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The 10 20 30 Rule: What it is and 3 Reasons to Use it in 2021

The 10 20 30 Rule: What it is and 3 Reasons to Use it in 2021

Lawrence Haywood 13 Sep 2021 7 min read

Now, we don’t know you, but we guarantee that you have experienced a PowerPoint presentation that’s gone on for far too long. You’re 25 slides deep, 15 minutes in and have had your open-minded attitude comprehensively battered by walls upon walls of text.

Well, if you’re veteran marketing specialist Guy Kawasaki, you make sure this never happens again.

You invent the 10 20 30 rule. It’s the holy grail for PowerPoint presenters and a guiding light to more engaging, more converting presentations of any kind.

At AhaSlides, we love great presentations. We’re here to give you everything you need to know about the 10 20 30 rule and how you can start implementing it in your seminars, webinars and meetings.

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In This Post, We’ll Cover…

What is the 10 20 30 Rule?

Put simply, the 10 20 30 rule of PowerPoint is a collection of 3 golden principles to abide by in your presentations.

It’s the rule that your presentation should…

  1. Contain a maximum of 10 slides
  2. Be a maximum length of 20 minutes
  3. Have a minimum font size of 30

The whole reason Guy Kawasaki came up with the rule was to make presentations more engaging.

The 10 20 30 rule may seem overly restricting at first glance, but as is the necessity in today’s attention crisis, it’s a principle that helps you make maximum impact with minimal content.

Let’s dive in…

The 10 Slides

The 10 20 30 rule of PowerPoint presentations in Stockholm.
10 slides is all you need.

Guy Kawasaki says that 10 slides ‘is what the mind can handle’. Your presentation should get a maximum of 10 points across in 10 slides.

The natural tendency when presenting is to try and unload as much information as possible on the audience. In fact, audiences don’t just absorb information like a collective sponge; they need time and space to process what’s being presented.

For the pitchers out there looking to make the perfect pitch presentation, Guy Kawasaki already has your 10 slides for you:

  1. Title
  2. Problem/Opportunity
  3. Value Proposition
  4. Underlying Magic
  5. Business Model
  6. Go-to-Market Plan
  7. Competitive Analysis
  8. Management Team
  9. Financial Projections and Key Metrics
  10. Current Status, Accomplishments to Date, Timeline, and Use of Funds.

But remember, the 10 20 30 rule doesn’t just apply to business. If you’re a university lecturer, making a speech at a wedding or trying to enlist your friends on a pyramid scheme, there’s always a way to limit the number of slides you’re using.

Keeping your slides to a compact 10 may be the hardest part of the 10 20 30 rule, but it’s also the most crucial.

Sure you’ve got a lot to say, but doesn’t everyone pitching an idea, lecturing at university or signing their friends up to Herbalife? Whittle it down to 10 or fewer slides and the next part of the 10 20 30 rule will follow.

The 20 Minutes

The importance of having a 20 minute presentation.
Keep presentations to a lean 20 minutes or less.

If you’ve ever been turned off an episode of a Netflix Original because it’s an hour and a half long, think about those poor audiences around the world who are, right now, sitting in hour-long presentations.

The middle section of the 10 20 30 rule says that a presentation should never be longer than an episode of the Simpsons.

That’s a given, considering that if most people can’t even fully focus through Season 3’s excellent Homer at the Bat, how are they going to manage a 40-minute presentation about projected lanyard sales in the next quarter?

The Perfect 20-Minute Presentation

  • Intro (1 minute) – Don’t get caught up in the panache and showmanship of the intro. Your audience already knows why they’re there and drawing out the intro gives them the impression that this presentation is going to be long. A lengthy intro dissolves the focus before the presentation even begins.
  • Pose a question / Illuminate the problem (4 minutes) – Get straight into what this presentation is trying to solve. Bring up the main topic of the presentation and emphasise its importance through data and/or real world examples. Gather audience opinions to foster focus and illustrate the prominence of the problem.
  • Main body (13 minutes) – Naturally, this is the entire reason for the presentation. Offer information that attempts to answer or resolve the question or problem you just posed. Provide visual facts and figures that support what you’re saying and transition between slides to form the cohesive body of your argument.
  • Conclusion (2 minutes) – Provide a brief summary of the problem and the points you’ve made that resolve it. This consolidates the information in the audience members’ minds before they ask you about it in the Q&A.

As Guy Kawasaki states, a 20-minute presentation leaves 40 minutes for questions. This is a great ratio to aim for as it encourages audience participation.

AhaSlides’ Q&A feature is the perfect tool for those after-pres questions. No matter if you’re presenting in-person or online, an interactive Q&A slide gives power to the audience and let’s you address their real concerns.

The 30 Point Font

The importance of large text in the 10 20 30 rule.
Using large font gives you punchier, more impactful presentations. Image courtesy of Design Shack.

One of the biggest audience grievances about PowerPoint presentations is the presenter’s tendency to read their slides aloud.

There are two reasons why this flies in the face of everything the 10 20 30 rule represents.

The first is that the audience always reads faster than the presenter speaks, which causes impatience and loss of focus. The second is that it suggests that the slide includes way too much text information.

This is where the final segment of the 10 20 30 rule comes in. Mr Kawasaki accepts absolutely nothing less than a 30pt. font when it comes to text on your PowerPoints, and he’s got 2 reasons why…

  1. Limiting the amount of text per slide – Capping each slide with a certain number of words means that you won’t be tempted to simply read the information aloud. Your audience will remember 80% of what they see and only 20% of what they read, so keep text to a minimum.
  2. Breaking down the points – Less text means shorter sentences that are easier to digest. The final part of the 10 20 30 rule cuts out the waffle and gets straight to the point.

If you’re thinking a 30pt. font isn’t radical enough for you, check out what marketing guru Seth Godin suggests:

No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.

Seth Godin

It’s up to you whether you want to include 6 or more words on a slide, but regardless, the message of Godin and Kawasaki is loud and clear: less text, more presenting.

3 Reasons to Use the 10 20 30 Rule in Your Presentations

Don’t just take our word for it. Here’s Guy Kawasaki himself recapping the 10 20 30 rule and explaining why he came up with it.

The man himself, Guy Kawasaki, summarises his 10 20 30 rule for PowerPoint.

So, we’ve discussed how you can benefit from the individual sections of the 10 20 30 rule. Now, lets talk about how Kawasaki’s principle as a whole can raise the level of your presentations.

  1. More engaging – Naturally, shorter presentations with less text encourage more speaking and visuals. It’s easy to hide behind the text, but the most engaging presentations out there are manifested in what the speaker says, not what they show.
  2. More direct – Following the 10 20 30 rule promotes the necessary information and slashes the redundant. When you force yourself to make it as brief as possible, you naturally prioritise the key points and keep your audience focussed on what you want.
  3. More memorablePooling the focus and giving an engaging, visual-centred presentation results in something altogether more memorable. Your audience will leave your presentation with the right information and a more positive attitude towards it.

You may be one of millions of presenters migrating to online presentations right now. If so, the 10 20 30 rule can be one of many tips to make your webinars more captivating.

More Great Tips for Presentations

Remember that experience we talked about in the intro? The one that makes you want to melt into the floor to avoid the pain of another one-way, hour-long presentation?

Well, it has a name: Death by PowerPoint. We actually have a whole article on Death by PowerPoint and how you can avoid committing this sin in your own presentations.

Signing up for the 10 20 30 rule is a great place to start, but here are some of the other ways you can spice up your presentation.

Tip #1 – Make it Visual

That ‘6 word per slide’ rule that Seth Godin talks about may seem a little restricting, but its point is to make your slides more visual.

More visuals help to illustrate your concepts and heighten your audiences’ memory of the key points. In fact, you can expect them to walk away with 65% of your info remembered if you use images, videos, props and charts.

Compare that to the 10% memory rate of text-only slides and you’ve got a pretty compelling case to go visual!

Tip #2 – Make it Black

Another pro tip from Guy Kawasaki, here. A black background and white text is a far more powerful combination than a white background and black text.

Black backgrounds scream professionalism and gravitas. Not only that, but light text (preferably a bit more gray rather than pure white) is easier to read and scan.

White heading text against a coloured background also stands out more. Be sure to leverage your use of black and coloured backgrounds to impress rather than overwhelm.

Tip #3 – Make it Interactive

A world cloud slide at Future Maker in Thailand, demonstrating the 10 20 30 rule through AhaSlides
Interactive slides like word clouds add a more communal dimension to your presentation.

You might hate audience participation at the theatre, but the same rules don’t apply for presentations.

No matter what your subject is, you should always find a way to make it interactive. Getting your audience involved is fantastic for increasing focus, using more visuals and creating a dialogue about your topic that helps the audience feel valued and heard.

In today’s age of online meetings and remote work, a free tool like AhaSlides is important for creating this dialogue. You can use interactive polls, Q&A slides, word clouds and much more to gather and illustrate your data, then even use a quiz to consolidate it.

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Feature image courtesy of Life Hack.

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