Rules For Your Startup Pitch Deck

There are rules….believe me.

It doesn’t matter whether you use Keynote, Powerpoint, Prezi or even Google Slides (ugh), if you follow these simple rules you can avoid a lot of the “Death by Powerpoint” mistakes and help you stand out from the crowd.

I’m a big fan off Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule for presentations. It’s a very old rule now – but it’s as relevant today as it’s ever been because the science and art of presentations hasn’t changed that much. Sure, we get new software (like the subtle and lovely transitions of Keynote or the vertigo-inducing whoosh of Prezi*) but the structure remains the same – the ability to communicate your ideas.

So, we have a rule – the 10-20-30 Rule – and it’s broken down like this.


Don’t present more than topics on your pitch deck and if you can, make sure it fits on 10 slides. Try and only talk about 1 idea – there’s nothing more muddled than being dragged through multiple ideas while trying to understand the first one. Keep it really simple. This allows your audience to focus in on your core message. You want them to focus in on you, not necessarily the fiction you’re supplying on the slides behind you.

What do you need in your slides: the problem, the solution, the business model, the underlying technology, sales and marketing, the competition, the team, projections and milestones, status and timeline, and summary and call to action. Can’t fit that on 10 slides? Come and talk to us, we will cut the chaff.


You have twenty minutes. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that your topic takes 25 minutes to explain, you have to cut it down or leave the explanation to a conversation afterwards. If you can’t state it very simply then you don’t understand it well enough. A TED talk can cover some very sophisticated topics without getting complicated and they’re usually under 18 minutes. This time constraint is good. It will be a lathe that will cut out everything unnecessary from your presentation. And use any spare time you have to set up and test your equipment or receive questions afterwards.

Don’t fret about it being too short. People have pretty short attention spans and if you sort out the number of slides and the readability of the slides, you’ll be ahead of the pack.


One of the advantages of this is that it stops you from filling your slides with unnecessary text. Use text sparingly. Optimise the size of your typeface to suit all eyeballs. So this rule is declaring that you should not make your audience read long sentences. 30 point text is the minimum. You have permission to use 50 pt, 100 pt or higher. I routinely use much larger point sizes than 30. Possibly 50 being my normal minimum (and as my eyes deteriorate, it’s not going to get smaller). Click the image below to see a full size sample.


These rules are not absolute and they don’t really dictate design or content. I favour a single unique image for each slide and despise templates where every slide is rigidly branded. Give me something with a bit of character (and yes, I can stick to a brand and still make a presentation sing).

You can feel free to bend or break some or all of these rules – but they represent a design language from the outset for your pitch deck. They solve some of the stupid mistakes that we make by not assuming some things about our audiences.

*the problem with Prezi is that everyone was initially stunned by it. Wow, look at the transitions. And they never saw your content properly. Now everyone that uses it is just an also-ran who uses a whooshy piece of software. It’s still exciting if you’ve just emerged from the depths of a public sector gulag but the rest of the world has moved on. Less is more, folks.

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