Many investors have suffered through an inordinate number of poorly constructed pitches. Most startup entrepreneurs tend to focus on their pet projects to the detriment of the critical business pitches required for funding. It's fair to say that hardened investors expect to be disappointed. Surprising a cynical audience with a thoughtful, effective presentation that answers the important questions bids fair to invite a warm response that translates into a real shot at successful funding. A great pitch deck is an indispensable tool for any startup.
Paying attention to the following precepts will help with assembling an effective pitch deck.
Brief, Clear Words
Words are tools for conveying ideas. The best words fly a speaker's intended meanings into the minds of listeners before disappearing into the silence of contemplation. Sometimes, more words are better. They push and prod the intended meaning this way and that for a receptive audience. Investors want to be persuaded, and they know business is complex. They expect many words for a non-trivial business idea with many significant aspects. Still, those same investors are busy. They want to hear the presentation and then move on to other demands on their limited time and energy. They want exactly as many words as are needed and not one word more.
Furthermore, promoting a business idea calls for a businesslike approach. As any writer knows, it's all too easy to fall in love with poetic phrases or elaborate explanations. Focused passion is good, but rambling passion is a turnoff. Fluff belongs in a cow field and not in a presentation. Kill all words that puff and preen themselves without contributing to the presentation. For that matter, simpler words are better whenever possible. A dollar word like "utilized" compares badly to a two-bit word like "used." Dictionaries are full of short, powerful words. They should be used.
Hone the Presentation
Practice makes perfect. There's nothing like testing a pitch before exposing it to investors. Smart entrepreneurs run prospective pitches past friends, colleagues, and co-workers willing to offer useful feedback on defects and omissions. A recorded test run can also reach distant or busy reviewers. In a pinch, a mirror will work.
Twenty minutes should be enough for even the most sophisticated business idea. Investors understand that the presentation will leave out a lot of details that are not relevant to the core concept. They expect a pitch to cover only the major ideas. If necessary, a professional writer can be hired to slice away fluff and to clarify the remaining text in a marketing deck. Given the stakes of what might be a single shot at persuading potential business partners to fund a cash-short startup, the extra money is little enough to pay.
Open With an Executive Summary
The old rule about public speaking is to first briefly describe what will be said before delivering the main body of the speech, after which the speaker closes with a brief summary of what has just been said. This sort of one-two-three delivery prepares an audience for the upcoming message and helps with long-term memory. A funding pitch is a little different, but any business idea will benefit from a one-minute opening that clarifies the context before a subsequent barrage of details.
Entrepreneurs can reuse this ultra-efficient executive summary: http://kwhs.wharton.upenn.edu/2014/11/60-second-elevator-pitch/
Prove the Concept
As the old saying has it, ideas are a dime a dozen. Any random schlub can pop out at least four half-baked ideas without breaking a sweat. Making an idea work is much harder. Making that idea an attractive business proposition is a different world. Investors see their mailboxes flooded daily with interesting proposals that fall apart under scrutiny. Investors want to see hard proof of the concept, and illuminating metrics on potential sales don't hurt at all.
Taking the time to hammer out a working prototype of a product or a functional alpha release of a business service will go far in persuading prospective investors that a startup's founders aren't steeped in unrealistic dreams. Also, very few ideas are new under the sun. How have other businesses succeeded with a similar concept? Who were their intended customers, and why did those customers accept the new product or service? How long did it take to increase sales to the point of profitability? What are the likely prospects for the success of the startup that is now seeking funding? Completing basic research into such questions before the presentation will reassure cautious investors that the startup's principals are hard-headed business people who know the score.
Promote the Team
The success of any business that anticipates significant growth depends on the quality of its team. Smart, experienced personnel are much more likely to push a startup to profitability than inexperienced newcomers. Investors want to know who will be helping the founders turn their business plan into reality. A good pitch deck will include a brief profile of the qualifications of the company's core employees.
If available, an advisory board populated with well-known names will add considerable cachet to the founding company and strengthen the chances of funding.
Don't Babble About How
As any experienced engineer or manager knows, manufacturing and service processes tend in practice to be amazingly complicated. In truth, unexpected complexity is in fact expected, and few investors will be surprised at difficulties with innovative processes. Rarely is there a need to spend precious pitch time on anticipating the unanticipated.
For that matter, most investors expect even basic manufacturing and service processes to pose daily challenges. Explaining in advance exactly how employees and founders will implement a new product or service is an exercise in futility. Furthermore, it's not relevant to the pitch. A broad overview of the basic ideas behind the business proposition will do. Technically knowledgeable investors will ask more in-depth questions later if needed. The briefest possible mention of process details will serve well for the great majority of opening pitches.
Result Over Process
Smart entrepreneurs will focus on the outcome for customers and clients. Marketing begins with investors, who might themselves be prospective users of a new product or service. How will the new offering meet the needs and desires of potential purchasers? How will the startup achieve this more efficiently than competitors? How will the startup's marketing experts persuade potential customers and clients to abandon old solutions for an unfamiliar alternative? Inertia is a powerful force, and entrepreneurs often must pair an innovative solution with innovative marketing to succeed. Virtually all startups face the harsh reality of intense competition for attention and brand loyalty.
Engage the Audience
Investors are no different from other people. Behind stern faces, their deepest emotions await. They love hearing a good story that is told with strong words. Professionalism is not incompatible with storytelling, and a story that brims with energy and passion is far more effective than a dry explication of abstract benefits. Painting a mental picture of how a specific customer will benefit or has already benefited from the new product or service packs a wallop.
Quite apart from the story itself, personal presence counts for a lot. Conservative clothing conveys an attitude of respect for investors. A lively voice that rises and falls along with the excitement of the business idea demands close attention. Furthermore, effective communication includes the art of appropriate body language. Wild gesticulation is annoying and distracting, but subdued motions that imply boredom or indifference are worse. Cultural norms do vary, but in general, friendly eye contact invites sympathy and personal connections. Practicing in front of sympathetic friends or colleagues helps improve the delivery of any message, let alone a critical presentation that might mean the difference between a successful funding round and running short of operational cash. Politicians and actors keenly understand the importance of the delivery, and the art of attracting business funding isn't much different. An inexperienced entrepreneur might consider hiring a voice coach.
Paint Vivid Images
Overuse of meaningless charts and graphs mars many presentations. All visual elements should serve a purpose that cannot be met with mere words. The best visual elements pound home their points with words that allow the presenter to show unmistakable belief in the intended meanings through a confident tone of voice and friendly body language. Pictures of manufacturing facilities or smiling service personnel also help as long as they mirror the reality of a successful startup. Vaguely related stock images should be avoided as insincere and manipulative.
Be Prepared for Anything
Despite the intense brevity of a typical presentation, investors expect enormous depth behind the curtain. They expect entrepreneurs to immediately answer critical questions about how their core business idea works. Ignorance about the exact details of complex manufacturing processes or sophisticated software algorithms can be forgiven because investors don't expect founders to know everything. Stumbling over the answers to basic questions, on the other hand, tends to ring alarm bells in the minds of wary investors. If the founders cannot summon up convincing answers, then what will happen in reality? Will the company drift rudderless while its founders struggle to find their way through the consequences of poor comprehension? Too many otherwise promising startups fail after burning up seed investments on fruitless plans.
Investors prefer to deal with confident, savvy startup founders who show themselves to be ready for success. If necessary, entrepreneurs seeking seed money will prepare for a presentation by consulting with industry experts and spending long nights with authoritative materials that cover every major aspect of the startup. Where no legal problems threaten to arise over intellectual property issues, studying operational businesses that implement a similar idea is quite useful.
Whatever the specific business idea, major aspects will cry out for intelligent feedback from outsiders. More than a few otherwise brilliant startup founders suffer from a narrow view of potential difficulties. Canny investors who have seen it all will be watching for these blind spots. A deep awareness of the many practical difficulties of running a business will result in a stronger pitch. Making a sustained effort over months or years to establish a network of sympathetic contacts in relevant fields such as business management, manufacturing, software design and others will boost the prospects of a successful funding round.
Furthermore, there's such a thing as being too close to the problem, even for the most experienced businessperson. Depending on the business concept, it may pay to get the reaction of a total outsider to the core business idea. Company founders might learn a lot by asking for first impressions from friends and colleagues who work in unrelated fields. Alternatively, any parent can attest that young children are prone to uttering amazing insights. If the nature of the business idea permits, asking a young family member for feedback could yield startling thoughts about the potential reception by actual customers.
Wrapping It Up
The closing statement of a presentation should include a direct request for a funding round that will benefit both the startup and the investors. It's remarkable how many speakers neglect this step. Also, most investors appreciate a brief thank you from the speaker for listening to the pitch.