14 things to avoid in your startup pitch deck

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14 things to avoid in your startup pitch deck

I recently gave a talk on Mastering the startup pitch deck (see below). It’s not the first time I’ve been critical about startup pitching. I try to put my money where my mouth is, so apart from the usual tips, I came up with the typical things I see on start-up pitch decks that totally ruins the presentation. All of them are avoidable and fixable in 30 minutes, so it shouldn’t be an issue. So here we go:

1. Don’t put more than three words per slide

This might seem like a surprise but at least one third of the presentations I see have a wealth of text on each slide. In most cases, the reason is so that the presenter can read it while on the stage. Granted to say this is very wrong. If you go on the stage unprepared and you need a script to read from, then you probably shouldn’t be entering the competition in the first place.

2. Don’t use pixaleted or water marked images

Well, what can I say, yes, people use shitty images and yes, they use watermarked images. Please, don’t. There is this thing called Google Images Advanced Search that allows you to display only images of a certain quality. Use it! If the image isn’t of the size you want, just avoid stretching it. It looks like shit.

3. Don’t display graphs without adding the source

Many times people display charts but don’t add where the data came from. This is very important if your intention is to came across as a credible research.

4. Don’t put the contact on the last slide

Some start-ups don’t even put contact information, which is, the next thing to dumb. Nevertheless, the ones that put it, they tend to only display it at the cover and end slides. While this isn’t bad, your contact info should be visible in all slides of the deck, for example as a footer. Many times, someone in the audience wants to tweet about you, email you or even check your website and they can’t because they can’t remember.

5. Don’t use weird color combinations

Please, stick to basics. Either white over black or the other way around. I’m starting to believe most start-ups weren’t at class when they explained color theory at school. Avoid dark on dark or light on light colors. Specially when you don’t own the projector.

6. Don’t use tiny font sizes

The audience will thank you for this. Remember that most investors tend to be over 50 and tend to have some sight impairment (age, you know…). If you display tiny fonts, no one will be able to read it and will disconnect from your presentation. As a guide, if there seems to be free empty space in the slide, it’s probably because your fonts aren’t big enough.

7. Don’t do live demos

When ever possible and if not forced to, try to avoid live demos. While spectacular, they tend to fail more times than they work. To be honest, a well design video or screenshot animation can deliver the same information. No matter how many times you’ve tested it, it will fail when you go live.

8. Don’t use videos without rehearsing

As I said before, you can substitute a live demo for a video demo. I suggest using videos without audio. If you do, then you rely on your host to have an audio system in place. Something that, depending where you are, isn’t an option. If you’re going to do the narration on the fly, please test it first. Most of the times, the video goes too fast for the presenter to narrate live so he’ll end up tripping, running and in general fucking up the demo.

9. Don’t rely on the Internet

Connecting with the two previous points, in general, don’t use any resources that are dependent on a live Internet connection. In some places there is none. In others, it will just crash under the load of the audience’s data hunger, so you won’t be able to connect. Just bring all your stuff in a pendrive.

10. Don’t display tabular data

Many times start-ups ask me how should they display the financial or sales projections. Sometimes it doesn’t makes sense, but if you need to put them, always display them in graphical format. That is, in charts. Pitch decks are meant as an introduction to your project, not an executive summary. If they want exact numbers, they’ll read that, not your slides.

11. Don’t use 3D charts

While on a screen, 3D charts look slick, when you need to interpret the data shown in them from 100 meters away, 3D is not the best option. Always display the charts in 2D, with bright distinguishable colors. Avoid using 3 different shades of the same blue, the shitty projector you’ll use will make them look the same.

12. Don’t use fancy transitions

No, the reason your presentation got stuck isn’t random. You’re using fancy transitions that clog the cpu of the laptop they’re running the slides on. Yes, conferences don’t bring a 32 core machine to run presentations, but lame, slow laptops. So stay on the safe side and don’t use fancy transitions. Remember, less is more.

13. Don’t display charts with no title

If someone gave me $5 every time I have to ask what the chart is about, I would be rich now. Always put a title on the chart. You know what you’re talking about, but James, who was on the phone until just a second ago, has no idea what he’s looking at.

14. Don’t display numbers with no units

And finally, specially on the financial projections or the market analysis, please add the units. Trust me, $1M isn’t the same than €1M.
There are definitely plenty of “don’ts” more. These are just the most common I tend to find. Feel free to drop us a comment with more of them and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more pitching advice.
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  • 3mil.

    No hay versionado el español?,
    Me resulta un pelín, dificil de entender, cuanto más apertura, más copnocimiento genera tu espacio.

  • barneymc

    Alex, great pointers. You left out one critical one – spell-check your slides.

    This also goes for online articles.
    “finantial” is not a word I’m familiar with. Does it have a special meaning in this context?

    • http://twitter.com/abarrera Alex Barrera

      lol! You are very right! Fixed that and a bunch of other misspellings. Funny thing is I have a spellchecker checking all the time, but it seems it decided to go on vacation half way during the post. Thanks again! 😀

  • Christoph

    I agree, but not with number 7. I think live demos are great for these reasons:

    1) If everything works I believe your product works (can´t hurt) and you´re good at live-demoing it (not a bad skill to have).

    2) Something goes wrong (no big deal), but you handle it in a professional way without losing your cool so I believe you´re the type of person that can handle shit hitting the fan (an essential skill in startups).

    3) Whatever the outcome, I think you had the guts to do a live demo in a short pitch. That´s the type of person I want to see run a startup!

    Only downside is something going wrong and you losing your cool. So without a live demo I might ask myself: “Is she/he scared?” (you don´t want me to do that!)

    • http://twitter.com/abarrera Alex Barrera

      Yep, a do agree with all 3. My experience though is that few people keep their head cool when shit happens hehe but if you can do it, by all means :)

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