Successful startups are known for their disruptive approach, so it’s interesting to see how so many innovative companies are surprisingly conservative (and sometimes sloppy) when it comes to their pitch deck — a curious fact considering the design and development resources at their disposal.
Keep in mind a well-designed deck is not as important as the product you’re pitching, but it can clarify and enhance your presentation. Compare it to wearing a tie and pressed button up to a job interview: it won’t get you the job, but it will prevent you from having to dig yourself out of the hole a wrinkled tee and cargo shorts would have created.
Exceed 20 words per slide. You get one headline phrase, one sentence caption, and that’s it. Slides aren’t scripts, they’re a visual guide for your audience. Everyone in the room should grasp a slide the moment they glance at it.
If they’re reading, you’re in trouble, because that means they’re not listening to you.
- Use one phrase (headline) per slide, maximum.
- Use one sentence (caption or subheader) to complement your headline, maximum.
Use one image (visual representation of the headline or caption) per slide, maximum.
- Source non-licensed images. Especially if you can’t afford a designer or photographer. Keep in mind, this is not a TED Talk. For the most part, you’ll be pitching a few people, and your deck is only going to be seen behind closed doors.
Tell a Compelling Story
Many “How to Develop a Pitch Deck” outlines will detail the 10 slides you need to have in your deck. While certain slides are important, a pitch can fall flat if it’s not framed as a story. You need to play to both the head and the heart — investors make decisions with both.
A 3 Minute Story
The best approach is to weave a compelling, 3 minute story about what’s wrong with the world, what the inevitable solution is, how your product happens to be that solution, and why your company will succeed.
Your story should lead to your product being the logical conclusion of whatever problem you identify. As long as it’s compelling and concise, you’re set. Save your more conventional slides for a supplemental deck that you can reference when questions arise organically in your post-pitch conversation.
The goal of the first meeting is not to get funded, it’s to secure a second meeting. The goal of your 3 minute pitch isn’t to drag the investor through every last detail of your business, it’s to excite them and engage in a conversation that allows you to move through the remainder of your story and slides organically.
First Slide / First Impressions
Have you ever been on a first date and immediately decided whether you like or dislike the person you’re about to sit down with? Some dates go so well that you’re fantasizing about marriage by the end.
Investors are no different. Ideally, you want them to fantasize about your ability to make them a billion dollars. A strong first slide will tip the scales in that direction. This slide should immediately hook them, and a great way to do that is to explore the problem that your product is going to solve.
Problem / Solution
Stories thrive on tension. The worst movie ever made would have the protagonist fall in love during the credits, and we’d have to squirm our way through 90 minutes of bliss.
50 First Dates, 500 Days of Summer — these titles suggest long, drawn out processes that play with our attraction to the buildup of tension and the release of resolution. Our pitch does just that: it builds tension slowly, introducing two problem slides before our first solution slide. We follow that up with two more problem slides before proposing our next solution.
It’s important to remember that you’ve been thinking about your product for months, and the problem and solution are extremely obvious to you by now. Keep in mind: it’s not obvious to potential investors, and it’s your task to make it so. The best way to do that? Repetition.
And finally be prepared or as prepared as you can. A pitch is like a first date so many things can go wrong. The important thing is to be prepared. But the true test is how you react when something you never expected is asked or happens. Stay on your feet.
Check out my related post: Should salaries of everyone in the company be shared openly?