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Seven Mistakes Guaranteed to Wreck Your Perfect Pitch Deck

Seven Mistakes Guaranteed to Wreck Your Perfect Pitch Deck

Raising money from investors for a startup (or a going concern) is always a challenge - even if you're an experienced founder.

Sourcing capital involves selling ideas, convincing would-be backers that you have the capacity to execute your ideas and knowing your numbers - in short it requires a great pitch.  And if you have a great pitch, you may as well have a killer pitch deck to go with it, right?

I work with clients looking to source capital from international markets and my job is to introduce them to investors who can help, so I see my fair share of pitch decks... and some of them have me pulling my eyebrows off the ceiling.

"Why is that?", I hear you ask.

Essentially, I believe that less is more and where PowerPoint or Keynote presentations are concerned, it's easy to overcomplicate matters.

As Seth Godin says in his piece "Really Bad Powerpoint":

"Powerpoint was developed by engineers as a tool to help them communicate ... It’s a remarkable tool because it allows very dense verbal communication...Powerpoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer. But it’s not. Countless innovations fail because their champions use PowerPoint the way Microsoft wants them to, instead of the right way."

The purpose of a pitch deck is to open a potential investor’s mind to your vision and get them excited to know more. It is not to answer all possible questions or to secure investment at the first meeting.

The story you craft in your deck needs to engage your would-be investor and encourage them to start filling in the blanks for themselves. So you need to provide enough information to get (and hold) their attention, but not so much that your audience is overwhelmed with detail. Give them enough to get excited about, but leave them wanting more.

Here are seven mistakes which crop up frequently in pitch decks (there are more than seven mistakes you can make, but these are some of the big ones). These are pretty much guaranteed to make the deck less than first rate and have the potential to weaken your overall presentation. The risk is that if you don't 'wow' your potential investor in the initial meeting, you won't get your investment, so it's worth working hard to get this right.

Mistake #1 - Too many slides and too much information

Any presentation, especially a pitch presentation has to convey a mixture of information and emotion. You want to get your investor excited about the your project and that excitement is going to fade pretty quickly if they have to sit through dozens of slides. You also want your audience listening to you, not reading ahead on your presentation. So make sure you have an absolute maximum of 15 slides - Guy Kawasaki recommends 10 only ... the truth is that most people find this a struggle.

Mistake #2 - Assumptions you can’t back up or don’t have data on

As Kevin O'Leary, host of  Shark Tank says "you have to know your numbers ... that's the currency of entrepreneurship". If you show up in front of an investor (or a potential partner) with a deck full of numbers or assumptions that you can't substantiate, you instantly lose credibility. (See min 16:45 - 17:55 of this interview).


So make sure that you are ready to justify and defend every claim that you make in the deck. Don't put all that stuff in the deck, but have it in your brain, or failing that, in your notes.

Mistake #3  - “Wordy slides”

I mentioned  a little earlier that you want your audience listening to you, not reading your slides during  your pitch presentation. If you want to keep the attention on you,  don't make the mistake of loading your slides up with text.

Instead, use few words and great (professional quality) images. Six bullet points per slide is an absolute maximum, or if you want to be really hard core, six words (Seth Godin and Steve Jobs are both advocates of the latter approach).

If you want to create a detailed report which sets out all the facts and figures related to your project, then write a business case in Word, have it properly designed and leave it behind at the end of the meeting. But don't put all that stuff in your deck!

Mistake #4  - “Ant writing”

Using tiny font  is another big mistake. Not only does it encourage you to put too many words and too much data on your slides, it's illegible for anyone over 40 ... and the average age of most investors is trending towards 50.

Guy Kawasaki also gives some great (and hilarious) avoid about avoiding the use of ant writing in his 10/20/30 Rule of Power Point for slide design.

Mistake #5 - Lacking clarity

Slides that aren't crystal clear confuse the person looking at them and detract from your pitch. Always try your deck out on someone unrelated to your project. And keep it simple! A ten-year should be able to old explain the content of your slides after you have presented to them. If said ten-year-old can't, then you probably aren't setting out your ideas clearly enough.

Mistake #6 - Too many financial or product details in the deck

Again, too many details, especially financial, project or product details detract from the look and feel of your deck and the power of your pitch. This information belongs in a separate document (that's why you have a business case) and in your memory.

Mistake #7 - Transitions

It's no longer the 1990s. Dissolves, spins, checkerboards and any other cheesy transitions are a big 'no-no'!

The good news is that, although it takes work to create a succinct, punchy, powerful pitch deck to accompany your presentation, done properly, your pitch deck is part of a great pitch and can carry you a fair way down the path to securing the investment you need.

To help you out, I've created a quick tutorial, How to Create a Killer Pitch Deck, to help you structure your deck. Download it by entering your Email and Name on the sidebar at the top of this post.

Happy pitching!

About Cynthia Dearin

Cynthia Dearin is an international business expert, business author and keynote speaker on the topic of leadership. She owns Dearin & Associates, an international business consulting firm specialising in fast-growing emerging markets, which provides companies with the commercial intelligence and strategies, cultural skills and trusted contacts that they need to succeed in new countries.

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