Thursday, January 29, 2009

Don’t misinterpret Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

In a blog post at, Guy Kawasaki says:
“Before there is an epidemic of Ménière’s in the venture capital community, I am trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.”

Ever since this blog post, commentators have used it to justify a call to reduce the number of slides in all types of presentations. But I think most of these commentators are misguided. Let’s look at what Kawasaki actually said. He said the rule applies to venture capital presentations and “any presentation to reach agreement”. OK, hands up, how many of you are almost always doing presentations where you expect to reach an agreement in that meeting? What, almost no hands up!?! Exactly my point.

Most of the presentations that are done are not ones in which you expect to reach agreement in that presentation – even if they are sales presentations. I’d say less than 10% (and I’m being generous at that) of presentations fall into the category that Kawasaki talks about. So why do so many commentators apply it to other types of presentations? Beats me! But I think it may have to do with the search for a simple way to solve the problem of poor presentations. We are all annoyed at the awful presentations we have to sit through, but we don’t know what to do about them.

The effectiveness of the presentation has less to do with the number of slides you use as it does with the connection you make with the audience. If you actually read the blog post – go do it now, I’ll wait for you – OK, you’re back and I’ll continue – Kawasaki talks about the barrier that slides create between the presenter and the audience when not used well. There are many ways to solve this problem, one being his 10/20/30 rule.

My suggestion, captured in my book The Visual Slide Revolution, is to transform the wall of text that Kawasaki describes, into persuasive visuals. This allows you to have a conversation with the audience, connecting with them and more effectively delivering your message – whether it is a message updating financial figures, HR policy training or a sales pitch. It actually can lead to more slides being used, but they are more effective and the audience is not bored stiff.

Before you buy in to the latest commentator who quotes Kawasaki’s rule, step back and think for yourself. There is no easy answer to this issue. But there is a better way to use slides if you are willing to invest in the success of your presentation.


Blogger Richard I. Garber said...


I agree with you. On October 21, 2008 I posted about “How many slides should you use in a PowerPoint presentation” on my Joyful Public Speaking blog My answer was to use just enough slides to tell your story. That number can vary widely depending on the contents of each slide.

Anyone who takes Guy Kawasaki’s rules as numerical gospel should go back to his blog and read it more carefully. Guy’s lists of “Ten questions with” often actually have many more, like his interviews with Jeffrey Pfeffer and Fred Greguras with 16 questions and Maybe Guy actually means 10 in hexidececimal so he really is talking about 16 slides in base 10.

In his Extreme Presentation Method blog Andrew Abela has distinguished (academically and somewhat artificially) between two presentation idioms or styles, ballroom and conference room. What he calls conference room style corresponds to what Kawasaki calls those where you expect to obtain agreement. Personally I think there actually are a lot more than two styles or idioms (see my December 6, 2008 blog post).

4:34 PM  
Blogger Dr. Ricart said...

How many slides would you use in a 8-hour seminar? As many as you need to make your point. I think Kawasaki's rule applies more to a sales pitch and not for training presentations.

11:50 PM  

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