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Become a Pitch Deck Genius


APRIL, 2017

In my journey to help people improve their pitch I often come across start-ups that need help honing their presentations to investors and customers. One dangerous beast lurking in plain sight of the start-up is called the ‘pitch deck’.

Although the pitch deck is simple to understand and promises to meet the needs of all investors if it is approached in the wrong way it has the potential to transform pitches from clear and compelling propositions to muddled, dull and deadly boring presentations.

What is a pitch deck?

A pitch deck is broadly understood to be a summation of everything an investor wants to hear in a pitch, it should consist of something like the following:

  1. Introduction
  2. Team
  3. Problem
  4. Advantages
  5. Solution
  6. Product
  7. Traction
  8. Market
  9. Competition
  10. Business model
  11. Investing
  12. Contact

One slide would typically be dedicated to each of these points.

Unfortunately most start-ups treat the pitch deck like the ten commandments, slavishly following their format and producing slides full of text. This is not good news because:

  • As soon as you treat slides like pages of a book and fill them with text you are asking the audience to decide between listening to you and reading the information on the slide. This conflict means at one point or another you are almost certain to lose your audience as some people listen to you and some will read the slide but no one in your audience will be able to do both.
  • A pitch that presents text on slides promotes a logical presentation and ignores emotion. A pitch without emotion is stillborn, lifeless and forgettable.

It’s easy to see why start-ups discover the pitch deck and hurry to build slides of text, after all we are taught ad nauseam how to communicate through the written word at school but rarely taught the art of oratory.

The Pitch Deck is what not how

A pitch deck’s key points should not be ignored but it only tells us WHAT should be included in the presentation, not HOW we are to present the information.

How to present a Pitch Deck

How you present the information in a pitch deck is entirely up to you. Given pitches are nearly always time limited you may have to sacrifice some or most of it, in a competitive pitch parade you may get an allotted time and on occasion you may only have two minutes with an investor to pitch.

If I were to visualise what a pitch deck looks like it would be something like this:

You will note the absence of emotion in the standard pitch deck.

And here is how I would re-shape a pitch deck to include emotion:

I have done three things to the standard pitch deck:

  1. Reduced the number of slides to only five
  2. Re-ordered the content of the pitch deck
  3. Created emotion through a story

Emotion is key to a pitch

We all have an inbuilt sense that tells us whether the person we are listening to is truthful or not and we tend to be suspicious of people that are not emotionally engaged with what they are saying. An absence of emotion means we get an uneasy feeling; we are unconvinced by that person. When this happens we become skeptical and analytical, looking for inconsistencies and flaws in the person’s pitch.

Investors like any audience expect the person pitching their start-up to believe in their pitch, for if they do not who else will? By adding emotion to a pitch you reduce the audience’s suspicion and increase trust. 

Emotion can also help form memories. When we experience emotional events we have a neural tag put into our memory that makes recalling that event easier than usual. Whenever I give a talk about pitching I challenge my audience to recall a memory from 12 months ago and what they remember is nearly always an emotional event.

We want our pitch to be memorable so it lives on in the minds of our audience. By using a story to create emotion we give our audience our idea in a way they can then take and retell to others.

In addition, addressing emotion leads to more successful calls to action, as Professor Costas Markides of London Business School argues hereWhenever we try to influence an audience we tend to address their rational concerns and ignore their emotional needs. However, to move our audience to action (in this case investment) we should address both.

5 Steps to Becoming a Pitch Deck Genius

Below I outline in five easy steps how to bring a pitch deck to life. You may not choose to follow everything I suggest but at the very least you should inject the third step, emotion. This step allows you the room to show your enthusiasm and breathe, it’s what will mark you out from all the others.


Slide 1: Introduction

Introduce yourself and give your name. Say why you are there and give a piece of honest information. By saying who you are and why you are there you are asserting your authority and answering the question that first presents itself to any audience, namely ‘who are you and why should I listen to you?’

Honesty helps to create trust, the audience are unlikely to trust the message if they do not trust the messenger. This counts as point 1 of the pitch deck, your Introduction.

Generate Desire

Slide 2: Logos or quotes

Show social proof through displaying prizes won, achievements to date, clients, companies worked with, number of users, revenue generated or quotes of approval. Social proof demonstrates to the audience that other people approve of an idea. According to the principles of mimetic desire all our desires come from seeing other people’s desires. Why would investors put money into an undesirable product? Here we have shown traction. Note: we have yet to reveal our solution.

Create Emotion

Slide 3: Image of the problem

We tell the audience the story of how people / organisations / customers behaved in the past, how they behave today and our vision of how they will act in the future. This gives our pitch meaning and emotion. We follow with a grand reveal of how our solution will meet the demands of people today and in the future. We go on to discuss the product/service, business model and advantages of the solution.

I have a good example of how I use the above story format to pitch a new business (bottled cocktails) in my podcast here.


Slide 4: Image of competitor analysis

Describe the size of the total addressable market today and in the future, followed by a reference to your competitive positioning. Keep the slide simple and do not over populate it with logos and content. Ideally a slide should be understood by the audience within three seconds.

Call to Action

Slide 5: Image of how the future will look with the solution

Briefly describe the team, what investment is needed and why investment is needed now. Asking for investment within a timescale is important because even though investors may like your solution they may prefer to hold off investing and shadow you for a period before investing. We should try to generate a sense of scarcity for the investment opportunity in order to secure funding within a timescale that satisfies us.

“The crowd went crazy and started clapping like I have never seen before.” Pitch Deck Genius

Founders need to be a Pitch Deck Genius

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of start-ups and an increase in competition for investor’s attention. Subsequently, lots of founders practice their pitch deck but few incorporate the killer cause of action, emotion. Following my five step version of a pitch deck will meet the needs of investors and bring your pitch to life.

“The crowd went crazy and started clapping like I have never seen before!” Said a former investment banker after becoming a pitch deck genius. Anyone can become a pitch deck genius, it just takes you the founder to admit you want to excite your audience, not bore your audience.