From the May 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

I suffer from something called Ménière's disease. The symptoms include hearing loss, a constant ringing in the ears and vertigo. There are many medical theories about its cause, but I have a different theory: As a venture capitalist, I have to listen to hundreds of entrepreneurs pitch their companies. Most of these pitches are crap: 60 slides about "patent pending," "first-mover advantage," and "all we have to do is get 1 percent of the people in China to buy our product." These pitches are so lousy that I'm losing my hearing, there's a constant ringing in my ears, and every once in a while, the world starts spinning.

Before there's an epidemic of Ménière's disease in the VC community, I'm trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint presentations. It's quite simple: A PowerPoint presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points. This rule is applicable not only for presentations to venture capitalists, but also for any presentation used to reach an agreement: raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than 10 concepts in a meeting. If it takes more than 10 slides to explain your business, you probably don't have a business.

The 10 topics a venture capitalist cares about are the:

  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Business model
  • Underlying magic/technology
  • Marketing and sales
  • Competition
  • Team
  • Projections and milestones
  • Status and timeline
  • Summary and call to action

You should show all of your 10 slides in no more than 20 minutes. Sure, you have a full hour time slot, but that gives you 40 minutes to set up and make sure your laptop works with the projector. Even if setup goes perfectly, people will arrive late and others will need to leave early. In a perfect business world, you would give your pitch in 20 minutes and then have 40 minutes remaining for discussion.

Most PowerPoint presentations I have seen include text in a 10-point font. As much text as possible is jammed onto each slide, and then the presenter reads it line by line. As soon as the audience members 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 audience are out of sync.

People usually use a small font for two reasons: First, they don't know their material well enough; and second, they think having more text makes their presentation more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use a font no smaller than 30 points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it will require you to find the most salient points and then know how to explain each of them well. If 30-point font is too dogmatic, I offer you an easy algorithm: Determine the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That number is your optimal font size.

So please observe the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint presentations. If nothing else, the next time someone in your audience complains of hearing loss, ringing or vertigo, you'll know you didn't cause the problem.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently, The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.