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Your pitch deck - think content before design!

It is not that often when I am with an entrepreneur that I declare that I am sick and tired, but I will do that now. I am sick and tired of the obsessiveness of the design of pitch decks. It is not that unusual that there is someone who steps forward on Medium or on Instagram promising that (s)he can help – for free or a fee – with designing the pitch deck. C'mon! Yes, a pitch deck has to fulfill certain design criteria, but that is not where the most significant challenge with a deck lies. It is in the content!! My firm conviction is that, and I am honestly looking forward to being challenged on this, a great slide deck is one of the many successful outcomes of a carefully crafted business plan. Without great content, a slide deck is nothing!


So, food for thought:


Firstly, you need to be on top of your business plan before you start creating your deck; its design is just cosmetics that cannot hide what is not thoroughly thought through. So before even beginning, you have to know "your business" and the story you want to tell. You need to be sure of:

  • the business opportunity you are going to pursue, including a well-articulated Pain, a defined Painkiller oozing of Delight, and a set of potential Customers. And all three must be aligned!

  • how you will execute on it,

  • what you need from outside funders (as in money, knowledge, and connections) and how you will give back to them.


Before you have done this, time spent on Slide share, figuring out how to design the perfect slide deck (which, by the way, I believe does not exist) is a total waste. Full stop!


Instead, focus on crafting great content both related to the opportunity, the execution and the "giving back"! Stay much longer than you have planned in the phase of creating and questioning content, and when the team agrees: “Yes, we have and know our content! We have a story to tell.” then comes the time to give birth to the deck!


Here are some propositions for that step:


First, make one that will support you when you make an oral presentation. For every slide, you need at least to include the following:

  • A heading that captures what the slide is about

  • Few but powerful words, avoid sentences when you can – you don’t want the audience to try to read too much text as you are talking; you want the focus to be on you. Aim for no more than five lines of words on one slide and no more than five words per line. If you can use a number instead of words!

  • Use graphs, photos, images whenever you can – it is not a cliché that a visual says more than 1000 words. I suggest you avoid video because if tech is going to fail you, it is during the pitch!

  • Reduce the number of slides. Have back-up slides that you can show during Q&A. And if you have a slide that you are eager to share that is in the back-up slides, just say: “Please ask me more about X; I have a slide that I want to share.” Do it with “a wink,” and I bet your audience will ask you to share it ;-).


Secondly, make another deck you can share without you being present. That deck needs to stand on its own feet (hmmm), i.e., you need to explain everything carefully – that doesn't always mean a lot of words, so apply a few of what is suggested above on this “fuller” deck too.


Last but not least, don't keep track of time spent on delivering your business's content or the number of iterations of the slide deck – it will only be discouraging. (I promise to give you more on what should be included in the pitch deck in a separate post.)


To sum up: Don't look at too many pitches on YouTube to emulate how pitches should be done. You are who you are; if you know your content, if you have practiced your pitch, you can stand up in front of any audience and do it in a way that will communicate authenticity, assurance, passion, and that you are the one who will make it happen.


Trust me; I have heard enough pitches to know!




Ps. About Airbnb: I think Airbnb is a fantastic business idea, including excellent execution. Their deck on Slide share is A+ but not because of the design; it communicates excellent content in an easy to grasp way. Read through it, and re-counter it to someone else. Ask them to share with you what they remember and see how much of “friction” there is, i.e., how different your sharing is from how they share it back. I bet they are pretty similar. This is not rocket science; it is a lot of hard work, iterations, and excellent content. You can also do it! And if you are in doubt, share with me why!

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