What is a Pitch Deck?
A pitch deck is a brief presentation, often created using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, used to provide your audience with a quick overview of your business plan. You will usually use your pitch deck during face-to-face or online meetings with potential investors, customers, partners, and co-founders. Sometimes you will use your deck to present your business in front of a larger audience, perhaps at a pitch competition or angel group meeting. Other times, a potential investor may ask you to email them your pitch deck, so it needs to make sense without being accompanied by your verbal delivery. Different situations will require different styles of pitch decks.
When Do I Need a Pitch Deck?
At some point, every entrepreneur can benefit from having a pitch deck:
- Outlining & Organizing: Your deck can serve as an outline for your business plan. A pitch deck is easy to rearrange, so you can easily experiment with the flow of your story. They consist mostly of images and a few bullet points, so it forces you to visualize the big picture rather than getting lost in the details. If things don’t seem to be working out, it’s easier to pivot in a new direction with a pitch deck because it’s mentally easier to discard 2-3 slides than 8 pages of a beautifully written business plan. If you know you’re going to need a pitch deck anyway, you should probably develop and refine your deck before you start the narrative business plan.
- Obtaining Buy-In: If you are trying to persuade people to “buy in” to your story and become supporters – say, beta customers, potential strategic partners, advisors, co-founders, or employees – a pitch deck is often the best medium for expressing your story.
- Investor Meetings: If you are approaching sophisticated investors – say, an angel group or a venture capital fund – you will almost certainly need a pitch deck. In fact, some investors will ask that you email them your pitch deck rather than an executive summary or full business plan (although you will eventually need a full business plan when the investors begin their due diligence). If the investor invites you to their office for a meeting, your deck will provide structure to your meeting (although by the time you get to Slide 3, if the investor is actually interested, she will start asking questions that force you to jump ahead to Slide 8, and then back to Slide 5).
- Pitch Contests: No matter where you live, there are probably a number of opportunities within driving distance for you to present your opportunity to an audience. These are events organized by universities, angel groups, startup incubators and co-working spaces, startup conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt, local economic development groups, and other entities that support entrepreneurship. Some opportunities give you a short, strictly enforced time limit (usually 3 to 10 minutes, but some are as short as 90 seconds!). Others are more generous, providing 30 to 45 minutes including Q&A. You should find out well in advance what your time allotment is going to be, and customize your deck accordingly.
What Makes a Great Pitch Deck?
A pitch deck is great only if it helps you achieve your goals with your target audience. You should consider the following factors to ensure that your deck has maximum impact on your specific situation:
- Length: There are many experts who will tell you your pitch deck must have exactly 5 slides, or exactly 8 slides, or exactly 10 slides. There are no strict rules about how long your presentation should be, as long as you can deliver it comfortably, without rushing, in the allotted time. This usually means no more than one slide per minute. Thus, if you have 15 minutes to fill and want to reserve the last 3 minutes for Q&A, then 10-12 slides should do it.
- Content: Think from your audience’s perspective. What questions do they need you to answer in order for them to take the desired action (note: if you are presenting to a group, the desired action isn’t to get them to write a check on the spot – that’s never going to happen – it’s to get them to exchange business cards with you so that you can follow up later). If you are presenting to investors, you should focus on answering these Ten Big Questions.
- Focus: Limit each slide to expressing one idea. You want to keep your entire audience on the same page.
- Aesthetics: Don’t worry too much about aesthetics until you’ve conquered the structure and flow of the pitch deck first. Then, don’t go wild with an artistic flourish: you want your audience to focus on you, not on your slides. Pick a stock template you can live with and that looks good on the computer screen, in hard copy, as a PDF, and when projected on a screen. Customize the color scheme to match your corporate branding. Replace as many words as possible with graphics (photos, illustrations, diagrams, tables, and charts). If you are presenting to a large audience, make sure the fonts are large enough for the people in the back row with bad eyesight to read. Even if you are creating a stand-alone deck that will be read (instead of being presented in person), strive to cut as many words as possible. Eliminate every element that doesn’t serve a purpose. Avoid sound effects, unnecessary animation, and embedded multimedia. In other words, keep it simple, clean, and uncluttered.
- Delivery: If your pitch deck is a race car, then you are the driver. The deck is useless without your execution. Steve Jobs was known for giving incredible presentations; you should watch some clips of his talks on YouTube and see for yourself. Jobs’ delivery seemed effortless because he practiced tirelessly. You should practice your pitch until you get it perfect – first in front of a mirror, then with people (friends, family, strangers off the street – anybody willing to listen and give you feedback). You should also practice with a video camera rolling. No matter how many times people tell you to fix something, you probably won’t until you see the flaw for yourself.
How Do I Create a Pitch Deck?
If you don’t have the time or the skills to put together a pitch deck, or if you think you would benefit from some outside perspective, Cayenne Consulting can help. In general, we follow a two-step process:
- Start Generic: The first step is to create a “generic” pitch deck that answers the Ten Big Questions. We typically begin by creating one slide for each question. The title of each slide is the question (e.g., “What Problem Do We Solve?”); the body of the slide answers the question. We sometimes need more than one slide to answer some of the questions; that’s fine since we’re mostly brainstorming at this stage. The key is to get your (and our) ideas down where we can all see them. Now we print it out and arrange the slides across the floor. We rearrange things until we have a compelling storyline. Then we remove anything that doesn’t directly relate to your storyline. Finally, we start working on the Aesthetics part mentioned above.
- Go Specific: The second step is to tailor your pitch deck for a specific audience and/or meeting. If your “generic” pitch is 15 slides long and you’re preparing for a 20-30 minute face-to-face meeting with a potential investor, we might not need to make very many changes. On the other hand, if you’re presenting to a possible strategic partner, we probably want to replace your company-wide financial forecast with an analysis of how your proposed alliance benefits your potential partner. If you’re preparing for a 3-minute lightning pitch, you’ll probably need to create a 3-slide deck that builds on the 2-3 most important graphics from your generic pitch.