There are a staggering number of pitch deck templates out there, and there’s one thing most of them get wrong: they forget to mention that the template is (supposed to be) flexible. For some companies using the model as is works, but for others it gives you a story that doesn’t flow at best or doesn’t work at worst. In my teardown for Encore’s pitch deck this week, for example (TechCrunch+ subscription required), the company starts with a team slide — it’s bold, and it works for some companies, but not others. others.
In broad strokes, the contents that goes into pitch decks is pretty much the same – that’s sort of the point, and it helps investors quickly get a full picture of the company they’re looking at. You know how it goes: what’s the problem, how do you solve it, how big is the market, what’s the competition, who’s your team, how much money are you raising… as usual.
But if there is no fixed order, how do you determine what is the correct order?
When I review pitch decks, whether for TechCrunch, with the various accelerators I work with, or as a pitch coach, I often come across an annoying issue. Many, probably most, of the people I work with haven’t thought enough about the order of the slides. The crucial thing to keep in mind is that you’re not telling your story to fit your slides; It’s the opposite. You use the slide to support and enhance your story.
The first slide is the answer to “What’s Unusual About This Company”.
This means two things: if your slides aren’t working or if you can’t connect the computer to the screen (this happens more often than you might think), if for some reason you can’t share your screen (thanks Zoom…), or if for some other reason you can’t use your slides, you need to be familiar enough with your story to be able to present without your slides. Most importantly: the slides don’t have to be the focus of your attention: your story is. If your Keynote or PowerPoint steals the show, you’ve already lost. Investors don’t need to trust your presentation magic; they must have confidence in you and your ability to run a business.
In other words: Drive with your strength. Investors see tons of pitches every day, and the temptation is to write you off before you’ve really started. To grab their attention, your first slide needs to be something that surprises and delights. If you have incredible traction, lead with a chart that shows it. If you have the only team that could possibly run this business, this is your first slide. Do you have patented technology? Is the problem unusual and interesting? Is the market surprising and growing rapidly?
The first slide is the answer to “What’s Unusual About This Company”. From there, tell the story as you would any story – find a common thread that you can follow to its conclusion. A fundraising pitch isn’t a linear story, so there are no rules for getting started — as long as it supports a compelling story arc that you follow from start to finish.
There is no “right” order for the slides – but there is a wrong way. If you often find yourself going back and forth in your story, you’ve found the latter.
So how do you fight the good order? Write your slide titles on post-it notes or index cards, hand them to a friend who has never heard of your business before, and simply present it in whatever way feels most natural to you. Ask your friend to keep track of the order in which you told the story and put the cards in that order. It seems a little weird at first, but it works the vast majority of the time. The only catch here: if you find yourself coming back to the same part of the story (e.g. market size comes up more than once, or you keep coming back to your product), that’s a sign that you have to put away that part of the story. “Split slides” – i.e. where you tell part of the story, say, from going to market at one point, and another part of the story at another – means that you need to consolidate. It becomes confusing for the listener to keep track of the message you are trying to convey.
Keep an eye on my weekly pitch deck teardown series to learn from some amazing deck examples. And if you’ve already raised funds, why not submit your own deck to share with the startup ecosystem?