The book Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, Updated and Expanded Edition by Jerry Weissman reminded me that in Corporate America and in most presentation arenas, we tend to let PowerPoint slides do our talking, both within our presentation and after it is said and done.  We can correct this by following Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule.  Using this rule will help you abide by Weissman’s over-arching principles in presentations – you should  “[relegate] your graphics to a supporting role, making you, the presenter, the primary focus.”  This article will show you how to apply it to your presentations.

As a trainer, speech coach, and technology geek, I have listened to hundreds of presentations and attended many seminars where the PowerPoint slides were packed full of information and printed as handouts for attendees to reference during and after the presentation.  As far as I’m concerned there are three main issues with this.  The first one is that the slides have soooo much information and people focus on trying to read them rather than listening to the presenter.  Second, while the handouts provide all of the information in the presentation, it is usually too small to read easily, and if the slides are printed one per page, there is no room for notes, and finally, most of the information is lost because, after the session, people save the handouts with the intent to go back and review the slides but they do not do it.

To combat these issues, I have been using the 10/20/30 rule as evangelized by author and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki.  Put simply, your presentation should contain no more than ten slides, last no longer than twenty minutes, and contain fonts larger than thirty points.  Let’s take a look at these individual elements.

Many presenters, whether they mean to or not, try to cram all of their information on the slides.  Limit your slide deck to ten slides.  According to Weissman, “what presenters say and how they say it are of far greater importance than what they show.”  He recommends that you watch TV newscasts because the graphics augment what the newscaster is talking about, and that is exactly what your slides should do.  Kawasaki states that you should use the ten slides to define your problem and solution, your business model, the underlying tools to solve the problem, how you will market or sell the idea/product, milestones, the current status of your initiative, and a call to action.  While his focus is venture capital, you can apply this to any presentation.  If you are training, use one slide for an agenda, another slide for a closing/call to action, and use the remaining slides to communicate information to support the learning objectives of your session.

Every speak falls victim to the time bandit at one time or another.  They get in front of the audience and let their excitement for a subject take them on an unintended journey, and before they know it they have exceeded their time allotment without really communicating any new information.  By limiting your presentation to twenty minutes, you leave time for questions and audience interaction.  That leaves you with about two minutes per slide, which, while it doesn’t seem like much, is usually enough time to communicate your message for the information on the slide.  You can spend less time on some slides or more time on others if necessary.

Have you ever been stuck in the back of a presentation that you really wanted to see, only to find that you could not read the PowerPoint slides?  Using fonts no smaller than 30 points will help you include the most important information on the slide while giving people in the back row a chance to actually read what your slides.  Kawasaki states that people who use smaller fonts tend to read their presentation, giving the audience the impression that they do not know their material well enough.  I have seen this happen many times, and my take as an audience member is that I can read so the “presentation” is a waste of my time.

I have used the 10/20/30 rule for a lot of my presentations, and they are better as a result.  If you are like me, you are probably saying that by using this method your presentation will be too short.  Well, you can take this principle and apply it to longer presentations.  If you need to fill a 60 minute slot, you should use no more than twenty slides, keep your material to forty minutes, and continue using type no smaller than thirty points.  This will leave twenty minutes for audience interaction and Q&A, plus time for technical issues or that once in a while tangent.

Remember, your PowerPoint slides should support your presentation so that you and your content are center stage.  What tips do you have for great presentations?