See more in Lessons

How to Use the 10/20/30 Rule to Make Your Presentation Simple, Short, and Sweet

5 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
LinkedIn Instagram 

You've been working on the campaign for weeks, months maybe. Late nights and weekends, full of cold Thai food and flat La Croix. But it was all worth it, because you've come up with an idea that's gonna blow the client's friggin mind.

And now you have to build the deck. The mother. Fucking. Deck.

Most of us hate doing it. I remember it was one of my jobs as an intern at Ogilvy. And the worst part was to print out the 100+ pages and tape each one up on the agency's 90-foot-long wall, so that we could shuffle them into the perfect sequence of the 75-minute talk-a-thon that would take place in the client pitch. All it did was make me realize how bloated and unnecessary most of that deck was.

I've seen decent ideas get sold on a great presentation. And I've seen great ideas struggle with a bad deck.

Because the truth is, the idea only gets you halfway there. You have to sell the idea. And the deck helps make that happen.

The Deck Sells the Idea

We all know that we over-create decks. But few know how to avoid it.

Guy Kawasaki knows how. He was the head of marketing at Apple back in the 1980s, and while building one of the most prominent brands in the world, he learned that presenting was an art. But he discovered the science behind it.

He calls it the "10/20/30 Rule" and it's based on the principles of clarity and focus. He uses it in every presentation. And so do some of the most successful brands, since this rule's been used in AirBnb's pitch deck, Buffer's, and YouTube's (plus hundreds more).

But using it for an ad campaign pitch deck takes a little tweaking...

The Rules of The 10/20/30 Rule

Whether you're pitching a tech startup or an ad campaign, the goal is the same: you want someone to buy your idea. You want them focused and paying attention to what you're saying, not overwhelmed by information or reading ahead.

Make your deck as simple, clear, and beautiful as your idea.

And that's what building a deck with the 10/20/30 Rule is all about:

  • 10 slides or less
  • 20 minutes or less
  • 30 point type or larger

It's a deceptively simple checklist, and honestly, one that's pretty damn hard to adhere to. But the goal is to remove the fluff and only keep the most essential information in your presentation.

How You Can Actually Use the Rule in Your Decks

Okay, let's be realistic here: you're probably not going to take that 64-page deck you've been working on all week and turn it into a streamlined 10-slide presentation. But, that doesn't mean you can't take the spirit of the rule and make some tweaks.

10 Slides or Less

Whether you end up with 10 or 27, it's all about cutting out the slides you don't need.

  • Strategy: Do you really need 13 pages breaking down audiences, income, consumption strategies, brand loves, or media habits? Or can you nail it with one slide about who you're talking to, and a slide or two with a focused insight? What should we (or the consumer) take away from your strategy?
  • Creative: Is it absolutely necessary to show the same visual mocked up into a banner, social post, billboard, magazine, bus shelter, and wrapped around a buiding in Times Square? What's the least amount of things you could show that would give the fullest vision of the idea?

20 Minutes or Less

I wrote an article about saying less in presentations, about how you want clients to fill in the blanks you leave. You paint the broad strokes, but they pencil in some details. And those come out in the conversation after the presentation.

Don't use your words. In a presentation, say only what you need to.

So, that means you can't present for 57 minutes of a 60-minute time block. Like I said in the article above, it's jazz. Like the notes you don't play, it's the words you don't say that make the difference. But it's not just about leaving room for discussion.

Blame it on biology, social media, or that darn MTV: we have short attention spans. If you drone on for too long, you're going to lose people. Studies even show that your audience only retains about 65% of what you say. And the longer you talk, the less they remember.

But on the other hand, when I saw Avengers: Endgame, that 3-hour-long film didn't feel like 3 hours. It had my attention the entire time. And we've all seen 90-minute movies that we can't wait to end. You may present for 20 minutes, but make sure it doesn't feel like an hour.

Say only what you need to. Leave room for discussion and make it a presentation they want to discuss.

30 Point Type or Larger

People get nervous in presentations. So, we created this crutch with our slides: we put all the words we want to say on it, so we don't forget any. Great idea? Nope.

Filling a slide with everything you want to say does two things:

  • Makes your presentation stiff: Reading from a slide is the worst way to present. Remember what it sounded like, back in middle school, when someone had to read out loud from the book during class? Stiff, monotonous, and uninterested. Same thing happens when you read your pitch slide.
  • The client reads ahead: If you're creating your pitch deck the right way, there should be as much thought, rhythm, and story arc in it as any script in your campaign. The way you speak, the cadence, and the emotion you put into it is incredibly important. But putting all the thoughts on the page in front of the audience will make them read it. It's subconscious, the same way we instinctively read subtitles when they're on a movie. So, they'll read ahead, revealing the twist and ignoring your voice.

But, if you use the "30" part of the rule, you won't be able to fit everything on the slide. The point is to not only make the type big enough for the client to read from across the room (which they'll probably be doing), but to be selective about what you put on that slide.

Make it a prompt for what you want to say. A setup that leads you into the right talking point. Not a script for you to regurgitate.

The Deck Is as Important as the Idea

If you have an over-written script, you cut it. If your visual is too complex, you simplify it. But our decks...we keep adding and adding to them, filling up the empty spaces with words and work, completely ignoring the art to presenting our art.

A pitch deck is insanely important. It's just like any other execution in your campaign, but made for a very specific audience: your client. But if the deck isn't good, it doesn't matter how good the rest is.

The 10/20/30 Rule is all about focus and clarity. But even if you have more than 10 slides, speak for longer than 20 minutes, or make some type smaller than 30 points, you can still take its spirit to heart.

Make your deck as simple, clear, and beautiful as your idea.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, say hello @thejeremycarson. LinkedIn Instagram