Storyboarding Your Pitch Deck In 6 Easy Steps

By: Arvind Radhakrishnan (Lab Manager, Bangalore)

The point of this exercise is to take everything that was covered in the previous post (Pitch: Getting The Mindset Right) on getting the pitching mindset right, condense, distill, and internalize it all till you can squeeze out a story arc that elicits an emotional response from your audience. Here, we walk through the process of creating the perfect pitch deck.

Choose your Storytellers

These are the team members who will eventually be doing the actual pitching. For the team’s collective story to flow well, everyone needs to be involved in its development. Find time in your schedules, bring everyone together and have everyone talk about the company and what prompted them to be involved in it. Storytellers can’t help but tell stories whenever they have the chance, so you’ll be able to spot who they are soon enough. You’re looking for 2-3 people to take on this role, so if you’re a small team, this Step is moot because all of you will be involved.

Find the common thread

While listening to everyone’s motivations, you should be able to infer what about the company motivated people to join. This is important, because this is clearly your key selling point, and will decide how you go about building your slide deck. Is the problem you’re solving the most exciting thing about your company (think Daily Dump for waste management or IFTTT for cross-platform connectivity)? Or is it instead the product you’ve built or the technology you’re developing (Pi Green Tech for Pollution Management)? Or maybe it’s simply a matter of timing – you’ve identified the perfect solution to a problem, and the market for that solution is now suddenly easily accessible (think AirBnB after the Great Recession).

Set up the Deck Layout, and flesh out Act 1

Now that you know what makes your startup resonate with people, line up some sticky notes and get working on your approximately 10-slide deck. Place the slide that talks about your important factor roughly 1/3rd the way through your deck. Next, divide the entire deck into 3 sections – Act 1 is the portion leading up to the important slide, Act 2 is the explanation of that slide and Act 3 is the rest of the deck. Build a story that walks the investor through the initial few slides till the end of Act 1 in a way that build his interest (vague much?).

Approach this part naturally. How was your interest built? If your solution is what you’re most excited about, it makes sense to first describe the problem you’re solving (hence building suspense) and then, just when things are unbearable, reveal your solution. If, on the other hand, your tech is your greatest strength, you could first describe the problem, up the ante in the Solution slide by hinting at what a suitable product might look like, and then reveal your Product in all its glory. That’s Act 1. Use suspense to build tension till you reveal your exciting slide.

Let Act 2 and Act 3 Flow with the Momentum

If your big reveal was your Solution Slide, following that up with an in-depth analysis of Financials (without even talking about the Market yet) wouldn’t make sense as the investor will have no context with which to assess those financial projections. Follow up on your big reveal slide with the next data-point you will need to be convinced of the problem yourself. Switch mental places with the investor and ask yourself if, after hearing about the product, would you want to know what the surrounding market looked like or why the team feels this is the right time for the product to be brought to market. What would convince you more? If the former case applies, position your Market slide after the Reveal slide. If the latter applies instead, use a strategic “Why Now?” slide to sate the investor’s curiosity. Again, just as you built tension in Act 1, Act 2 is all about proving the value of the exciting factor.

The line between Act and Act 3 can be blurry, but suffice it to say that Act 3 is about answering all the surrounding questions that would have been built up so far. You’ll need to describe your go to market strategy and revenue model, show them what Traction you’ve gained so far, flesh out your Competition, and, if you haven’t done so already, talk about your Team in detail. The last couple of slides usually lays out the company’s financials, and could move on to specify the terms of investment that the company is looking for now. If the deck had a lot of information, you could end with a summary slide of key takeaways, and finish off with a Thank you slide that contains the key team members’ contact details.

Design the content of each slide

This part can be fun. Be sure to check out the general guidelines we’ve laid out in the picture at the end of this post, but the general rule of thumb to stick to for your presentation deck is less is more. You want the attention of the investor to be on you the whole time you’re pitching, not reading paragraphs or graphs on the screen behind you. Use images, easy to follow graphs and charts, short sentences and good formatting to make sure a slide’s message is understood in under 3 seconds. You want investors to look at slides to understand the heading being talked about, and then go back to you as you talk them through the important points. To help you along, we’ve also got a sample deck you could use to get things moving.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Just like nothing spoils a movie like advertisements, nothing spoils a killer pitch like hesitation and awkward bumbling. Once you’ve got your deck layout ready, the only way to really test its impact is to run through it a few times. From the get-go, pitch like you would to an investor. Take it seriously, get the whole team of storytellers in the zone, tell yourself what’s at stake and begin. Get the communication flowing smoothly, the transitions from one speaker to the next seamless, and the emphasis falling on the right points in each slide, and do all this enough to be so comfortable with the content that you don’t need to look at the slides to guide you, while at the same time making sure you sound natural delivering your pitch. It’s a tricky thing, for sure, but stick with it and you’ll notice the improvement you make from one attempt to the next. If you start to lose motivation, know this: if you nail this pitch, not only do you stand a much better chance than the majority of other startups pitching to a particular investor but you’ve also aligned your entire team together and made sure any one of them could sell your vision. This will come in handy at networking events, meetings with business partners and any other time you need to sell (which will be a lot). Use this opportunity to regroup your team before you launch your fundraising onslaught.

And that’s it! You’ve just made your entire pitch deck using no templates, and by getting your entire team fired up and ready. That was a lot to take in, so we’ve summarized the process in the infographic below.

No shortcuts to quality

The point to make here is that there is no one-size fits all deck layout. If your company is unique, why would you expect its story not to be? Several investors and advisors have suggested and even published templates for how they would like your slide deck to look, but a comparison would show you that they’re mostly the same slides in different orders. Interestingly, this would reveal to you what that VC/advisors believes should be the most exciting thing about your deck. For example, Accel Partners’ suggested layout put Team at the beginning and the Product later on. This suggests that what excites Accel the most is the team driving a startup. (While we’re on this point, one more thing to mention is that the Team slide seems to always end up at the beginning of the deck, as was the case with Accel, or at the end, but very rarely in the middle, which suggests that Team is a standalone slide, and does not fit with the flow of the rest of the story)

Although we’re all about avoiding templates and finding the pitch layout that suits you and your company perfectly, some people like to have all the information before they begin a project. To those people I say, we’ve got you covered. To get things moving quickly, we’ve scoured the web for every template we could find, and distilled them into the 9 most common layouts out there. Check this comparison out in the graphic below.

What have your experiences with pitching been like? How do you go about creating a killer pitch deck? Do you have any tips or techniques that could help other budding entrepreneurs with their pitches? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and feel free to share our images and guides with whoever you feel would benefit from them.

If you're interested in connecting with Arvind Radhakrishnan directly, please visit the Mentor Directory on the Member Portal or ask your Labs Manager for assistance.

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