takes 10 minutes, and you’ve only got a 12-minute time slot. (That’s cutting it close!) Maybe the conference is running 35 minutes behind and you are the last speaker of the day. Or, maybe your audience is better served by a 1-minute speech and a 59-minute Q&A.

Consider the needs of your audience, and choose the best presentation format that will meet those needs.

#4: There’s no Perfect Font Size

30-point font might be an optimal size, but it might be too small or too large. The optimal size depends on several factors:

  • how much text is on your slides (aim for less!)
  • the contrast between the text and background colors
  • the lighting in the room
  • the distance between your audience and the screen
  • the quality of the projector
  • the vision of your audience
  • the time of day (Is your audience tired? Have they been looking at slides all day?)

If you have any doubts, go large.

#5: Size Matters, but Quantity Matters More

To be blunt, it doesn’t matter what the font size is as long as your audience can easily read the words. It is, however, much more important to take a step back from your slides and assess whether the words you’ve got are necessary at all. Neither you nor your audience should be reading lengthy passages of text from your slides. Your audience should be listening to you, and the slides are just visual aids.

#6: If Everybody’s Following the Rules, Maybe You Shouldn’t

One of the strengths of Guy Kawasaki’s advice is that, if you follow it, you are likely to stand out from your peers in a good way. They are probably using too many slides, speaking too long, and putting too much small text on the slides. Standing out as a speaker is a good thing.

But, maybe your colleagues are disciples of Guy Kawasaki. Maybe the 10-slide, 20-minute briefing is commonplace, and your corporate template is set to 30-point font. That’s when the environment is ripe for doing something different. Don’t just change it up for the sake of doing so, but watch for an opportunity where presenting without slides or presenting with 200 makes sense, and go for it.

The Verdict

I applaud Guy Kawasaki’s efforts to use his influence to improve the presentation status quo. He has reached many people with his message; if you are still reading this article, then he’s reaching you too. Overall, the impact of his rule has inched us collectively in the right direction.

But… the 10-20-30 Rule shouldn’t be viewed as a strict rule. (And, for the record, I don’t think Guy Kawasaki views it a strict rule either.) It’s a sound guideline which you should always consider, but make your choices based on your audience, your message, and your own personal style.

Your Thoughts?

What’s your verdict on the 10-20-30 Rule? Should it be embossed onto the surface of every digital projector in the world?

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon24 Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    Andrew,

    I love that you explored both perspectives on Guy’s rule. My answer on the 10/20/30 rule would the classic “it depends”. I have day long workshops with no slides, and webinars that have tons… like you said it’s all about your message, your audience, and what is authentic for you.

    Cheers,
    @amandafenton

  2. GREAT. Thank you.

    I have been a fan and follower of Guy for almost 30 years and appreciate the clarity and confidence of his speaking and ideas. He knows his stuff, he knows he knows his stuff, and he is generally correct.

    You additional comments Andrew help bring the message home. I like that you challenge him a bit (there is no right number of slides).

    Thank you for sharing this.

    On a side note, I ready many blogs, tweets, and posts on public speaking. Yours is the best. Clearly. Even better than mine (and I do not often say that!)

  3. Since my “presentations” are actually sermons, 20 minutes would be a stretch (because of the teaching nature of a sermon) but I love the idea of being concise and to the point. Awesome thoughts from Guy and you!

  4. Good article (and of course Guy’s rule is a good preliminary rule for Power Point use, especially for VC pitches). That said, there are a couple of further issues about Power Point that need to be highlighted.
    1. When you’re asking audiences to look at Power Point, you’re asking them to do 2 things at once (pay attention to the speaker and read slides). Most of us have a very hard time doing that effectively. So you’d better have a very good reason to ask people to look at slides. Word slides — especially word slides that are essentially speaker notes — are a highly ineffective use of Power Point because they drain too much of the audience’s attention. Pictures, an occasional graph, and very limited use of words that make one big point, can work. I recommend Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen as the best book on slides and their uses and abuses. The fact is that the vast majority of business slide decks are speaker notes OR reports that would be better as a leave-behind, and so abuse the audience’s attention. We need to respect, not abuse, our audiences.
    2. The research on attention spans suggest that they last about 22 minutes. John Medina, in his great book Brain Rules, suggests that he’s found (among his college students) that attention span is down to 10 minutes. What most people don’t understand about attention span is that it doesn’t mean that the audience is gone never to return. Rather, it means that the audience needs a quick break. As Medina points out, often a pause, a question, a breath, a stretch, or a joke is enough to refresh the attention span (even of college students). So don’t exaggerate what the effect of the limited attention span is.
    3. Finally, no one should hide behind the old chestnut that Power Point improves retention. There is simply no good evidence of that. Slides are best used to present pictures with emotional impact. We remember things well that have an emotional impact on us. We don’t remember lists, facts, data, or information well at all.

  5. Thanks Andrew for posting this! I am sure the community of Office users over on Facebook would love to hear your thoughts. You should share your knowledge of Powerpoint with the community over on Facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/Office

    Cheers,
    Bryn
    MSFT Office Outreach Team

  6. Jon Thomas says:

    Andrew,

    I almost went nuts when I started reading this post, thinking it was all “Pro Guy”, until I saw that you examine both sides of the argument. Good call.

    I stand by my belief that there is no “correct” method of presenting. Aside from Guy’s there is the Lessig, Garr Reynolds, and Takashi, just to name a few. All have interesting and effective elements of presentation design.

    I often hear people say that X number of slides are too many, or too few, or that X size font is too big (really?). If it’s presented effectively, you can’t say a presentation has too few or too many slides. It’s ALL how you present.

    Great post.

    Jon Thomas
    Presentation Advisors

  7. ragunath says:

    In addition to the above rule of 10-20-30, let me add a “0 rule”. The zero rule indicates that a Powerpoint presentation should not have any errors like spelling mistakes,wrong pronunciations, mistakes in sentence constructions etc..

  8. I agree with most of this. I certainly found Guy’s 10-20-30 rule true as an entrepreneur. As a public speaker, I recently gave a 45 slide presentation in 10 minutes for a 1 hour session. 1 idea per slide or 1 idea for multiple slides, clicked through quickly to make the point.

  9. Mani says:

    I think I just found a new addiction! I really enjoy the review style on here and the clarity. I’ll be back for more speaking tips for sure.

  10. Tim Condon says:

    Thank you all for a lively discussion on the appropriate use of slides in presentations. For me, I like slides that “show”, and speakers who “tell”. As others have stated, slides should be used as support material or visual sparkle. Save the bullet-heavy points for the handout. If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, any attempt at adding words to it may actually lessen its impact. In the art world, we always hear that “less is more”, which I believe is Guy Kawasaki’s message: Be a brutal editor, not just with the images you use, but also with your “script”. I think everyone appreciates tightly organized presentations that offer real value.

  11. Norman says:

    The knowledge of the 10-20-30 rule would help teachers all around the world to keep their audience awake.
    When the autor writes about exceptions it shows that he knows what he is writing about. I think that every rule has some exceptions.

    Thanks for that informative article.

  12. Wiesi says:

    I think the 10 – 20 – 30 rule is a good clue for people who have not made any presentations. 10 slides, 20 minutes for speaking and the 30 – point font are good advices for beginners. But it should be only an advice. The amount of the slides is dependent on your theme and which information the presenter wants to transport. Of course 200 slides are too much for a 20 minutes presentation, but there isn’t a rule. Also there shouldn’t be a rule for a time limit. The time which the presenter needs you cannot set on 20 minutes exactly. For some topics you need more time to transmit it to your audience and to go more into the deep. The 30-point font rule makes sense only the whole audience can read the text on your slide. Exactly as the time of speaking and the amount of the slides the font size is dependent on some factors like Andrew said. Finally I think the most important is that you could transport your message in an interesting and informing way.

  13. Matthias R says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I think that kind of rule is a very helpful thing to plan your presentations properly. There are allways things to improve and you allways can do it better but that way of presentation would be a great improvement for many people. You would prevent many really bad presentations and have solid ground to start without doing bad.
    But printing it on the projector wouldn´t help. When you don´t know the rule and read it there you get nervouse becase than you know what you did wrong bevore and what you are doing wrong in the next minutes.
    Best regards,
    Matthias

  14. Petra Z. says:

    Dear Andrew,
    For me the 10-20-30 rule sounds really good. The best thing is that you can remember it very easily. Everybody should think about this rule before making a presentation, but of course you have to adapt the rule on the situation.
    But even if the rule would be written down on the projector people won’t use it, I think most of the people know what a good presentation should look like, but knowing the facts does not necessary mean that the presentation looks like it should in the end…

  15. Adschmal says:

    The 10-20-30 rule for powerpoint offers a great chance to improve presentations. Thinking about the rules in general, they may be a great help, but in many cases the presenter should optimize the presentation by attending the special thematic. The most important point that i personally get out of the rules is to look extremely on the number of slides to not to confuse the audience. I often can’t get the information of the slides as being a listener myself if there are to much of them. All in all the rules will help me for my future presentations and i will try it as soon as possible.
    All the best
    Adschmal

  16. Mathias B says:

    The 10-20-30 Rule is a good guideline for presentations, but in my opinion every presentation is unique and has its own rules. For example: the audience, the facilities or the topic. This could be very different and this is the reason why I think that everybody who makes a presentation should coordinate this parameters to reach the goal.

  17. Patrick says:

    I think that the 10-20-30 rule is a good “reference point” for everyone, who has to do (to prepare) a presentation. But at least every presenter has to know how many slides and how much time he/she needs for the presentation. All in all, the presentation should (must) contain all the important and necessary points of the topic.

  18. Chris says:

    Hi,

    I think Kawasaki’s rule is a very good guideline, which can give the right hint to people with less experience in doing presentations.
    You can look critical on the 20 minuites rule, because that would really depend on the audience and the situation. But the important questions, that everybody should ask oneself after preparing a presentation, are: Is every information necessary? Are the slides readable? Are the slides a assistance or do they make the front-person worthless.

    I usually try to have an average talking time of 2 minutes per slide, too. That in combination with almost blank slides really helps to keep the audience’s interest on oneself.

    Everyone has to find the best strategy for himself, but Kawasaki gives us the right approach to do so.

    best regards,
    Chris

  19. Michael Margreiter says:

    What’s your verdict on the 10-20-30 Rule?

    I think this 10-20-30 Rule is good for beginners, who don’t know what is really important. This rule is very useful for presentations at school or for short business meetings. If you have the purpose to teach something 20 minutes is less time and you are only able to give the audience an overview of a topic.

    Should it be embossed onto the surface of every digital projector in the world?

    No, how I explained in Question 1 it isn’t good for every kind of presentation. In some cases it is excellent, but sometimes your need mor than 10 slides, or less time than 20 minutes. I think you can’t say that there is a general rule for a presentation in the course slides number and time. It really depends on the topic, available time and purpose.

  20. Sylvester says:

    Hey,

    thank you for this good advices! It is perfect for me to prepare for my next presentation and will allow me to just focus on the important points and the message I want to deliver….

    Rock on…

  21. Alexander L says:

    I would underline and accept the 10-20 in the 10-20-30 Rule, as it is important (to be able) to focus on the main things, which stands for the 10, and 20 minutes should be enough to explain even complex relations/models/etc. – but I do not agree with the 30, as you might not know how big the audience or the room in which you are giving your presentation is. Because of that I think that you cannot generalize what font size you should have. But I would still keep the 30 in the rule, which should show the maximum amount of words in one slide.

    All in all I would say that the 10-20-30 Rule is a good advice for beginners, but definitely needs some adaptions on the presenters needs.

  22. Alex S says:

    my verdict on the 10-20-30 rule is that i find it a nice rule to work with. 10 slides are on the one side a little to few , but on the other side you have to chose carefully what you put in your slides fpr your presenation. in 20 min you can put a lot of inforamtion and you can also chose carefuly what you say. Idon´t think that is should be embosed on every projector because when everybody uses this 10-20-30 rule than will not be necesary

  23. Stefan G says:

    My verdict
    I think it`s a good opinion to make good presentation. It´s very comfortable for the audience if they can read the point fond. Your presentation isn`t going confuesed if you have only slides and the audience doesn`t drift oft if you speak only 20 minutes.

    should it be emassed on to the surface of every digital projector in the world?

    No i don`t think so. I think it`s an good guideline to make good presentation`s but you have to distinguish what presentation you have. If you have to give a presentation in a meeting or something like this, than this a really good rules but for a lecture with an audience of experts i think this not the right way.

  24. René says:

    for my opinion the 10 – 20 – 30 rule is quiet good stuff to make a presentation. Probably the most people made fails in this points. On the other hand i would like to say that when you have to hold a 60 min presentation you can´t talk only 20 minutes have a 40 minutes discussion. But this rules are good to help you to were a grood presenter!

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Dilogic @dilogic_visual — Sep 2nd, 2012

La regla del 10/20/30: Guy Kawasaki en PowerPoint http://t.co/pnOlODbC

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Dilogic @dilogic_visual — Oct 7th, 2012

La regla del 10/20/30: Guy Kawasaki en PowerPoint http://t.co/oy4yjU1t

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Ron Tester @rontester — Nov 13th, 2012

The 10-20-30 Rule: Guy Kawasaki on PowerPoint http://t.co/weNqwXjK via @6minutes

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The 10-20-30 Rule: Guy Kawasaki on PowerPoint http://t.co/uneBkQQcqA via @6minutes

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GadgetGirl (@gadgetgirl8) @gadgetgirl8 — May 13th, 2014

This is a good reference for all the presenter. http://t.co/xzpaCWquqI

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