Congratulations on having a great business idea. Extra congratulations if you’ve started the company and gotten some traction. Good job, you! Now all you need is some money to bring your startup vision to life. So…you start writing a pitch. You’ve generated solid research and big ideas – but now you have to distill and communicate your plan for investors to see the full potential.
Enter: the pitch deck. Perhaps the most important powerpoint you’ll ever create: 10-20 slides of solid persuasion.
A pitch has a similar end goal to any persuasive presentation: convince listeners to adopt an idea and take an action. However, there are some factors that make crafting a pitch deck its very own unique beast, not least of all the challenge of hooking the attention of busy investors who hear startup pitches all day long.
If you want to be a diamond in the rough, get ready to make a pitch deck that is clear, succinct, and impossible to forget. To do so, keep in mind these powerful tips.
1. Your deck is your sidekick, not your teleprompter.
Your deck is not your script. That’s one of the deadliest sins of presenting. Slides are there to support you, to amplify
your voice. And, your pitch should come so naturally that you don’t even need slides. Focus on design that distills your most important numbers and facts.
Speaking of slide simplicity, your audience can’t listen to you and read at the same time. The key is to keep your slides simple, with each communicating just one idea. If that means more slides, so be it! No need to handcuff yourself to an arbitrary slide count, as long as your ideas are clear and direct. Apply the three second rule, which we hold so dear at Duarte: can someone understand the point of your slide in three seconds? If not, simplify it.
Everyone you’ll ever pitch to has a different angle on you and your story. They have different goals and fears themselves. So, it’s your job to understand them well enough before you make a pitch deck to tap into their desires and unique strain of FOMO. According to NextView Ventures, an ad tech startup might have to contact 37 VCs before they get their Series A funding, so you have to be prepared to tune your deck for each audience.
Think about it this way: Investor X has never invested in your industry. Investor Y has been burned by a business like yours. Investor Z is known to cut people off 3 minutes into a pitch. How does that impact your flow, your tone, and the points to emphasize most?
Your presentation can’t be a rigid, locked document. It has to be living and breathing.
Slides have to move around depending on the audience. We call that a modular presentation. Building a deck that can withstand iterations will save you time and energy. Bottom line: your audience is the hero, tell them a story they want to hear.
3. Start at the heart — then build the skeleton.
If you had two sentences, ten words each, to sell someone your idea, what would you say? We encourage all presenters to hone in on that big idea before even opening PowerPoint. What are you doing and how is it going to succeed? When you make a pitch deck, devote your entire presentation to that central concept.
Try it. Two sentences. Ten words. Like this: “BalloonZoom is a luxury commuter service in the sky. With 100K rides in 1 month, we’re ready for growth.”
You told me what you do and why things are looking up. No fluff, no hand waving. If you can get to the heart right of your pitch right away, you will be able to hook their attention and hold their ear. Sure, you have a lot more to say about the massive problem you’re solving, the starved market you’re serving, and your strategies for making money, but at least I’m leaning in now.
Here is an example:
4. Bring it home.
A pitch deck’s strong introduction will capture the audience’s attention but don’t forget to create a killer conclusion.
A pitch deck with a confident conclusion will remain on the mind of your audience well after you leave the room and will help you stay in control until the very end.
When you make a pitch deck, invest time in thinking about how you’ll end to pack a punch, and get creative.
Try this formula: call to action + bold sign-off. Your call to action is your chance to guide them towards what you want – a check to fund your startup idea, another conversation. What do you want now?
A bold sign-off is the thing they’ll remember when you leave. Maybe it’s an exciting phrase that’s also captured on the last slide. Maybe it’s an emotive photo while you encourage them to picture a world free from the problem you’re solving. Maybe it’s reminding them that you, as a leader, are totally committed to success. Either way, plan for a succinct and exciting ending.
5. Play the role of sophisticated Sherpa.
If your audience is the hero on a journey, you are their guide. Their Sherpa. Your job is to enlighten, not overwhelm. To do that, organize and serve up information thoughtfully. Many startup investor decks flow like run-on paragraphs—with no clear breaks. Bad idea. A rapid info dump makes it hard for them to retain and understand information. You force them up the hill too fast, with no time to catch their breath or process the experience.
A good presenter feeds information to their audience bit by bit, breaking it down into logical chunks, and building a case methodically. When you make a pitch deck, think of the chapters in a book, then use your words and your visuals to help guide the audience along through the narrative.
6. It’s an investor deck, not a commercial.
Does your deck say, “We’re really onto something that will make you a lot of money”? Or, “We have pretty colors and our customers dig it”? Even if you’ve spent time on your brand and picking just the right colors and aesthetic, keep in mind a pitch deck is for investors and business-focused people, not for your customers or recruits. When beginning your pitch deck design, consider whether your brand ethos really enhances the investor story.
Here’s an example of when branding doesn’t serve a pitch deck: a female-run company wants money for their innovative newborn baby swaddler, so they craft a deck full of soft language and a gentle aesthetic. But – let’s face it: most investors aren’t drawn to gentle and soft, and potentially – weak. Instead, that company should dial down their brand’s tone (which doesn’t serve them in this situation) in favor of a more hard-hitting business voice, supported by their impressive numbers.
Building a brand identity as a startup is exciting and important in the long run – but if there’s one moment you should let it take a back seat – this is it.
Delivering a pitch deck to a group of investors is a high-stakes moment — one of a slew that you’ll encounter as you launch a business venture. Luckily, you can nail that high stakes moment easily if you just have the right tools in your arsenal, like a great pitch with a well-designed deck to go along with it. In the long run, nothing will replace your ability to lead as you venture into new territory– however, being equipped to do things like delivering persuasive stories that change minds or sell convincing data to influence decisions is an asset that will ultimately take you a long way.