Designing the Perfect Pitch Deck

I get Bored Easily

Let me start by saying that's not me in the picture. When I yawn in your presentation, I try to make it look a lot more natural – as in, “I stayed up late” rather than, “I am so bored.” But aside from trying to be nicer than this guy, he's embodying how I feel in most presentations. You probably already know this, but it bears repeating before I get started on pitch decks:

  • If you put tons of data on the screen and I'm sitting a few feet away – I'm bored already.
  • If you put tons of text on the screen and start reading it to me – I'm bored already.
  • If you created a PowerPoint deck that has transitions ever page – I want you kicked out of the building (and I'm bored).

A Quick Recap of Sticky Teaching

One more thing to quickly review before we get started, in case you haven't seen my Sticky Teaching poster or read articles on the concept. In order to make your content sticky (ala keep me engaged), I suggest knowing your A, B, Cs:

  • Awaken the Intrigue
  • Begin & End Often
  • Create lots of Contrast
  • Draw people in with Stories
  • Emotion drives Attention
  • Focus on the Big Idea

And now…Pitch Decks

A couple of the start-ups I'm helping out are headed back out to raise some money, and another couple of decks came in over the last couple weeks for my review – which tells me it's time to write about pitch decks. For the uninitiated, a pitch deck is just like any other presentation except that it's completely unlike any other presentation you'll ever create. That's what makes it fun (especially if you're like me and you only experience the work from the periphery).

Before I give you my tried, tested and approved pitch deck order, let me highlight two key ingredients you need in your deck. These are the core elements that if missing means you might as well stay home.

1. You need to find the emotion that carries the story. People don't actually make decisions logically with facts. They use logic and facts to justify their decisions after the fact. Emotions close the deal. So you need to engage their emotions and you need to have a story that compels the emotion to appear in the room. I'm not saying people have to cry, but they have to feel it. And that starts with you. If you don't feel it, or if the sense is that all you feel is piles of money, forget about it. You're toast.

2. You need to find the connection. I referenced it already, but if you go into a room talking about all the technology you've designed, to a group of lawyers and financial analysts, you're missing the connection. Investors – from angels to venture capitalists – care about markets. They're betting on concepts that will win in markets. They're not betting on your nifty intellectual property (at least not for most of you).

The 8 Questions You need to Answer

1. What is the Issue?

The first slide or two doesn't need to be all about you and all about your team or history. No one knows or cares about you yet. You have just moments to get your initial pitch, that elevator – 30 second – pitch that takes one slide and says this is what we're about. What you're trying to do is frame your entire presentation. This also helps investors know if this is even for them or not. I've mentioned it before, but I had a guy from Hollywood trying to pitch me to become an investor in a variety of movie projects and that's just not my space. So I could say no in the first 3 minutes of the call.

2. Why should it be You?

The next slide is all about you  – but not in the way you might imagine it. It's not about all you and your staff, where they went to school, their hobbies and why they were the best you could get to commit to your project. Instead, the real answer you're trying to get at comes in the form of an unfair advantage. If you're building a Facebook clone – so what? If you're building it with the first 5 guys at Facebook, that's altogether different. Know what I mean? If you're building a photo editing solution and you have the guys who created the jpeg compression algorithm on your team, now is the time to talk about it. What sets you apart to be the ones to succeed here?

3. Why Now?

What you're doing here is highlighting why the market is ready for a solution now. That means you start with pain. And it has to be a real pain. And it has to be the right time to solve that pain. I once wrote a patent leveraging decision science and artificial intelligence for internet purchases. It was awesome. It was also about two years too early for almost anyone to care. I had a boss once tell me, “It's not a problem until people feel it's a problem.” He was right. So creating the best online pet food store when people aren't sure they can trust giving their credit card numbers online is a bit of a waste (I didn't do that). You need to prove that your handle on the pain is right AND that your timing is right. And I've said it a million times, and you already know this, but you need to solve a pain that is in the top 3 pains of your market. Don't solve pain #142.

4. What is your Solution?

If  you've done it right, you have now grabbed the attention of everyone in the room. They've determined that you're in the right room because your first slide highlighted that you are in their space of investments. Your next slides highlighted your unfair advantage and how you've demonstrated the time is right to solve the pain you've articulated. Now is when you show them your product. Preferably, you not only show them your product but the traction that you're already seeing. This is critical.

NOTE: Don't go ask for money before you've already demonstrated product traction. I know some people will tell you differently. The trick is to raise funds when you look like you don't need them, not the other way around. It gives you leverage. Not because you're special but because it creates a better sense of competition between the others you're pitching. If your numbers are looking good, and now you're asking for money to scale that's VERY different than asking for money to go prove you can build a product.

So show your solution but show it in the context of your traction. How do you do that? Show them the key features and how often they're being used. That way you can highlight what your product does, but in a way that shows them how many people are delighted by your solution.

5. What is your Business Model and How do you Plan to go to Market?

Your've crossed the middle of your presentation and now you're zooming in to the close. If you can't find the passion at this point, have someone else close for you (and start asking if you're right for this). You need to answer a single question that is really critical. How do you make money? Not how do you give away your product for free (so don't pitch the freemium model). You need to explain how you plan to generate revenue, and the answer ought to include how you convert your funnel from interested people into customers. What does conversion cost you and how long does it take?

6. Who Else is Trying?

Now hit them with your competition and highlight the contrast between you and them. This is a great place, if your difference is your staff, to segue into your next slide.

7. Who is on your Team?

I know you're a great person who can do so much. But if you don't have a team, stop reading this and go find one. You can't do it alone. Plus, you have blinders on and blind spots and without a team, you're likely to hose everything up – on your own. So get a team. And then talk about them. Highlight, more than anything, where your gaps are. Because you are, after all, asking for money. Presumably it's to help you bring on some additional talent.

8. What's Next?

As you end, you need to present your “ask” by defining how much money you want, and what you plan to do with it. Plan it's use with a simple timeline. Assuming you get what you want, where will you be in 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months (at least). You should also have contingent answers for what you'd do if you received half of what you're asking for.

Your Slides

Now that you know the questions, you can see how you could create a 10 slide deck that answers these 8 questions. You can see that you could be done with your presentation in literally 15-18 minutes. You can see that you won't waste anyone else's time and you'll be able to determine if the fit is right.

So now it's just a matter of execution. So here are two final tips for your slide prep & 1 webinar you might like:

  • Use full screen bleed photos. You want people engaged. So don't use little images or clip art. Grab the attention of their brain even before they know it. You can see samples of my image-based slides here.
  • Have additional slides for back up. You may get all sorts of questions. Be prepared. Have extra slides. But don't show them until you're done and the questions take you there.
  • Check out this Webinar on Sticky Teaching for Presentations – all about slide deck prep.