Building a Pitch Deck: the Easy Way

So, you’re building a pitch deck for your startup and you’ve combed the web for inspirations, tips, methods, etc.  You might have seen a crazy one, or a pretty one.  At the end of the day, you should build one that expresses your personality.  I hope this post helps provide you a framework to go forward.

1. Outline.  Staring at a blank PPT can be a daunting task, especially when the prospects of receiving funding depend on your pitch deck and your financial model.  So, what to do?  Start with something you know and build from there.  In many cases, talking about the existing problem(s) is a good way to start.  After all, we’re building our companies because we recognize problems that need to be solved.  Next, talk about your solution.  This is obvious enough, but the difficulty lies in communicate your mental processes to people who might not have a clue about your field.  After this slide, then talk about what the economic opportunity is assuming you get it right.  A number here goes a long way, but you have to be able to back it up with your market research.  Assuming that there’s a market to be served, talk about competition — existing and potential.  You know the old saying: no competition, no market.  Every investor wants to know how you’re going to make money, so talk about that next (unless you’re starting a non-profit, that is).  At this point, if you have a compelling business case, people would naturally think about whether you or your team is capable of executing on your plans.  Talk about that.  Finally, talk about how much money you’ll need to make your dreams a reality (have the financials ready, just in case).  If you’ve really thought about how you’re going to reach your market, putting that slide in would definitely help as well.  See that?  You’re practically there.

2. Add Text.  Once you have a reasonably complete outline, start putting text on the slides.  The less, the better, but do write down everything that comes to your mind.  Think of this as a brainstorming session.  Aesthetically, 30pt font is better than 20pt font, but definitely do not go smaller than that (well, except in very limited circumstances, like putting a note on a small chart).

3. Replace Text with Graphics.  There are visual people and there are aural people.  The aural people won’t much care about what you put on the slides (but they definetely care about how you talk about your slides).  Visual people like pictures.  So start looking for pictures that can replace your texts.  Google Images, Flickr and iStockphoto are all great places to find pictures.  Be mindful about copyright, though.  Keep in mind that the higher resolution the pictures, the better.  There are abstract concepts that cannot be communicated via pictures, so be ready to “read” from the slides.  Just try to not do it too much.

4. Write Out the Pitch.  This helps me solidify my message.  Write out a paragraph for every slide and mark up the keywords so you know when you emphasize on them.  A side benefit of this step is it helps you with timing.  It’s recommended that you talk at about 100-120 words/minute, but err on the slide of talking more slowly.  So, if you have 5 minutes for your pitch, then you should have about 500-600 words for the whole pitch.  Make sure you allot a few seconds for slide changes.

5. Edit, Edit and Edit.  After you’ve written out your pitch, leave it for a few hours.  Come back and look at it again.  Then edit, edit and edit.  Rinse and repeat as necessary and as time allows.

6. Practice, Practice and Practice.  I’ve heard people spending anywhere from several hours to several days on a pitch.  Obviously, the more important the pitch, the more you need to practice.  Your work schedule will determine how much you can put toward practicing. I’m comfortable at about 1 hour of practice per minute of presentation time.  Try to practice in front of people so you can get feedback on your pitch.  They’ll tell you what they got and didn’t get from the pitch.  You might want to tweak your pitch at this point to please everybody, but do think carefully about it.  Don’t get pulled in so many different directions that your pitch comes across as being disjointed.

7. Trim.  Here is where you ruthlessly cut back on the speech component or the slides themselves in order to stay within the time limit.  When in doubt, remember that less is more.  If people are interested, they’ll ask you about it afterward.

8. Leave it Alone.  Try to resist your perfectionist inclinations.  Accept that the pitch will never be perfect and move on.  If you’re building a startup, you have at least a dozen top priority items to deal with.  Get moving with the actual company-building part.

9. Have Fun.  This is easy enough.  If you’re not having fun telling people how you’re going to solve problems and make this world a better place, you might as well get a 9-5 job.

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