Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule for Presentations

I have a confession to make: I have a man crush on Guy Kawasaki.

In all seriousness, his advice and wisdom that he has shared abundantly across the interwebs and through his books has changed my life. Specifically, his book, The Art of the Start, helped give me the insight and courage to get my company, Ethos3, off the ground.

I’m a huge fan and am truly indebted.

Back in 2005, Guy introduced to the world his 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It was applicable then and it is still just as practical today. So, what is it?

10/20/30 equals this:

10 Slides

In the case of something like a pitch, he recommends keeping your slide count down to 10 slides. No more, no less. Personally, I like to use a bit more than 10 slides, but if you like having a “system,” 10 is a great starting point.

20 Minutes

Aim to keep the length of your presentation/pitch short. There is absolutely no reason to speak beyond 20 minutes. If you can’t express your main ideas within this time frame, then you probably have no idea how to land the plane on your key points.

30 Point Font

Utilize big text and don’t be afraid to explore font sizes that are 350 point font or even larger. Bigger is better, and nothing should be on your slide that is 30 point font or less.

If you are new to the world of public speaking or like to operate by a formula, then utilize this technique. It’s absolutely glorious and highly effective.

Author Bio

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Find Scott on Google+.

39 Responses to “Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule for Presentations”

  1. davidleeking

    “There is absolutely no reason to speak beyond 20 minutes” – sure there is! At most of the conferences I attend and speak at, conference, the presentations run 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.

  2. Joe Williams

    In the context of pitching your startup to an investor, 20 minutes makes sense. That’s what this post is referring to.

    In another context I agree. I regularly speak to people and train them for 7 hours. I’ll use over 100 slides and use less than 30 point font.

  3. AnnieintheSun

    Had to laugh, as I get crushes on all kinds of people I meet through LinkedIn and SlideShare all the time. Good ideas are definitely sexy!

    And I like the 10/20/30 rule. If you have to go over the first two rules, at least take away the last, about the 30 point type face, which will encourage you to take the percentage of 2 minutes per slide that the first two rules govern, anyway, and not risk people glazing over and playing with their smart phone during your talk!

  4. Richard Lock

    The 10:20:30 idea is a great starting point for planning any business presentation. It is not a hard and fast rule. Taking the time and effort to engage with the audience can mean a 1 hour talk feels like 10 minutes. Equally, I have seen many conference sessions that would have been far more effective in 20 minutes. They simply had a longer slot they ‘had’ to fill. As a general rule, less is always more in presentation.

  5. Sander Reijn

    In case of a venture capital pitch (a very specific presentation environment), this rule may be applied.

  6. koningwoning

    Maybe it should have stated: if you are pitching your business follow these rules.

    If not – they simply aren’t applicable (except for the font size)

  7. qning

    “At most of the conferences I attend and speak at, conference, the presentations run 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.”

    They, and you, are doing it wrong.

  8. Jonathan Price

    Scott, thanks for reminding us of these rules of thumb. Always good to keep in mind!

  9. davidleeking

    Good to know, qning – thanks for that!

    Seriously though – rather than just pointing out that [your opinion] I and everyone who ever runs conferences are all doing it wrong, how about sharing how you think it should be done, and show some examples?

    That’d be a bit more helpful, I’m thinking.

  10. Melody Gramer

    I usually use around 10-13 slides. 15 max. Any more than that I feel that people won’t have the attention span to read the whole thing. At least I know I wouldn’t be interested in reading something that has more slides than that.

  11. qning

    Those 90 minute presentations can always be cut down shorter. The problem is that speakers know they have 90 minutes to fill so they create 90 minutes of talking. So they create about 10 or 15 minutes of blah blah blah. It happens all the time. If there is actually 90 minutes of highly compacted dense quality content you could break it into three distinct mini presentations – each with its own style, technique, medium etc.

    Listening to anyone drone on for 90 minutes is gong-worthy.

  12. davidleeking

    Ah – thanks for the reply.

    If a conference organizer gives you 90 minutes, you generally need to talk for … approximately 80-90 minutes. If you are consistently too long or too short, you won’t be asked back.

    Plus, I’ve participated in many hour or longer sessions that were riveting the whole time. So your mileage may vary!

  13. Wiseman28

    A great reminder, but lots of us had this and related visual clarity approaches down pat in the 1990s. At the time so many were cluttering PPT with huge splashes of bullets, words, and messy charts. Yet those of us who had studied graphics and messaging knew visual clarity is essential, especially when combined with vocal delivery. Glad Guy got everyone’s attention, but wish he had avoided the term ‘rule’. PPT and all presentation design and planning are situational, not rule-driven. That’s the joy of our work–it’s all customized and precisely planned (and often changed on the spot) to BEST serve the situation and our audiences’ needs. Thanks again to Scott for focusing us on visual clarity and best PPT practices.

  14. Independence 1776

    If you need this kind of help, my suggestion is go work for somebody, your not startup material.

  15. Independence 1776

    The keynote speaker at Gettysburg spoke for more than 2 hours. Lincoln followed with his Gettysburg address, which lasted 2 minutes.

  16. Shaun McDonald

    At most conferences I go to the presentations are 15-30 mins long. I’d fall asleep by the time they’d be 45 mins or more. Maybe it’s different type of conference though.

  17. Tarkus Suganda

    your 10/20/30 rule maynot appropriate for teaching purposes in a particular subjects. I am teaching agriculture, for my student and I slide number is not a great concern as long as the clarity of presentation is reached. When presenting a speech in a scientific seminar, your rule is also not applicable, since the time allocated usually is 15 minutes. So be clear with your suggested rule, what condition it will apply.

  18. Audrey

    These are helpful tips! I am working on a Powerpoint presentation for class so I will keep these in mind

  19. Beth Buelow

    While I know the 10/20/30 is intended to be taken literally, and it works in a pitch scenario, we miss out on valuable info when we dismiss it because it doesn’t fit our particular presentation circumstances.

    I see the framework this way:

    10 slides = use only the slides that add something meaningful to your talk, and no more. Too many slides and it looks like you are relying on them to be your notes.

    20 minutes = keep your points focused and if you have a choice about length, shorter is often better. If you have to fill a longer time slot, find a way to break up the material with purposeful interaction, obvious section breaks, or a shift in media (such as showing a short video to illustrate a point)

    30 point font = if you use words at all, make the text big. If you need to go smaller, you have too many words on the slide. There are always exceptions, of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

    For your consideration!

  20. Mick Thornton

    I tried to reconcile this back in 2009 with my all day and half day trainings. I thought it was crazy but the paradigm shift occured for me when I realized that I was “pitching” multiple learning topics all day long. I might teach for 60 minutes before a break. Now I create 3 or 4 sections based on intended learning outcomes that each last 15 to 20 minutes, prefereably 15 with some sort of activity. Now a lot of instructional design is moving that way.
    I will say that if there is only 1 learning goal out of an hour long presentation, I’d rather have a video explaining it, a social forum, or a handout. I’ve left a few hour+ presentations that just didn’t get the the main points.

  21. Mick Thornton

    In my opinion, I think the long presentations have to be broken down to bite size intended learning outcomes or goals and 10 slides over 20 minutes is pretty good.

  22. Mukesh Gupta

    I’d like to point out TED Conferences and Talks.

    In 20 minutes, they deliver content which is life changing while displaying interesting content and excellent coordination with the attendees.

  23. koningwoning

    Sorry – but BS… I prefer to use a LOT of slides with one picture and one or two words which are there for a short amount of time.
    I try to show as less slides as humanly possible with charts and such – put that in the hand-outs.

    20 minutes also is long if you are just showing the core of an idea, but short if you want to get in the nitty gritty of exactly how things should work in all it’s facets (and what the projections are).

  24. Ken Johnson

    Scott,

    One of the most common mistakes I have observed in my consulting career has been the number of presenters who are focused on taking the full time for presenting their entire presentation no matter what the audience’s interest or need is to sit through the entire presentation.

    Research has shown that meetings routinely rank as the number one or two office productivity killer. I believe your prior posting, “The Best Way to Outline Your Presentation,” is outstanding. While the first four steps are crucial to set the stage for accomplishing your objective for the presentation, Step 5 is the crucial step.

    Step 5. Launch
    The Call to Action: Now that your audience is hooked on your message, do not leave them hanging. Give a clear and easy-to-follow call to action.

    I have found that with the right preparation for a presentation, one can often cut the presentation time in half or eliminate the need for the meeting altogether – an outcome that should please everyone.

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  26. AndyinHawick

    There first rule ought to be 10 seconds maximum per slide (or transition). A single word or image, perhaps a brief phrase is best.
    The major mistake that I see people making with slide presentations is to put all of their text on the screen and then read it off. Just put the one concept on screen that you want people to focus on and talk to that.
    This article, of course, should have been set up as a slide deck with accompanying notes!

  27. Axel Schrader

    Use also big pictures which can underline your words. The slides are only background for your speech and the audience should listen not read.
    But if you use pictures please do NOT use stock material. Slides with stock pics have no individual fingerprint and no one will remember your presentation.

  28. Grayson J. Stedman Jr.

    I disagree. I see no reason why 10 slides should take 20 mins to go through. When presenting you don’t need to go into detail. Just cover the general concepts and delve into detail if your audience asks questions. Also provide links of where your audience can find out more information about the subject matter if they wish to.

    I could go through a 20 slide presentation in 10 mins and still have my audience feel that they gained valuable knowledge.

  29. Wendy Stidham

    I feel like this would have been better off saying, “20 slides; 10 minutes.”

    I don’t understand why anyone would EVER limit how many slides they present. Slides should be as short and sweet as possible, but still serve the presenter AND the audience by displaying the main point(s) in a meaningful way. (Even if that just means a single picture on the slide.)

    I’ve always been a fan of the 30 seconds per slide rule because it forces you to keep your slides concise and to move your presentation along steadily. I’ve seen some TED talks where the presenter rests on slides for a while, and many of those presenters do it quite well. However, I’d say beginners should start with the 30 second rule until they get better. That way they still have their cues on the slide, but they don’t stuff too much information per slide.

  30. tam frager

    Yep. I like slides that deliver a strong visual in support of what I’m saying. Which means my slides tend to change (relatively) quickly. The Ignite style (similar to TED, yet quite different) auto-advances slides every 15 seconds. It definitely keeps speakers focused and on-point.

  31. tam frager

    But, and I think this is one of Guy Kawasaki’s key points, they shouldn’t be reading your slides. The slides should have very little text on them, and should visually supplement what you’re saying.

  32. Maurice

    The simplicity of the 10/20/30 message is a powerful starting point to remind us all to be very mindful about our audience when it comes to these 3 key areas. I love simplicity as a way of connecting and Guy’s advice is a really helpful way to ignite that focus. That said, I’m not a huge fan myself of sticking to rigid guidelines as the pre-requisite should always be to know your audience first. e.g, often, no slides are the better option.

    http://www.mindfulpresenter.com

  33. Youri van Dijk

    It’s nice to have these rules to hold onto when preparing your presentation. I’d like to suggest another, the 10 by 7 rule. Maximum 7 lines on a slide, max 10 words per line. No more.