Proven wisdom on creating a standout pitch deck (and 3 inside tips from a professional persuader)

Google standout pitch deck and you’ll find some incredible wisdom on crafting both a better deck and presentation.

What I haven’t seen, however, are insights from someone who has spent a career:

  • Selling concepts that are (for the most part) far more ethereal than startup businesses,
  • In a setting that is vicious and cutthroat, owing to the fact that the competition is pitching virtually the same idea,
  • Surrounded by people who are experts at persuasion.

I’m talking about advertising – the world I lived in for 17 years as a writer and creative director, before becoming an advisor to entrepreneurs.

This post will highlight tips on pitching I’ve picked up from google searches, friends and pitch experts. These are ideas that really work and bring something fresh to the table. I won’t be talking about foundational knowledge like Kawasaki’s 10 slides, though. It’s critical that you know about the 10 slides – but it isn’t really new information.

Once I’ve highlighted these tips, I’ll finish off with thoughtstarters from my days in advertising that may give your pitch an added edge.

The psychology behind a standout pitch deck

Before we talk pitch, or business, let’s pull back and get clear on what you’re selling, and what investors are buying.

Free brand audit ad

Your brand.

A pitch is not due diligence. It’s an emotional experience where you’re attempting to build resonance with your audience, to get them to trust and believe in you. As much as you want investors to think you’re worth paying attention to, you need to get them to feel you’re worth paying attention to.

Here are some great tips on building resonance. I use all of them when I’m helping put pitches together. If you want to dig deeper on any of them, type standout pitch deck into Google – you’ll get all the info you could hope for.

  • Know your audience – If you’re trying to convince someone of something, doesn’t it pay to know how they feel about the issue before you start? Doesn’t it pay to know their background, their loves and hates? The answer is YES. I’m always surprised that entrepreneurs and founders pitch without knowing the first thing about the people in the audience.
  • Keep the brand simple – Can you capture the essence of your brand in a visual (think Krazy Glue guy hanging from a girder that’s glued to his construction helmet)? When you say the name of your company, do I immediately get a sense for what you do, and do better? Can you communicate your magic in a split second? A simple brand creates an immediate, visceral response in your audience.
  • Sell yourself – Your company may be terrific – in your eyes. But to an investor, every idea that gets financed is an idea that will be transformed multiple times. What won’t change is you. Sell yourself, and your passion.
  • Focus on core information – What happens if you ask the time and someone tells you how to build a watch? You resent them for wasting your time – no matter if they’re brilliant or not. You may be enamoured by every line of code, every feature, every detail. But your audience only wants to hear things relevant to their agenda – how your business can help them succeed.
  • Keep it short – Same point, different angle. Can you do your 3 minute pitch in 2 minutes? Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 2 minutes long – and it had ample core information. The tighter your pitch, the better your edit, the bigger your insights, the more resonance you build.
  • Make it a story – Ever had someone recite their favourite spreadsheet? No. People remember, and retell stories. If you can’t turn your pitch into a story, buy one of the million books that shows you how I’d recommend this one.
  • Be versatile – You’re the expert. If I interrupt your pitch with a weird question, do you fumble, or welcome the opportunity to give me a short, on-point answer? Pitching is like fencing. When the investor thrusts, you get points for an expert parry. On the same subject, your pitch should work (with some information added / retracted) in settings as diverse as a cocktail party and a formal competition.
  • Competitor and market insights – Chances are, you know more about your competitors and market than the investor does. As part of your storytelling, turn them into either the setting of the story, or the villains. But bring them into the pitch to help investors appreciate what you’ve accomplished, against what odds.
  • Avoid exit strategies – If you want to kill the love, tell the person you just met on your first date that you want a pre-nup. A pitch isn’t the place to talk about what you’re going to get out of your business – it’s about what you’re willing to put into it.
  • Focus on size of opportunity – We all love gold. If you can tell a compelling story about the dragon sitting on the pile of gold, you might find a few investors willing to make the risky journey to the Lonely Mountain to help you get it. (Any Lord of The Rings fans here?)

What should a standout pitch deck include?

The points above should help you understand the psychological task at hand. Now onto the tactics.

Again, these are points I incorporate when I’m helping entrepreneurs pitch. If you want to explore any of them, they’re covered in detail in other pitch posts that pop up if you google standout pitch deck.

  • Show the right data – On a macro level, ensure you show market size and potential. On a micro level, it’s all about unit economics – revenue, margin, profit.
  • Break down complexity – Compartmentalize information. Reduce noise. Do things like using tiles of colour with icons on them to denote important points, instead of drowning the deck in bullet points.
  • Milestones on a timeline – Everyone likes a roadmap to put your progress and aspirations in context.
  • Visual numbers – Add numbers to support any and all claims you make. But use the power of design and art direction to bring those numbers to life.
  • Lose text, use icons – Edit the superfluous out of your written deck. If you’re using a deck to support your presentation, try eliminating words wherever possible. Your slide show should feel incomplete until you provide the spoken narrative.
  • Type hierarchy – If everything is important, nothing is important. Design hierarchies make it easy to see which are key points, and which are support points.
  • Invest in great visuals – Your visuals are your conversation starters. To an earlier point, can you craft visuals that explain key points, instead of just acting as space fillers?

Adman insights on taking your pitch to 11

To close, I’d like to present a few pitch tactics I’ve used to great effect in ad agency boardrooms. Each of these tactics works well, regardless if you’re pitching a new commercial to clients or your new company to investors.

  • Understand your audience’s idea of ‘success’ –  Some people in your audience may be looking for the next big thing. Others may be looking for a safe bet. Still others may be there to tick the boxes their boss told them to. If you know who’s in your audience, you should know how to tailor your pitch to their idea of a ‘win’.
  • The pitch is step one – How are you going to follow up your pitch? Walk off stage and give a copy of your deck to anyone who asks? When I was pitching advertising, we’d have a detailed plan on how to follow up with everyone in the room. Not just a polite ‘Thank You’ email, either – we would have specific, highly strategic follow-up pieces and a follow-up schedule that often spanned months of engagement.
  • Poison the well – Think about the other people pitching at your event. What are the strengths / weaknesses of their offering? How can you position your business in a favourable light, while subtly casting shade on theirs? Caution – this is a black belt tactic. It needs to be subtle.
  • Turn your judges into collaborators – When you’re a judge, you believe your only job is to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. You aren’t being asked for your input. When you’re a collaborator, however, your job is to make the idea better. You have a vested interest in its success. How can you make the investors in the audience collaborators? Hint: it happens long before the pitch day.

If you’re wondering how your pitch stacks up, I can offer you a simple next step. I help entrepreneurs optimize their pitch by providing objective outside feedback and expert advice in the context of two meetings. It gets results every time. Click here for more information.

If you found this story useful, please pass it along to a colleague who may benefit from it. 

Add Comment