One of the most intimate meetings you’ll ever have is when you’re standing (or sitting) in front of potential investors with your proverbial hand out, asking for an infusion of cash for your business. Whether you’re a startup looking for seed money or an established business looking for series B or C funding, your words in these meetings may be some of the most important words ever spoken for your business. And your supporting presentation is your greatest accessory to enhance your narrative.
So how do you develop a pitch deck like your business (and life) depends on it?
Create an investment story you want to tell over and over again, and one you’re confident your audience would be interested in hearing.
You’re going to tell this story many times over, so you want to be sure it’s the right story for your business. While the structure of your deck depends on a number of things, asking these questions will help you set up the right story.
- What problem are you solving?
- Who’s your demographic, why are they your demographic?
- What does your product do and why is it different/innovative?
- Who are your competitors, how do you compare?
- What’s the market size, what’s the opportunity?
- What traction have you already made?
- What’s your product roadmap and timeline?
- What’s your pricing structure, what are your revenue projections?
- Who are you and what’s unique about your team that can solve this challenge?
- What’s your financial ask and how will you spend the cash?
That last question, especially, must be well thought out and nuanced. Investors will want a return on the money they give to your business; they want to know why you’re asking for that specific amount and what you intend to do with it.
Understand that data is your go/no-go in getting funds, so make your data center of attention.
Every story is strengthened by data. There’s no greater way to backup your story than showing quality data points. You have to compel potential investors that you’re worth their investment, and data can help you make your case. All those questions listed above? Have hard, third-party evidence – not just your gut feeling – to back up your answers.
Study the data, look for trends in the data, then look for more data. There are countless studies, articles, journals, expert opinions, market statistics, etc. that are out there to help you tell your story. Create your outline, your narrative, then look for holes in it. Use data to fill those holes and have a stockpile to pull from. There will always be follow-up questions from your audience and having a library to reference can help you think on your feet to answer their questions with confidence.
Make sure you give context for your data. Don’t just put a stat out there without weaving it into the overall story or providing an anecdotal example. You want to make sure your audience understands how it fits into everything and is compelled by it. And it should go without saying to always source your data.
Design your slides to make your points stick with your audience.
You’ll want to ensure your presentation is designed with purpose. I mean beyond making it look pretty. Your slides should complement your voiceover to strategically support your storyline. Include illustrations that simplify complex ideas. Show mockups of your product with key features highlighted. Create charts and graphs that are on-brand. Use color and photography to enhance a text-heavy slide.* Most importantly, make sure all your graphics are relevant, legible and easy to understand.
Make your deck consumable even without your voiceover; be sure that it makes sense as a standalone document. All presentations are best when you’re there to tell the story in your voice, but that’s not always possible. The worst thing you can send to a potential investor is a deck that doesn’t communicate your true intention.
Guy Kawasaki is infamous for his 10/20/30 rule on presentations (10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point font). Our stance is to make them simple, visually appealing and interesting.
* We are advocates of as little text as possible, sometimes you need the text to translate your point, but use a text-heavy format cautiously.
Get input from folks who know exactly what you’re up to, and those that don’t, to give you some perspective.
You want to make sure you’re not missing any blind spots in your story, or an opportunity for potential sound bites, data, references, et al that could make it more persuasive.
Identify whose opinions you trust most in your circle, then ask them to review and advise on your deck. Often times, they’ll provide insight into questions potential investors may ask, giving you an opportunity to strengthen your arsenal of information and data to answer these questions. They also may point out where your deck may be lacking, or validate your storyline. Choose where you think the story is weakest, maybe it’s the financials or the competitor analysis, and work with a trusted member of your circle to get guidance that makes it better.
Ask people who don’t know exactly what you’re up to for feedback, too. When you’re close to what you’re doing, you get all the intricacies of it. When you ask someone who’s not, they’ll tell you where they’re tripping up on your story or what they need to be clearer to understand it. They’re a great barometer for making sure your story is clean, understandable, and compelling.
Don’t memorize your pitch. It will never work and you’ll be left tripping over your words.
It seems counterintuitive. You think you have to memorize it. After all you have so much to say and you want to make sure your potential investors have all the information they need. Break free from this unfair – and unrealistic – expectation of yourself. No matter how much you practice your pitch, you’ll never memorize it word for word. And you shouldn’t. Because when you try to recall it verbatim, you come across as staged, insincere, and lacking confidence.
Instead, create a really solid outline. Know the flow of your story like you know the timeline of your life. You know when you were born, how you did in elementary school, where you went off to college, why you veered from your major and landed where you are today, and what you want for yourself in the future. The ease at which you talk to others about your life is the ease at which you should tell the story of your company, the passion behind it, the traction made to date, and where you see it moving forward. You likely never tell your life story the same exact way every time – same for your pitch. And that’s the way it should be. It should have the same intention and message, but it doesn’t have to be verbatim every single time.
Once you have your outline, practice until you seamlessly and naturally recover from your flubs and stop fretting about potentially misspeaking during your pitch. If you practice enough, you’ll learn how to naturally recover from any slip-ups without anyone but you knowing.
Not memorizing your pitch also gives you the flexibility to tweak it with ease depending on the investors and the nuances you know about them. It allows you to more easily personalize your pitch to what you know they care about.
Find potential investors, then pitch away.
Every meeting should be an opportunity for investment but stagger your first few with investors you perceive as low-risk meetings. Use them as ground for practicing and refining. Ask them for feedback afterwards. We’ve seen that investor meeting number three is where our clients typically turn the corner – they have a great story, a great deck, and a newfound confidence in asking for investment dollars.
Once your deck is ready, start pitching! Remember, your slides should always be your backdrop and never the foreground for your presentation. They should only supplement what you’re planning to say, and they should never, ever serve as your teleprompter. Because, the moment you start reading from your slides, you lose credibility. And like any presentation, you want to read the room. Make eye contact with your audience, ask them questions, learn how to strategically pause to acknowledge them. Most importantly, learn how to inflect your voice on salient points to make them memorable.
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