Raise your hands if you’ve heard the following:
- We need to put our resources elsewhere
- Work on the deck more and come back to us
- Your market is not attractive enough
- So, what does your product do?
- Who is your target audience?
- So, how does it work?
Or the worst one: You haven’t heard anything – complete radio silence.
The reality can’t be further from the truth though. You do have a great product, you know your audience, it works for them seamlessly, and your market is booming.
But, you made some crucial mistakes when creating your pitch deck and shot yourself in the foot.
I’ve done them too. In my 10 years of preparing presentations for ad campaigns, startup weekends, and investment rounds, I’ve done all of the mistakes listed below and learned how to avoid them.
Ultimately, I’ve managed to help my clients win $4mill worth of investments by NOT doing these (un) common pitch deck mistakes.
- Mistake 1: Founders Prepare the Pitch Without Having the Audience in Mind
- Mistake 2: Cluttering Your Startup Pitch Deck Slides With Content
- Mistake 3: Winging it
- Mistake 4: Lack of Numbers
- Mistake 5: A Pitch Deck by Itself will Get the Money
- Mistake 6: Not Keeping it Simple
- Mistake 7: Pitch a Business, not a Startup
- Mistake 8: You're Asking for Venture Capital, not Family Capital
- Mistake 9: More Than 10 Slides
- Mistake 10: Poor Layout
- Mistake 11: No Clear Structure
- Mistake 12: Unclear Market Opportunity
- Mistake 13: Weak Team Slide
- Mistake 14: No Storytelling
- Mistake 15: No Clear Funding Ask
- Mistake 16: No Financial Projections
- Mistake 17: Using Jargon when Pitching
- Mistake 18: No Business Plan – No Business Model
- BONUS Mistake 19: Not Being Able to Deal with Difficult Questions
- The key is: Preparing a stellar operational framework
- First, you need to know everything there is on the topic you’re presenting
- Second, you need a framework that you will feed with your knowledge
- Third, get questioned and challenged by experts
- Fourth, be aware of EVERY downside that your topic/idea might encounter
- BONUS: Pitch Example
- Pitch Deck Mistakes FAQ
- Bottom Line. The Worst Mistake?
Mistake 1: Founders Prepare the Pitch Without Having the Audience in Mind
If your audience is a specific type of VC, one that does not understand your industry, you need to adjust your pitch deck and avoid using fluff language/tech jargon, make it down to earth so that that VC will understand what you’re trying to do.
Think of it like explaining it to a 10-year-old (but with millions of $$$).
Mistake 2: Cluttering Your Startup Pitch Deck Slides With Content
Slides are there to complement your presentation NOT to take the spotlight. Use images, graphs, and illustrations instead of text.
Mistake 3: Winging it
I mean, you’re trying to convince people to give you their money and you’re winging the presentation? It’s one of the worst mistakes to do. Coming prepared and having rehearsed the pitch, will make you sound confident, help you avoid the filler words, and increase the chances that you have a successful pitch. Leave the winging to me.
Mistake 4: Lack of Numbers
VCs love numbers and you need to put them in every slide and every sentence – this way you provide factual evidence for every claim you make. So, instead of saying, an enormous amount of growth – say 5000% growth YoY.
Mistake 5: A Pitch Deck by Itself will Get the Money
This can’t be further from the truth. A pitch deck is just a general overview. What comes next is the due diligence and drilling down to every bit and piece of your idea/product/service which ultimately is what gets you the money.
Mistake 6: Not Keeping it Simple
This is probably one of the most common mistakes. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t have a product. Founders like to try to explain the product in as many words as possible but what they end up with is a vague, wordy paragraph that Hemingway would love to tear apart. One way you can make sure you keep it simple is to draft your pitch deck content.
Write it once, forget it for a day, come back to it, and if a word feels like it’s not supposed to be there, delete it. Do this as many times as possible without losing the key message behind it.
Mistake 7: Pitch a Business, not a Startup
You need to position yourself as pitching an established business NOT a startup. A startup by default means you are starting up – an established business means you’re well into making money and growing. Which one would an investor show more interest in?
Mistake 8: You’re Asking for Venture Capital, not Family Capital
Asking for VC money vs asking for family money is like comparing men to women, Mars to Venus – it’s a completely different ballpark.
Mistake 9: More Than 10 Slides
Oren Klaff, the pitch master god says that you only need ONE slide pitch deck to get a 7 figure+ investment.
Since we are a bit further down the hierarchy, as plebeians we will try to stick to less than 10 slides and the most important ones being:
- One-sentence pitch
- A current market where your idea resides
- The opportunity in the market
- The problem that the market is facing
- Why you and your solution
- Why now
- What are the driving forces behind the market that require your solution?
- Who are you
- Your roadmap (How is your solution going to evolve over time)
- Exit (if applicable)
- Thank you and CTA
Mistake 10: Poor Layout
The layout is important in a pitch deck because it can affect how well your audience can understand your presentation. Poor layout can make it difficult for people to read your slides and follow your argument.
Good layout, on the other hand, can make your pitch more visually appealing and easier to understand and can make your idea seem more credible, which can increase your chances of securing funding or getting a deal done.
Some things to consider when designing your layout include using a clear font, using consistent spacing, and using easy-to-read colors.
Mistake 11: No Clear Structure
Yes, a clear structure is important in a pitch deck. A well-organized pitch deck will help the presenter to deliver their message more effectively and make a strong impression on potential investors.
Specifically, having a well-defined introduction, body, and conclusion will ensure that the audience understands the main points that are being made.
Mistake 12: Unclear Market Opportunity
This is one of the most important aspects of a pitch deck, as it shows investors the potential for their money to grow. A company’s ability to capture a significant portion of a market can be determined by its size and growth potential, so it’s important to highlight this in the pitch.
Additionally, investors want to see that a company has a plan for capturing this market, which can be demonstrated through its business model and competitive analysis.
Mistake 13: Weak Team Slide
This slide is important because it shows the potential investors who the team is and what they bring to the table. It can be helpful for investors to see that the team has a lot of experience in the industry or with startup companies.
The team’s experience and background can help convince investors that the team knows what they are doing and that they are capable of making their pitch deck into a successful business.
Mistake 14: No Storytelling
Storytelling is important in a pitch deck because it can help to engage the audience and explain the concept behind the pitch. By telling a story, the presenter can provide context and illustrate the points that they are trying to make.
In addition, storytelling can help to create a connection between the presenter and the audience, which can be helpful in persuading them to invest in the pitch.
When pitching or presenting something in front of an audience (be it a single email recipient or a room full of investors ready to throw cash at you), follow this simple 6-step narrative that got the award-winning movie Nemo accepted and produced:
- Once upon a time, there was… A fish called Marlin who was very protective of his son Nemo
- Every day… he warned Nemo of the dangers of the ocean
- One day… Nemo ignored his dad and swam too far away
- Because of that… Nemo is captured by a diver and ends up far away from home
- Because of that… Marlin sets off on a journey to find Nemo, with the help of others
- Finally… they both find each other and discover that love is bound by trust.
The above structure follows a narrative that you see in EVERY successful movie or story.
The Heros Journey – explained in detail by Joseph Campbell in his book – The Hero’s Journey follows these 12 steps:
- The Ordinary World. This is where we meet Nemo and identify with him.
- The Call to Adventure. His dad tells him of the ocean.
- Refusal of the Call. But his dad also tells him of the dangers of the ocean.
- Meeting the Mentor. Dory – the forgetful fish
- Crossing the Threshold. Venturing into the Ocean
- Tests, Allies, Enemies. Sharks, divers, etc…
- Approach to the Innermost Cave. The Fishtank
- The Ordeal. The greatest fear and most difficult challenge – escaping the fish tank
- The Road Back to the ordinary world
- The Resurrection. when Nemo pretends to be dead
- Return with the Elixir. Meeting with his dad and realizing that love is bound by trust.
It’s best to use an existing client and implement each of the 12 steps in the slides to illustrate and explain your product/service.
Mistake 15: No Clear Funding Ask
When you’re pitching your company to investors, it’s important to make a strong case for why they should invest. One way to do this is to include a funding ask – that is, a request for a specific amount of money. This lets potential investors know how much you need in order to take your business to the next level.
The purpose of adding funding ask is to give investors an idea of the amount of money you are looking to raise. This information can help investors determine whether or not they want to invest in your company.
It is important to include funding ask that is realistic and achievable and to be prepared to answer any questions investors may have about your fundraising goals.
Mistake 16: No Financial Projections
The use of financial projections is important when pitching a new business venture to investors. By illustrating anticipated future income and expenses, potential investors can better understand the viability of the proposed business. In addition, accurate projections can help to determine the amount of money that is needed to get the business up and running.
Overall, these projections provide a snapshot of the financial health of a business and are an essential component when seeking investment capital.
Mistake 17: Using Jargon when Pitching
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to use jargon in a pitch. Jargon can make your pitch difficult to understand, and it may turn off potential investors.
However, if you are pitching to an audience of experts in your field, using jargon can help show that you understand the topic inside and out. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not to use jargon in your pitch, but be aware of the pros and cons involved.
Mistake 18: No Business Plan – No Business Model
You need a business plan to accompany your pitch deck. Imagine that the VC or the potential investors you’re pitching decides to do their due diligence right after the presentation. What do you do?
You will be bombarded by questions from his faithful minions (analysts, marketers, business developers) and they will rip your business plan apart like layers of onions.
Therefore, you need to be fully prepared and have all your arsenal ready for that moment too.
BONUS Mistake 19: Not Being Able to Deal with Difficult Questions
I’ve seen this question pop up a lot lately: How to deal with hostile/difficult questions when presenting your idea in front of bosses/clients/investors?
The key is: Preparing a stellar operational framework
Think about it as a car chassis. Without it, you’d just have scattered pieces of equipment that are worth the sum of all parts individually.
So how do you build a stellar operational framework – SOF?
First, you need to know everything there is on the topic you’re presenting
You need to be seen as the industry expert, the one that knows more than anyone in that room. At the same time, you need to be able to articulate your idea in a way that everyone understands because not all audience members will know your industry and tech jargon.
Second, you need a framework that you will feed with your knowledge
The simplest framework is:
Intro, main part, conclusion.
A more granular one (also called a startup pitch deck outline, mentioned previously):
- One-sentence pitch – what your idea is
- Current market where your idea resides
- The opportunity in the market
- The problem that the market is facing (thus stressing the need for a solution)
- Why you and your solution (this is where you explain how your solution fits the market need)
- Why now (Why is now the perfect time? What are the driving forces behind the market that require your solution?
- Who are you
- Your roadmap (How is your solution going to evolve over time)
- Exit (if applicable)
- Thank you and CTA
You can spice things up and use a current client as a case study to guide the audience through his journey and how your solution solved his problem.
Third, get questioned and challenged by experts
These are people that know the topic better than you so have them ask you difficult questions.
How? Do a public pool through Reddit, IndieHackers, or Twitter and challenge your idea.
Fourth, be aware of EVERY downside that your topic/idea might encounter
Why is this crucial? A great leader knows what are his weaknesses and his strengths and addresses and deals with them along the way. If you’re on the battlefield and realize that the battlefield has a choke point that might bring havoc to your army, you will address it properly.
Most founders nowadays focus only on the upside:
- “We have no competitors” – you probably have no market.
- “The market is perfect and needs our solution and it will be that way for decades to come” – think about blockbuster and Netflix.
When you know your downsides, and what might prolong or stall your growth, and address these things before anyone does, you’re the one who controls the presentation and let people focus on the downsides you present.
There’s always going to be someone who will try to prove you wrong and show you otherwise.
Knowing your idea’s downsides, allows you to prepare for solutions on how to address those downsides and ultimately rule the market.
Ultimately when you do present, there won’t be any “hostile” questions – nobody is attacking you – because there’s nowhere to attack from!
Just in case, keep these in mind:
- Stay calm
- Take a mental vantage point – distance yourself from the question and just observe it from above. This way you won’t react emotionally and you can clearly see every answer there is in front of you
- Take your time when answering
- Smile and have a laid back posture
BONUS: Pitch Example
Here’s how I pitched a product last week, live in front of a panel of investors.
Industry: Content production.
Challenge: The investors were coming from a different industry than the one the startup was. They were powerful IT company owners that rely on word of mouth, PPC, and cold calling/emailing as means to get clients. Content production was the last thing on their mind.
I had to humanize the tool so that they understood it – what I did was I took an existing client, and used him as a case study to guide the investors through his struggles and how he overcame them with the content production tool.
I localized the client so that the investors got easily familiarized with the tool (the client owned a travel site and I just used the local city as the case study point for the investors).
The bottom line, is everyone understood the deck, and what the business was about and we got 5 ongoing conversations with 5 individual investors afterward.
Here’s one unusual example:
Pitch Deck Mistakes FAQ
What is a Common Mistake of Pitching?
One common mistake when pitching ideas is to use complex academic jargon that the average person does not understand. When trying to sell an idea, it is important to be clear and concise so that the listener can understand what you are saying.
Using too much technical language can make your idea seem inaccessible and may turn potential investors or collaborators away. It is important to find a balance between being clear and using complex terms that show your expertise in the topic.
What Makes a Pitch Deck Successful?
There is no one formula for a successful pitch deck, but there are a few things that are important to keep in mind. The most important thing is to make sure your deck is clear and concise, and that it tells a story.
You want to be able to quickly and easily explain your business, your product, and your strategy. The deck should also be visually appealing, with clean graphics and an easy-to-read layout.
Are Pitch Decks Complicated?
Pitch decks are not complicated, per se. They can be seen as a simplified, streamlined version of a business plan, designed to quickly and easily communicate your idea to potential investors. The goal is to get your point across in a clear, concise way, using simple language and easy-to-follow visuals.
Pitch decks should not be bogged down by complex academic jargon; rather, they should focus on telling a story and highlighting the key points of your business.
Bottom Line. The Worst Mistake?
Reading through this and thinking that you have the best idea in the world and none of this applies to you.
Also, feel free to look around and check the other pitching guides:
Check out THE Pitch Deck Guide – it’s an enormous article that will help you understand what a pitch is in general, and how to make one from scratch.
Or if you’re looking for specific public speaking tips that will help you improve your oral delivery: 44 Public Speaking Tips