Enough About Us! How to Tune Pitch Decks for the Reader
Updated: Apr 9
Of the hundreds of pitch decks I’ve seen as a trade press editor, too many left me waiting until slide 26 for a clue about the company’s value proposition, or even a clear description of their product or service. That’s because their creators were too focused on their own approach to the market, and too little on what the reader needs to know.
Here are five ways to focus your decks on each class of reader so you’re sure they’ve gotten your message.
Tune the Problem Statement
Except where the reader (such as an investor) is truly new to a field, summarize the problem statement quickly and move on. Don’t make a chief information security officer sit through a list of headlines about recent breaches, or a development manager listen to statistics about software failure rates. Instead, describe the three to five specific pain points you do the best job of solving. (In security, for example, it might in the range of threats you track. In development, it might be the speed or quality of your testing.) Then quickly move on to how you solve these problems. But as you do…
Too often, what passes for differentiation is a generic statement of end results (“We deliver true enterprise-wide protection against the threats facing your business.”) Instead, explain clearly and consistently what makes you different and better than the competitors. Insist that the notes section of every slide include at least one sentence beginning with the words “Unlike our competitors…” and don’t rest until you can finish that sentence in a clear, convincing way. If any of your capabilities are “me-toos” acknowledge that and explain how you focused your development efforts on excelling in the areas customers care the most about.
Customize More Carefully
You probably already have variations of your deck for customers, for analysts/media, and for investors. But from what I’ve seen these decks are often not fine-tuned closely enough, or provide the required level of detail, for each audience.
Customers probably need far more specifics about pricing and delivery/bundling options than analysts/media or investors.
Analysts/media, on the other hand, probably want more of a focus on your competitive positioning and the details of how you achieve it. The more quickly you can get them to that place, the sooner you can begin explaining in detail where you excel.
Investors need far more detail about the founder’s backgrounds, long-term product, partnership and IPO plans than other audiences need – or that you want to share. They’ll also need more information about other funders and how much control they have over hiring or product decisions.
Along with the same competitive positioning and technical background as analysts, media outlets need good quotes and snappy descriptions of your product, service or differentiation.
Context, context, context!
You know how big a deal it was to wrangle that vague endorsement from an analyst or the brilliance of your API strategy chart – but the reader doesn’t. To provide the context readers need, avoid:
General statements of goodness from analysts that describe your solution as “comprehensive” or “innovative.” Instead, press them for quotes that describe your differentiation and tie it back to business benefits.
“Eye chart” slides describing your technical architecture, integration with other technologies or partners without explaining why the reader should care. .
Bare lists of customer logos. Prove these weren’t just proofs of concepts or one-off projects that never resulted in a follow-on sale. Describe the business benefits you delivered to each, and the unique capabilities that helped you deliver them.
Bare lists of brand name partners. Show how each partnership is resulting in added sales for you and the partner, and the benefits to your joint customers. If the partnership is too new for results but shows promise, explain that.
Headshots and canned bios of your leadership team. Instead, explain how their previous accomplishments will deliver for the target audience. (“XXX’s experience at Apple’s App Store will help us build the critical mass of developers we need with a revenue sharing model that works for them and us.”)
Translate for Mere Mortals
Define and explain every technical term in layman’s terms, even briefly, the first time you use it. Marketers often push back on this and tell me “The people we’re targeting will understand this.” Many will, but some will just nod knowingly without a clue because they don’t want to look dumb in front of others – and they just might be the key decision maker. Use these brief explainers to hammer home the business benefits, (“Our pre built Python libraries include the code required for common analyses of adverse drug reactions. This cuts the time required to build the statistical models our health care clients need by 50 percent…”)
The common challenge here — and it’s a big one — is looking at your pitch deck from the perspective of an outsider who doesn’t live and breath your business strategy every day. If you can’t hire an outside PR firm or marketing agency for a fresh look, run your deck past your most recent hire or freshest intern. If they don’t quickly “get” your message, you’ve got more work to do.