I have reviewed so many decks and sat in so many pitches over the years that my team and I have started to notice patterns: small things that entrepreneurs overlook which can hurt their chances of investment. So, here are some really simple dos and don’ts that might make a big difference, including some specific tips on the - even trickier - virtual pitch…
DO: Multiple versions
Consider having two versions of your deck: one that is longer, distributed in advance of the meeting, and provides more context behind each key theme. (You won’t be there to provide the background as it’s read privately.) And a second, shorter version for the in-person presentation, which allows the people in the room to focus on you and not the words on the screen. This deck, with fewer slides and far fewer words, will serve as a guide to ensure you hit all your points. Also make sure that, in both versions, you include a few points on how you'll adapt your business strategy to our current environment of COVID-19.
DO: Get input from others
Share your deck digitally with a friend or family member before distributing further. This is worth doing for so many reasons, including to:
My poor boyfriend reads most things I draft before I press send – including this article.
DO: Check your deck
And I don’t mean for the obvious spelling mistakes that have hopefully already been caught above… Check your deck before EVERY submission to ensure it remains up to date and accurate. Imagine reviewing a deck, noting a question and then, when you ask it, being told: “Oh, sorry, that is just out of date. I’ll get you an updated version, I just wanted to get something over right away.” Trust me, we’d rather wait for something accurate and save our time. When done frequently, this should not take too long – and you may even see an opportunity to tailor it slightly to the specific audience you’re sending it to.
DO: PDF for posterity
There’s no guarantee what operating system (and/or what version) the person receiving your deck is on, never mind if they have your fancy new font installed. The only way to ensure your presentation looks the same for everyone is to save and send it as a PDF. Let go of your fancy transitions or animations, they’re not worth the risk of wonky formatting. It also ensures nobody on the other end tampers with your pitch ‘just trying to help’.
DO: Dress the part
Our company is casual at the best of times, let alone in this new WFH (work from home) environment, but, for important video calls, we always swap hoodies for something a little more formal. At least from the waist up. If you want to be taken seriously, make an effort – you don’t want to be the only person on the screen with wet hair or in a t-shirt.
DON’T: Discount design
It doesn’t matter if your story revolves around your reclusive techie background – I still want to know you put time and a little bit of money into something that deserves it. Good design can engage your audience and help get your point across more effectively. Bad design just feels cheap and lazy because there are endless online communities, and even apps, that will create something affordably for you and with zero human contact. A well-designed deck will pay you back many times over.
DON'T: Forget your story
We’re not only investing in your product or service – we’re investing in you as its founder. We want to know not only why your startup is unique, but also why you are uniquely positioned to make it successful. I’m not talking about your CV, but how you came up with the idea and why you’re passionate about its success. Do it at the beginning and keep it short.
DON'T: Crowd me
This applies to in-person pitches but, even more, to virtual ones. Only bring someone if you really feel they will add value and are better suited to present a portion of content. And I don’t mean bringing your CFO just to help answer financial questions. Otherwise, in person, they can crowd a room and distract from you. Virtually, they can do even more damage, since the bigger a video conference the more likely a connection issue is to happen. Managing multiple people talking over each other is also much harder. So, despite the virtual pitch events I have seen advertising ‘the more the merrier’, it’s a different story when it comes to private pitches.
DON'T: Get caught looking
Have all your relevant due diligence files open on your machine and a mouse-click away, including summaries of each. If we ask a question about financials and your nerves have zapped your memory, it’s OK to quickly check. But it soon becomes very awkward if we have to wait more than a few seconds in silence during a video conference, while you desperately search for the right file. You’ll feel tempted to fill the silence and things will just get worse…
DON'T: Forget the ask
I’m shocked by how many decks I receive that don’t tell me what they want from me, my team and our money. It’s OK, we all know you want our money – that’s why we’re all here! So, just tell us clearly and on one slide how much you want and what you want it for. If you tell us one without the other we won’t trust you have properly planned for this investment.
Kristen MacDonald is the founder of The Hopper – a new tech incubator helping startups at the seed and pre-seed stage, across ideation, incubation, and acceleration. We’re especially keen to close the funding gap for female-founded and female-led startups, but equally open to hearing from anyone with a great idea.
Visit www.thehopper.tech to find out more.