We’ve all been asked to put together a slideshow, a deck, a presentation. Whether it was for a class project, a family vacation, or a work assignment, almost everyone has gone through the process.

But what exactly makes a successful pitch deck?

A pitch deck is a brief presentation you create to give your audience a snapshot of your business plan. You could break it down into two parts, the story you want to tell investors (pitch) and the visual representation you want to show them (deck).

So figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and the rules of engagement for both are extremely important.


  1. Learn the game, not just the techniques.

“Pitching for money is not the same as giving a good presentation at school,” said Matt Gibson, former director at the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship. “You would never expect to succeed in a sports game if you walked out on the field not knowing the rules. Just learning to throw a ball hard is not enough to become a good baseball player.”

Matt said throwing is a technique and not the game. “Making slides that are aesthetically pleasing is a technique, but it’s not the game.”

Venture Deals is a book Matt suggests reading to learn the gameplay and how deal flow happens. 


  1. Learn from those with experience.

Talk to people who have successfully launched companies and pitched (not just people who won a pitch competition). Listen to their experiences. 

A few years ago it started to become popular for companies to share their pitch decks. Searching Google, you can find decks from Airbnb, LinkedIn, and Uber, which are all seen as the gold standard for pitch decks. Study them and learn from them.

Matt suggested checking out this piece by Guy Kawaski. The format or structure used is considered a must. “Sequoia Capital actually tells people exactly what they want in a deck/business plan,” Matt said.

Matt also suggested joining (and reading) the newsletters of venture capital firms. This can give you insight into what they are looking for in companies they want to invest in and the type of language they use, which you can incorporate into your own pitch.


  1. Share your story, a lot. 

The old saying goes: if you want advice, ask for money; if you want money, ask for advice. In the beginning, you need to ask for advice, which will eventually help you be in a better position for funding.  

You should be sharing your pitch deck well before you need money or are asking for money. Use it as a way of keeping advisors and investors informed of your company and progress. 

“Contrary to what we are led to believe from Shark Tank and pitch competitions, investors don’t just start throwing money at a good pitch,” explained Matt. “The pitch deck is usually the beginning of a conversation. The purpose is to have deeper conversations that lead to a partnership.” 

In other words, you should be building relationships. 

  1. Keep making progress with your company.

Matt said a lot of people seem to get into “pitch mode” and don’t work much on their company. 

“That’s a mistake. You have to keep working on the company,” said Matt. “If you are out there ‘pitching’ and you come across the same investor six months later with exactly the same status update, you’ve lost that opportunity forever. On the other hand, meaningful progress is very convincing.”

Remember, your pitch is only a small part of being an entrepreneur, the business, the product or service that you are passionate about is your primary goal, and therefore focus.


  1. Design principles. 

“The deck is just a stage,” said Anthony Pino, a designer and former creative director in Philadelphia. He’s helped build pitch decks, sales decks, and educational decks for top brands such as A.C. Moore, AARP, Hertz and WaWa. “Don’t let it take control of your presentation. Support your narrative while maintaining visual control over every talking point.”


  1. Templates. 

“95% of slides are custom on an important pitch,” explained Anthony. “But, templates are good to start with if you’re not a designer.”

Anthony cautioned that you should only use templates as a starting point. “Everyone’s seen the Powerpoint options and don’t use them for a reason. Build a deck that compliments your brand and you’re in a good place.”


  1. Colors.

If your business or brand has a theme, go with it. Always think simple. Two to five complementary colors tops. Color is a system, a part of that brand we keep talking about. 

“Make them remember you,” Anthony suggested. “You’re that Lime Green girl.”


  1. Fonts. 

If sharing an editable deck, always be sure to use basic fonts that are present on all machines. But since you’re most likely driving, step it up! 

“When choosing, select clean fonts. Almost always forgo Serif type,” insisted Anthony. “It doesn’t matter if your logo is all serifs, the medium requires quick takeaways. Modern, clean and easily read from a distance is appreciated.”


  1. Contrast is key. 

Black type on white background. Start there. Make that type pink, too far. Unless it’s a short word at 300 pt. Then, maybe. 

Bold contrasts have a way of demanding attention seemingly broadcasting a confident stance. “Confidence in any high-pressure pitch is big,” reminded Anthony. “You’re an entrepreneur, you got it, let the deck help you.”


  1. Consistency. 

Long or short, keep a unifying theme but shift contrast often. You want the slides to feel familiar but not exact copies of the previous slide.


  1. Imagery. 

If your brand is a product, congrats, you have the one core visual you’ll almost ever need.

Even with a product shot, remember you’re telling a story. There’s a ton of stock art and it’s fine to use, but a storybook has the same style imagery throughout its pages. Consider modifying all photos and illustrations to a unified theme.

Consider your audience and remember diversity.

“We want to live in a world where everyone is included,” suggested Anthony. “You’d be surprised at how others look at your representation of their audience. Be sensitive. Be inclusive. Be smart.”

Cheesy stock photography. If it looks cheesy, it was cheesy ten years ago.


  1. Entertain.

“Sadly, reality TV has taught us just how desperate we are to be entertained,” mused Anthony. “Enter something off-beat to crack a smile. Smiling is infectious. You get them smiling, you’re in a good place.”

Subtle transitions should be used throughout. At a minimum, a good cross-dissolve could soften the change between slides. Keep them consistent.


Now that you have your pitch and your deck you are ready to start sharing it. Practice makes perfect. Remember, you will continue to tweak and fine-tune what you say and what you put on your slides to create the most impact.

Take a deep breath, smile, and remember you’re just talking about the thing you are most passionate about. Piece of cake.

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