How can we make the default presentation tool that’s used to explain all the facets of your business in a sequence of slides much better? Let’s dive into it.

Why a pitch deck?

Assuming you already know what a pitch deck is and why you need one, the idea is just to examine our assumptions here.

The main idea of the pitch deck (or “the pitch”) is to explain very quickly what your business is all about, in all its facets, in a standardised way. The reason for its usual outline is to deliver an explanation on each of the main pillars of the business in a synthetised and summarised manner. You give just enough bite-sized bits of information to understand the core of the business straight away in as little time as possible. (If this is the best way to go about it, that’s a different story…).

The same document is used both as an in-depth presentation card for you and your business, as a pitching tool (presenting live) and as a means to explain on a high level what the business is about. It’s both used to raise funds, get grants, presents to potential partners, etc. etc. etc.

So, I would argue, it’s very important to get it right (especially because of its signifiance in the startup world). And the top priority then becomes to make the audince understand the core of the business very quickly. Ideally in one slide (not accounted in the pitch as it would be mostly visual and then build more understanding in the first 3 slides. Everything after that is really just accessory and so if the audience doesn’t get it then, the whole rest of the explanation will not be very productive[1].

Now that the value and aim are clear let’s examine the limitations of the current shape of the idea behind the concept of the pitch.

Pitch decks have no means of improvement

Pitch decks are composed ideally of some 10-15 slides. There is a preferred order and content that needs to be in each slide (in pros of standardisation) which “dictate” in what order the slides need to be arranged in to make sense. And there is very little variation to this.

A quick Google search of how to order a pitch deck or any variation of it quickly result in two top hits: the sequoia order or Guy Kawasaki’s order[2]

The order and content preferred by Sequoia can be found in the link to the original article found here and the example of a pitch deck they posted in here.

Basically, it boils down to the follwoing content and order.

1. Company Purpose[3]
2. Problem
3. Solution
4. Why Now
5. Market Size
6. Competition
7. Product
8. Business Model
9. Team
10. Financials

(Sequoia’s ordering)

I’ll argue despite the popularity of Sequoia’s proposal, if we account for the limitations (many) of the medium and since we still want to get to the results we want to achieve with the pitch, the order should be tweaked. The proposed structure is suboptimal and it’s not taking into account how we are psychollogically wired and what we know on learning theory.

Proposed modifications

Some quick improvements based on how we learn would be to reestructure these slides into a structure which the receiver can integrate into their own model. I’ll argue whatever the intent with the pitch is, you’re trying to extract your model, and “transplant” it into someone else’s head[4]. The problem with that is the same explanation to two different people will result in two different understandings. That is because everyone carries their models and experiences with them when learning about something new.

I’d say you can still have the same desired outcome DESPITE that fact but for that you need to design and organise the expirence DELIBERATELY.

These proposed modifications to the structure are based in having tried these changes and observed measured (subjectively) the understanding thereafter[5].

The new order will be:

1. Problem
2. Solution
3. Business model 
4. Market
5. Insight
6. Team
7. Competitive advantage
8. Competitors
9. Why now
10. Exit strategy

Cognitively it’s easier to explain (and understand!) what you’re presenting if you explain what is that you solving, how are you solving it and what is the way you will be able to keep on solving it (how you make money).

The thing is at this point you and whomever you present have some common grounds to build on top of.

The 4th to 6th slides are closely related, as are 7 and 8. The rest (that’s 9 and 10) are not related. Therefore 7 to 10 can be moved around. In the same manner 7 and 8 can be swapped and so you can explain who the competitors are and what is your competitive advantage.

The 5th slide is a take from YCombinator’s take on pitch decks missing why you will be the one able to do this, what you know about your users no one else does.

The 10th slide is a good one to include because either you have financials to show how you’re doing and you discuss this during conversation or you should show investors how they are going to make money as that’s why they are in this for. (It can be substituted by company purpose or long-term vision).

Limitations

The proposed changes here don’t account for the content on the slides. That is for you to figure out. What you say in there is even more important. But this is a case where the order matters a lot.

One thing that has helped massively to improve our pitch deck has been to think what’s the ultimate intent of your pitch and craft it with that in mind before writing/drawing anything down into any of these slides.

If you are looking for guidance around slide content you can read this.

My whole take on content can be summarised with a few quotes: > “A picture is worth a million words”.

“An image, even a quickly made hand-drawn sketch, don’t lie and explain the whole picture concisely and without misunderstandings”.

“Crystilising what problem you solve, how and why the how matters, and how you’re going to monteise it are the basis for real understanding”.

References:

[1] Also if you send this out to pique interest, getting right the core of the business on the first 3 slides gives you the ability to build on top of it layer by layer in a “designed” experience kind of manner.

[2] Remember the pitch deck is an export from Silicon Valley to the world, so I’m only accounting for these.

[3] I will say in my experience this is geographically contextual. That is people in the states do believe in the company vision while in other parts of the world there is much higher disbelief and having this as the first slide is not helping, probably even detrimental.

[4] “Even when you seem to be successfully transmitting information by telling it, if you could see the brain processes at work you would observe that your interlocutor is “reconstructing” a personal version of the information you think you’re ‘conveying’“. Papert, Seymour. (1993) The Children’s machine, p. 142 pp. 3.

[5] This is even more important to get right if english is not your first language and if you’re not particularly good at crystalising your thoughts and conveying them.