10 (Little) Things That Can Make A Huge Difference To Your Pitch Deck

Love it or loathe it, presenting in front of an audience is a part and parcel of entrepreneurship.

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Love it or loathe it, presenting in front of an audience is a part and parcel of entrepreneurship. It’s an inevitable reality that will come sooner rather than later, particularly if you have grand ambitions about where you want to be in the foreseeable future.


My work as a journalist has taken me to many a startup pitch competition– ranging from “for investment” and instant cash prize events, to mentorship opportunities and other startup support. And over the years, I have noticed certain mistakes made by entrepreneurs that repeatedly crop up event to event. But I am not referring to the person presenting– today, dear reader, I will focus on what’s showing on the big screen behind them.

A movie isn’t a success just because of a leading actor– there’s a whole host of individuals behind the scenes, including those working on marketing material to support the film. And much like a film release, an entrepreneur –the lead actor presenting on stage, if you will– must have the right “marketing” materials to support their pitch. And that includes paying attention to the small details. It may seem so simple, but you’d be surprised at the number of business owners who get it wrong.

So, if you’re currently working on a deck for a public competition or presentation, here are 10 little things you shouldn’t forget when building it:

1. Take your time, and don’t rush it

Sure, it’s a cliché, but if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Don’t rush into finishing your pitch deck the night before– or worse still, on the day. I guarantee you will miss out on including some essential supporting info, info that you will suddenly remember when you’re on stage.

Do you really need that additional stress? A week before creating your deck, aim to go out and sit in a café with some old-fashioned pen and paper, and make a list of the things you want to include in your presentation. Think about the structure and the order in which you will present, and adjust your list accordingly.

2. Learn to trim the fat

When it comes to the number of slides you create, the rule is, in my opinion, is that there are no rules. You need enough to convey your message, but you also need to be realistic about the amount of time you have. As a general guideline, presentation pro Guy Kawasaki is a fan of the 10/20/30 rule, where you should have around 10 slides for every 20 minutes you are presenting. Ten-minute pitch? Then five slides are all you need. When you revise your deck, there will always be content you will deem unnecessary. Don’t be afraid to leave some slides on the cutting room floor.

3. Your font should always be 30 points or more

The “30” part of Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule is one I live by. Always create presentations with a font size of 30 points or larger. I have come across a lot of presentations created using text that’s 10, 12, and 14 points, meaning that, a) it is very difficult to read, and b) chances are there’s too much text on the slide. We can read faster than we speak, so don’t let the audience disconnect by having them just read paragraphs on the screen, rather than listen to you.

4. Visual aids are everything

If you are in the audience, what would you prefer to see? Endless text on the screen, or visual aids that convey your message in a much more exciting way? Do not underestimate the importance of adding graphics and imagery to your presentations. Good design can say a lot about a company.

There are plenty of resources online that can help you put a great presentation together, such as Canva, for example. There are also many websites that offer free image downloads, such as UnSplash and Pixabay. Please don’t use an image from Shutterstock with a watermark scrolled across it– that is, quite frankly, amateur hour!

5. Know your audience

When it comes to presentations, one size doesn’t fit all. Much like you wouldn’t use the same letter when applying for a job (and if you do, then naughty naughty), you shouldn’t use a single pitch deck for multiple events. Think about: what’s the prize? Who are you pitching to? What area of the business do you need to focus on during this specific competition?

Who’s your audience? Pitching to an auditorium full of medical doctors is different from pitching to a competition attended by retail execs. Add terms that are easily understood by all- don’t try to come across as clever with too many fancy terms. Authenticity wins.

Related: Own The Stage: Writing A Killer Introduction By Answering A Question In Your Audience's Mind

6. Avoid the buzzwords

Speaking of keywords, please don’t use the following: “Innovative,” “disruptive,” “empowering,” and their variations. They’ve been done to death. Find something new. That is all. Next.

7. Do not include lots of numbers

Controversial, you say? Well, hear me out. Do you really want a whole auditorium of people –that might include competitors– know your revenue, budget, or financial projections for the next five years? Unless it’s for a private investment pitch, you shouldn’t have to disclose all your numbers on the slides. If the judges want to know about a specific area of finance, chances are they’ll ask you during the Q&A portion of your presentation.

8. Make people remember your company name

Another thing I see neglected quite often is entrepreneurs failing to add their company logo to every slide. So, here I am reminding you: don’t forget to add your logo to every slide. Let the audience know/ remember who you are. Sometimes, sound systems aren’t clear, so many might not catch the name of the startup when it is first introduced.

Another issue we face in the region is that a company might have a beautiful Arabic-inspired name, but it is introduced by the MC with a completely different pronunciation. Let us be able to find you online quickly.

9. Add your contact details

Simple, right? But you’d be surprised at the number of times this gets left out. No matter who you are pitching to, there will be someone in the audience who wants to connect with you afterwards. And most of the time, it is difficult for these people to do so there and then- perhaps you’re busy talking to someone already, or you have to leave quickly, etc.

Sure, the judges may have your contact details, but I can guarantee you that the general audience attending –who could comprise potential investors, mentors, and journalists who want to cover your venture– don’t have this info. So, make sure you add your name, position, company website, email address and social media channels on your concluding slide, i.e. the one that will remain on screen while you take panel questions.

10. And finally: create a presentation that won’t mess you around on the day

You may love presenting with a remote control, switching from slide to slide on PowerPoint, but you know what, life happens, and you might be forced to present using a PDF version instead. Also, your fancy Mac might not be compatible with the auditorium’s connections. So, always bring a copy of your presentation with you on a USB- one in PowerPoint, and another as a PDF, so that you’re not forced to convert it on the day, and worrying about it looking messed up before your big moment.

Also, avoid presentations that require internet access, unless you can hotspot from your phone, and it is guaranteed to work. But still, that can be risky. And unless absolutely necessary, do not include video. Nine times out of ten they never ever play properly in a conference hall– no matter how many times you tested it out successfully at the office.

Related: Own The Stage: Here's Why Your Presentation Should Be Built Around One Big Idea