The 10/20/30 Rule of Power Point Presentations

I suffer from something called attention deficit disorder (or ADD for short) but, don’t worry, you can’t get it from reading this article (although my wife tells me I gave her ADD)!  Many medical theories abound about its cause: too much salt, caffeine, or alcohol; way too much stress, as well as allergy issues and I sure have those in spades!  However, I work hard to control all these factors on a daily basis and credit my success running multiple businesses to my ADD (a blessing in disguise).

As an owner of a Private Equity company as well as being a full-time teacher at the University of Virginia, I listen to hundreds and have been a witness to thousands of pitches in recent years.  Most of them are poorly presented and consequently the money does not follow.  I’ve seen presentations with over 60 slides with no story and all test and if I see one more app that will ‘change the world’ I’ll scream! These types of pitches lose me at slide 5 as they aren’t to the point and are long-winded.

To prevent an epidemic of ADD in the Private Equity community, I’m a firm believer of the 10/20/30 Rule of Power Point presentations. It’s very simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points (or divide by 2 the age of the audience). While I’m in the Private Equity business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement – for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc and the following is exactly how I teach my students to pitch at UVa:

  • 10 slides. Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because the average person can’t comprehend more 10 ten concepts in a meeting—and investors are people. (The only difference between you and the investor is that they are getting paid to gamble with someone else’s money). If you must use more than 10 slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The top topics that a VC and PE cares about follow:
    1. Problem
    2. Your solution
    3. Business model
    4. Underlying magic/technology
    5. Marketing and sales
    6. Competition
    7. Team
    8. Projections and milestones
    9. Status and timeline
    10. Summary and call to action
  •  20 minutes. You should give your 10 slides in 20 minutes. Yes, you have an hour time slot, but you’re using a Windows laptop, so it will take 40 minutes to make it work with the projector. Even if your setup goes perfectly, people will arrive late, get called out early, and interrupt you as you go along. In a perfect world, you give your pitch in 20 minutes, and you have 40 minutes left for discussion.
  •  30-point font. The majority of the presentations I see are all text in a 10-point font. As much text as possible is jammed into the slide which the presenter then reads word for word. However, as soon as the audience figures out that you’re simply repeating the text, they read ahead of you because it’s quicker resulting in you and them being out of synch.

The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, they don’t know their material well enough; secondly, they think that more text is more convincing which is of course completely wrong.  Force yourself to use no font smaller than 30 points. Use as many pictures as you can to tell the story, and don’t place all the information on the page at once (I call this vomiting on the page). This is a bad practice because now the investor is not listening to you but reading what’s on the screen. You need to click on the information as you are telling the story. I guarantee it will make your presentations much more effective because it puts you in control of the conversation.

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Douglas Muir is an authority in business strategy, having successfully built several multimillion-dollar enterprises from the ground up. He is considered the start-up guru and speaks internationally on topics of entrepreneurship, innovation, and business growth. Muir teaches Entrepreneurship at the prestigious University of Virginia, both in the School of Engineering and in the Darden School of Business’s MBA program. As well as being a professor, he is the Assistant Director of the Business Minor Program in the School of Engineering. He is an expert in the Business Model Canvas theory of building businesses, and teaches this methodology to undergraduate students thirsty for entrepreneurship and eager to start their own companies. Muir has been interviewed by Gerri Willis of CNN and by Bloomberg Radio, and has been published and quoted in numerous publications including Business Week and The Scotsman Guide, a prestigious magazine for the banking, mortgage, and investor industry. Douglas was the host of The Doug and Eric Show on ABC, “Exposing the Hidden Truths about the Three Credit Bureaus and the Banking and Finance System”. He was featured in Kaihan Krippendorff's business tactics book, Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile, which described how Muir infiltrated the insurance industry and locked out his competition. If you’d like more information please feel free to contact me at dmuir@muirandassociates.net