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The Perfect Presentation: Materials In part 1 of a 6-week series, we discuss how to create materials that will impress potential investors.

By Sarah Pierce

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the most important aspects of any presentation is the materials you use to back up your pitch. They can mean the difference between a presentation that bombs and a presentation that gets you to the next level. From brochures and PowerPoint slides to props and snacks, here are the essential things entrepreneurs should bring to their first investor meeting.

PowerPoint Slides
PowerPoint slides are a powerful way to back up any presentation--as long as you use them as a prop and not as a crutch.

"One of the early mistakes I made as an entrepreneur was that I had too many slides," says Ajay Chopra, a venture capitalist with Trinity Ventures who, as a former entrepreneur, raised $15 million through several rounds of VC funding for his startup. "Now, looking at it from the other side, I realize what a typical venture capitalist day is: one meeting after another. If you have a bunch of slides, and you can't really cover any topic thoroughly, then you leave the VC with more questions in mind than answers."

Chopra offers the following advice for PowerPoint presentations:

  • Limit the number of slides. Don't bring more than 20 slides; 15 is optimal.
  • Limit the information to high-level, key issues. Don't go too deep, or you'll confuse the people you're presenting to.
  • Keep the slides uncluttered. "What we're trying to gauge is you and not your PowerPoint skills," says Chopra. Just put enough words up to remind you of your key points.

Product Demos and Props
"If you're doing a product presentation, you definitely need to appeal to the five senses," says Drew Stevens, Ph.D., author of Presentation with Muscle and president of Getting to the Finish Line. "The more you can get the audience involved, the better your presentation is going to be."

If your business is service-oriented rather than product driven, you should still bring something that demonstrates your business's strengths. "You want to bring whatever props will help pique curiosity," says Chopra. "We're always looking for evidence of what the customer thinks."

If you're a restaurant or services business, this could be pictures or a printout of a customer's e-mail or letter. "Those are very interesting props to look at to validate the story [you're trying to sell]," adds Chopra. "Don't bring a book of them, though--just a few. Three or four props will do."

Brochures, Handouts and Marketing Kits
Bring any brochures you have to the first meeting, but limit the number of handouts.

"The objective of the first meeting is to get the second meeting," says Chopra. "If you're lucky enough to get a second meeting, that's when you want to come better prepared with more statistics and perhaps a handout or two."

Chopra also advises that marketing and media kits be saved for future meetings. "We want to hear what your marketing plan is, but that should just be captured on one or two slides in the first meeting."

If your company sells products retail, you'll definitely need to put together a media and marketing plan, including who you're marketing to, how you plan to attack the market, and the nitty-gritty details of the physical nature of the product, including size, weight and box design. If you're an online business, media kits and brochures are less important because most of the marketing is done online. However, you should still dedicate one to two PowerPoint slides to covering the basic information.

Producing Your Materials
"You want the materials to be indicative of what you're representing," says Stevens. "For example, I do consulting. I don't want anybody to think of me a sole-proprietor--a one-stop-shop business that's only doing $50,000 to $100,000 a year. I want them to think I'm a $100 or $200 million company."

The people you're presenting to may know you're not a million-dollar company, but you should still prepare your materials like you are. Stevens offers the following tips for producing high-quality materials:

  • Make sure your brochures and other materials are printed on heavy, high-quality stock. A good rule of thumb is anything over 30 pounds.
  • Have all brochures or booklets bound.
  • Use semi-gloss, not glossy paper. Glossy paper is too reflective and can be hard to read.
  • Full-color printing is absolutely essential.
  • Have them professionally printed. If possible, skip the FedEx or Kinko's shops and take it to a professional printer, and above all, don't print it yourself. "While desktop publishing is very efficient and effective today, the fact remains that materials are better produced by a professional printer than yourself," Stevens says. "Anybody can tell that you printed it yourself; there's a big, big difference between the two."

What NOT to Bring
Sure, you want to prove that you're prepared, but don't get carried away.

  • Don't bring your business plan or summary. "I remember when I was an entrepreneur and I had set up my first meeting with venture capitalists, I would go in with my business plan of 30 to 40 pages, and my business summary that was eight or 10 pages. Now I know that wasn't necessary," says Chopra. He advises that business plans and business summaries be limited to two to three PowerPoint slides.
  • Don't bring a lot of paper or content-rich PowerPoint slides. "Anyone can read a spreadsheet," says Stevens. "You're the real expert on what your business is. Let them know what's coming from your heart and from your mind."
  • Don't bring food. Unless it's a prop for your product or service, Chopra suggests leaving the food at home. Also, drinks and snacks will be provided at most meetings, but you should avoid eating if possible. "I would suggest reaching out for sacks only if you're really hungry, so as not to detract from the message you're delivering. Drinks such as water, coffee, Coke, etc., are OK."

For more information on giving the perfect presentation, check back every Monday for the next five weeks, when we'll be covering technology, speaking tips, how to practice, appearance and follow-up.

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