Ah, it's back again. I recently saw somebody making a reference to the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint as a guideline for presentation design. I wrote about this subject on another blog years ago. Maybe it's time to revisit the subject. I view 10-20-30 the same way I view the similarly misapplied Mehrabian Myth. Rooted in a very specific good idea, the concept takes on a life of its own, misunderstood and abused until it becomes a Frankenstein's Monster, ravaging the countryside, impossible to kill.
In case you are somehow pure and untouched, blissfully ignorant of the 10/20/30 Rule (oh, how I envy you!) the facts are simple enough. In 2005 Guy Kawasaki introduced the concept in a blog post and spent quite some time using it as the basis for speaking gigs. You can see him presenting the subject in a YouTube video from 2006. The rule is short, catchy, and easy to remember. Your presentation should consist of 10 slides delivered in 20 minutes using a 30-point font. That's it.
The problem is that nobody ever seems to remember the context in which Guy introduced and evangelized his Rule. This was advice for startup companies making pitches to venture capitalists. It was based on knowledge of the typical VC audience, venues in which such presentations are given, goals of that one type of presentation, and the competitive "noise" of similar presentations seen by VC's on a daily basis. Kawasaki never promoted it or intended it as a generic guideline that applies to all presentations.
The 10,20,30 Rule (and yes… I keep changing the punctuation because you'll see it referenced differently in different publications) is really a shorthand summation of several well-respected best practices of presentation design. Going through the underlying principles is not as fun as applying numbers and brief absolutisms, but the key ideas are these:
- Cut information to the key fundamentals that achieve your goal and that interest and provide value to your audience. Eliminate fluff and eliminate details best left for reference documents.
- Don't linger too long on a single visual or concept. Continually re-engage your audience's attention with updated content.
- Make your visual elements engaging and easy to take in at a glance so that they support your vocal delivery, not replicate it.
If you are using a presentation to conduct training classes, hold lead generation events for the public, or run team meetings, Guy's numbers may not (and probably do not) apply to you. If you are presenting technical information to a professional audience, the rule almost certainly doesn't apply. But in all cases, the underlying concepts are crucial and need to be followed.
Don't get too caught up in the minutiae of the exact number of slides and the exact amount of time spent on each. If a 20-point or 24-point font lets you fit a key concept point on one line rather than wrapping to two lines, go ahead and use it.
Remember, highly effective people don't have just 7 habits. Better webinars aren't the result of just 10 tips. Numbers are a great way to engage people's attention and get them thinking about the many different techniques that can incrementally improve the effectiveness of your work. But in the end they are marketing gimmicks.
Pay attention to the underlying message and work to make your presentations engaging, valuable, and understandable. If you do that, you can insert whatever numbers you like and create your own "Rule!"