Pitch decks have a big job. They must communicate the value of your business in a concise, clear, and compelling manner. A strong pitch deck will engage the audience, spur conversation, and move the listener to the desired action. In essence, a pitch deck is just another piece of content in your arsenal—so it must be strategy-driven and tell a good story.
In this post, we’ll discuss seven steps to creating a powerful, purposeful pitch deck. These steps can be applied to develop a presentation for potential investors or a sales pitch for prospects.
Engage your Audience with this Presentation Creation Process
1. Lay the groundwork
Start by answering a few key questions to establish a solid foundation for presentation development.
Who are you presenting to, and what do they care about?
If your audience is well-versed in your industry or concept, you may not need to spend as much time presenting background as you would for someone with less context or experience. Your approach will also vary based on the roles and responsibilities of your audience. A C-level executive will be looking for a high-level strategic story, while a VP or Director will want to see a pragmatic framework, complete with detailed financial information. A practitioner or technical buyer will be most interested in understanding your product or service’s practical application and visualizing a well-framed demo.
What are the goals of your pitch?
Consider what action you want to guide the audience toward (e.g., investing money, considering partnership). If a listener only remembered three points from your presentation, what would you want those points to be?
Where is the information coming from?
Finally, decide which internal stakeholders from our organization should be consulted as you craft your message. Leverage experts within your organization and trusted industry connections to gather supporting context, compelling data, and feedback. Deploy sales leaders to guide presentation layout and strategy. Get an opinion on the messaging from everyone from boots-on-the-ground operations staff to C-level executives.
2. Create a Detailed Outline
The cornerstone for building a solid presentation is a thorough, thoughtful outline. We recommend annotating the outline to capture all the details you want to convey to your audience throughout the presentation. The high points look different for a sales deck versus an investor deck, so we’ll discuss both.
Sales Deck Outline
Your “why”: What are your mission and vision? Why are you passionate about this? Why does it matter so much?
The problem: What are you solving for? How is this issue disruptive to success?
Your solution: How are you fixing the problem? How will your proposal address the issue?
The relevance: Why should your audience care? How does the problem affect them, and how will the solution support them? How have other clients benefited?
The nuts and bolts: What key details does the listener need to know to understand your message? How can you proactively address common questions?
Your ask: Where do you want the conversation to go from here? Are you attempting to launch a channel partnership or gain a new client? What are the next steps?
Investor Deck Outline
Your value proposition: What are the basics of your business? How do you stand out from others in the market? What makes you unique?
The problem: What are you solving for? How is this issue disruptive to success?
The target market: What specific group did you create this product or service for? Who would use it or benefit from it? What is the competitive landscape? What is the market size and opportunity?
Your solution: How are you fixing the problem? How will your proposal address the issue? How have customers or clients benefited?
Your model: What growth have you seen so far? What has adoption looked like? Which milestones have you hit, and where are you headed next?
Your promotion strategy: How are you advertising the product or service? How are you differentiating yourself from competitors through your marketing and sales efforts? What are your key selling points to the target market?
The competition: How are you analyzing other organizations in the market? What qualities or components are unique to your product or service? What makes your organization different?
Your team: Why are you equipped to take on this challenge? Who are your key leaders, and how are they contributing expertise to the organization? What set of skills or combination of backgrounds does your team have that sets you apart?
The numbers: How has your financial health evolved in the past few years? What is your projected growth?
Your ask: What funding is needed? How will it be used? What goals will the dollars help accomplish?
Once your initial outline is complete and well-annotated, get feedback from current stakeholders. Use their notes and direction to tweak your outline before moving on to slide development.
3. Translate Your Outline into Slides
Before getting started on design, translate your outline into notes on a slide deck. This exercise ensures you have constructed an engaging storyline and eliminated any redundancies before spending time on graphic elements.
Each slide should have a purpose — usually to educate, inspire emotion, demonstrate, or suggest action. If a slide does not have a clear use or focus, it’s better to blend its content into another slide or eliminate its information altogether. As with most presentations, less is more. You don’t want to be reading off of your slides or relying on them heavily to convey your story. Instead, your deck should simply be a guide that reinforces and supports your talk track.
We suggest the following rules of thumb:
Choose one central focus per slide
Stick to six or fewer words per line
Include fewer than four lines per slide
Don’t spend more than two minutes on any individual slide
Aim for 15-20 slides (or less) per presentation
Always keep your total available presentation time in mind and adjust your cadence accordingly
These rules will be easiest to follow if you remember that the content in your pitch deck is merely a dish—not the whole meal. Your accompanying talk track and additional resources will round out the experience, so you don’t have to fit all the flavors and features into a PowerPoint.
4. Remember, Design Matters
If content is king, design is its queen. Even an effective presentation will fall flat if design is not thoughtful and illustrative. Once you have the your storyline laid out, it’s time to bring in the creatives.
This is where you’ll see the benefits of the slide content slimming you executed in step three. Concise lines of text give the designer room to add supporting images and elements that help spice up and solidify the message. Instead of wordy, overwhelming blocks of copy, you will have room for compelling visuals that bring the entire presentation to life.
A modern, brand-aligned presentation not only highlights your key points, but it also elevates your credibility and professionalism. A polished presentation will go a long way with most audiences.
5. First Draft Team Review
Once you have a draft of your designed pitch deck, it’s time for more review and feedback. Your direction and flow will have evolved since the outline review in step two, and it is important that all stakeholders are aligned and on board with the progress.
Before the first use of the deck, gather the content experts, creative team, presenters, and other key voices to go through the entire deck in detail. This collaborative approach ensures that you’re telling the story effectively, accurately, and comprehensively.
6. Put Your Pitch Deck into Practice
Internal review is complete. Your first meetings are set up. It’s time to put your new pitch deck to the test.
After the first few uses of the deck, gather the same review group from step five to discuss how the presentation was received. Together, you can decide what needs to be tweaked for future meetings. You may also get a better sense for customizations that you’ll want to make per presentation or per type of audience. This ongoing refinement will allow you to get increasingly precise in how you convey your message.
Finally, as the market, product, and team evolve, you’ll want to continually revisit and refresh the pitch deck.
7. Don’t Forget to Leverage Follow Up
As we mentioned earlier, the pitch deck is never meant to be the whole meal. Consider complimenting your presentation with other resources to go deeper into projections and financial details, technical product information, pricing or investment tiers, case studies, and more. Some of these resources may be a good fit for day-of leave-behinds, while others could serve as a reason to reach out to the prospect or potential investor in the days or weeks following the presentation.
Knowing you have the option to share information in various other formats also will help you make smart, focused decisions in step three about what to include in the actual pitch deck.
Pitch decks are essential—but they can also be overwhelming. The pressure to include the right elements, tell the best story, and accomplish critical goals can make pitch deck creation into a more stressful process than it needs to be. Remember that a pitch deck is just another form of content. The best pitch decks are not rushed and take time to thoughtfully develop and perfect. Poignant simiplicity takes time.
In the end, if your presentation sparks critical thinking, starts conversation, and invites questions—you’re doing it right. Remember, a pitch deck is not intended to be a static or immutable document, so don’t be afraid to shift and evolve its direction and design as the business and market change.