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Effective Sales Presentations Are Short, Focused

Originally published: 08.01.07 by Guy Kawasaki


Follow the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint

I suffer from something called Ménière’s disease. The symptoms of Ménière’s include hearing loss, tinnitus (a constant ringing sound), and vertigo. There are many medical theories about its cause: too much salt, caffeine, or alcohol in one’s diet, too much stress, and allergies. Thus, I’ve worked to limit all these factors. 

However, I have another theory. I listen to hundreds of business presentations. Most of these are so lousy that I’m losing my hearing, there’s a constant ringing in my ears, and every once in awhile the world starts spinning.

Before there is an epidemic of Ménière’s in the world of sales, I am trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint — which can also be effective in sales presentations that do not incorporate electronic slide shows. It’s quite simple: A PowerPoint or other type of sales presentation should be brief. It should have 10 slides or main points, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach an agreement such as raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint or other sales presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than 10 concepts in a meeting. The topics that your customer audience


cares about could be any of these depending upon the type of agreement:

1. Problem

2. Your solution

3. Business model/business strengths

4. Underlying technology/what makes the solution right

5. Return on investment

6. References/case studies

7. Qualifications of team members or technicians

8. Timeline of project

9. Financing options

10. Summary and call to action in 20 minutes.

Sure, you may have an hour time slot, but your customer will appreciate a short, to-the-point presentation. Also, if you’re using a Windows laptop, it will take time to make it work with the projector if you are using one. Even if setup goes perfectly, sometimes people arrive late and/or have to leave early. In a perfect world, you give your pitch in 20 minutes, and you have 40 minutes left for discussion.

The majority of the presentations that I see have text in a 10-point font: As much text as possible is jammed into the slide, and then the presenter reads it. However, as soon as customers figure out that you’re reading the text, they read ahead of you because they can read faster than you can speak. The result is that you and the customer are out of synch.

The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself and your sales representatives to use no font smaller than 30 points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well. If 30 points, is too dogmatic, then I offer you an algorithm: Find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That’s your optimal font size. So please observe the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint in all of your presentations. If nothing else, the next time someone in your audience complains of hearing loss, ringing, or vertigo, you’ll know what caused the problem. One last thing: to learn more about the Zen of great presentations, check out a site called Presentation Zen (www.presentationzen.com) by my buddy Garr Reynolds. 

Guy Kawasaki is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Forbes.com. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer Inc., where he was one of the individuals responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer. He is the author of eight books, including his most recent, The Art of the Start, which can be found at www.guykawasaki.com. >> Read this and previous columns by Guy at www.hvacrbusiness.com/kawasaki.


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