The Presentation Deck vs. the Sending Deck

“It was the best of time, it was the worst of times…” shouldn’t be the first slide of your pitch deck (unless you’re pitching a new publishing venture.) It’s great literature, but too many words for your deck. It’s thought provoking rather than intuitive.

Dickens was famously wordy in his writing and his stories were read over months. You only have 1 minute to convey your story so every slide in your pitch deck needs to be concise and on-point.

Most early-stage pitch decks are far, far, far too wordy and missing needed information. That’s a clear sign the company isn’t ready for investment, no matter how great the product idea.

In working with entrepreneurs to streamline their pitch for demo day, knocking it down to just a few words per slide and graphic or two, everyone raises the same problem — if they send this deck to investors without hearing the pitch, they won’t be able to follow it.

This is why you need two versions of the pitch deck — a version for presenting and a version for sending out.

The Pitch Deck is a Teaser

If you think the point of a pitch deck is to get investment, you’re looking at it wrong. Your goal in either pitching at an event or sending out a pitch deck is only to get investors interested enough to invite you to a meeting.

The deck does not need to explain your entire business; it only needs to get an investor interested enough to begin a discussion. Think of the pitch deck as a teaser, like a movie preview with an outline of the full story.

If you’re successful, you’ll be invited to a short meeting to go through the pitch in person with questions. If that goes well, you’ll get a longer meeting that includes more of the team and more questions. And if that’s successful, you’ll start a due diligence process to look into every little detail.

So how do you get an investor with an in-box filled with decks excited about yours? Whether presenting at a demo day or sending out the deck, you need to show the same 3 things:

  1. You have a product that’s needed (problem, solution, market size)
  2. You’re able to grow the business (team, IP, competition, traction)
  3. You’re offering a fantastic investment (revenue projections, exit strategy, deal terms)

The Sending Deck

When people talk about a “pitch deck”, they’re usually referring to the sending deck. This is the standard pitch deck. It has 12–15 slides and follows a standard format.

The sending deck is not the text of your entire pitch. It is not meant to be read in detail. Like the presentation deck, it needs to be intuitive and spare.

But it needs to have enough context so that an investor flipping through its pages can determine whether it looks like an interesting investment without you there to explain it.

In many ways, reviewing pitch decks is like reading resumes. Most investors take a quick first pass through the deck to see if it’s worth considering. We’re looking for reasons to throw it away since the vast majority won’t be suitable. You get about 60 seconds, maybe less. We’re looking at:

  • Does the deck look professional?
  • Is it a space we’re interested in?
  • Is there a large enough market opportunity?
  • Does the team have sufficient experience?
  • Is there a reasonable chance for a high-multiple exit?
  • Is the company at the right stage of traction, investment, and valuation?

That’s a lot to assess in a minute or less. Which means all the needed information needs to be in the right places. A creative deck that changes the flow of the pitch or leaves out important information goes straight to the bit bucket.

With only a minute to tell your story, every slide needs to be intuitive. This is where you need to apply your creativity. Use as few words as possible, and no more than about 25 per slide. Use very short descriptions, a few bullet points, logos instead of company names, and as much information as possible put into simple, easy to understand graphics. A 5-year revenue graph contains a lot of information, but it’s easy to understand at a glance.

Go through every word in the deck and think about whether it needs to be there. Is there a way to simplify the statement, or can it be turned into a simple graphic? The fewer words you need to tell your story, the better your chance of success. If you’re not good at wordsmithing, get someone help you. If you’re not good at graphic design, get someone to help you.

Leave out appendices. When I receive a deck with 30 slides, I still only give it 60 seconds. Which means I zip through the first slides in 2 seconds each. When I get to slide 12 and realize the rest are back-up slides I can ignore, do I go back and spend extra time on the main slides? Sorry, no.

Leave out everything that isn’t critical to your story. You don’t need a slide of disclaimers. You don’t need footnotes or attributions. We’ll review the assumptions and background information during diligence, so you don’t need to explain everything now.

If the deck passes the initial filter, we’ll go through a second time, maybe 3–5 minutes, to:

  • Understand the product and customers
  • Consider whether the assertions about market size and revenues make sense
  • Examine the experience of the team
  • Review the tractions and milestones
  • Look at the deal terms and funding history more closely

If the deck looks interesting, you’ll be invited to pitch in person.

The Presentation Deck

You’re at a demo day and have 5 minutes to present. The sending deck doesn’t work. You need a presentation deck.

The advantage of presenting is that you can explain your story. But you only have 5 minutes, or sometimes only 3. The point is same — get an investor excited enough to sit down with you for a short meeting.

Think of this as storytelling. What’s going to get them interested? You don’t need to follow the standard pitch format because we’re not flipping through a deck looking for information. You have our attention — your goal is to keep it.

So you may want to start with the founder’s story. Or a customer journey. Be creative in finding a way to explain what the product is and why people need it. Or if you have impression traction, start with that — “We released our widget last month and it’s already selling like hotcakes. Let me tell you what it is and why people are so desperate to get it.” That’ll get our attention.

While you’re telling your story, you want people listening to you, not reading what’s on the screen. if there’s a lot of text on the slides, we’ll be distracted by that and lose track of what you’re saying. So the slides should only include what you need to explain what you’re saying (a screenshot of the software, a photo of the product, a graph of growing revenue.) Put as much into graphics as possible to illustrate your point. And make sure they the graphics are easy to understand — if we’re trying to decipher the meaning of a flow chart, we’re not listening to you.

The presentation deck should have very few words — 15 words is usually the maximum. Any words should only reiterate or illustrate the main points of what you’re saying.

Text should be large and easy to read. Be careful with color combinations and fonts. Avoid all caps — they’re hard for the brain to process at a glance.

If there’s a Q&A session after the pitch, you may want to have a few backup slides ready. You know the questions you’re likely to get and can have a slide ready to answer them. But only a few or you’ll look disorganized as you search through the deck for the right one.

Hybrid Decks

What about the 3 minute pitch? Well, that’s a different deck from the 5 minute pitch. A deck for investors who are already part of the industry? A different deck, too.

While we talk about a pitch deck as a single thing when we mean a presentation deck or a sending deck, within those categories of decks, you’ll actually need a separate version to match each situation.

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