The Pitch Deck

Approaches and Best Practices
12 . 4 . 2017
Suzanne Miller


he pitch. It’s the cornerstone of any sales opportunity or new business engagement. Whether you need to convince internal audiences of a business recommendation or sell the benefits of a product or service, pitches are all about persuasion. If that responsibility falls to you, you’ve probably resorted to either PowerPoint or Keynote to lend your pitch some pizzazz. This can be a gamble, since both platforms have long been the target of scorn. Neither academics nor business professionals want to view dry, lifeless slide decks that contribute little or nothing to your presentation. But the popularity of PowerPoint and Keynote persists for good reason. Marrying a visual component to your verbal presentation helps convey complex business objectives. In capable hands, both platforms can offer a stimulating counterpart to your pitch. Neglecting best practices, however, means you risk boring or losing your audience. In this post, we’ll discuss the key elements of any successful presentation and help you unlock the potential of the pitch deck.
Outline your pitch

Before designing slides, plan your sales pitch. To help determine your main objectives, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What exactly are you offering?
  • What are the business features and benefits of your products or services?
  • How do you differ from your competitors?
  • What are the proof points — including case studies and customer testimonials — that will best showcase the benefits of your products and services?

The answers to these questions should guide the basic progression of your presentation. Don’t digress too far from your core story by introducing unnecessary tangents or anecdotes. Instead, present

Marrying a visual component to your verbal presentation helps convey complex business objectives.
your value proposition in plain language and avoid technical jargon that could alienate non-specialist audiences. Be sure you address the unique concerns of the persons in the room, not your internal biases about your product or service.

To keep your audience engaged, avoid a “see-and-say” approach in which you plan to read text verbatim from a slide. Think of slides as providing not a literal transcription of your presentation, but a visual complement. This means they should help you elaborate on topics that are introduced, but not exhaustively covered, in your deck. Plan to keep slides brief, limiting each to a single key message or concept. This will keep the pace moving and ensure a logical sequence from one slide to the next.

Find your brand voice

After outlining your key pitch, build out your slide deck. Remember that it’s not enough to list the features and benefits of your services. You need to convince customers that your business and its values are the right fit for their needs and, to demonstrate that compatibility, you need to do more than play up individual solutions. You need to explain why your organization as a whole deserves their consideration by presenting a comprehensive overview of your core business commitments, including the internal strategic objectives that inform your operational priorities.

To do this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the core purpose of your brand? What is the goal toward which all your efforts work?
  • What are the underlying principles, or pillars, that help you achieve that goal?
  • What is your brand’s personality? What are the distinctive attributes, or keywords, that set you apart from competitors?
  • What is your brand voice? What is the personality and character expressed through your written communications?

Answering these questions will help you build a brand story that gives potential customers a better sense of whether your companies share complementary visions.

But you shouldn’t quickly assemble these foundational attributes in advance of a single presentation. Your audience will sense that you’ve built a brand identity for the special purposes of the pitch if you haven’t spent sufficient time thinking about the long-term goals of your business.

To offer an authentic and compelling brand story, you need to complete a brand engineering exercise capable of giving you actionable insights that propel your business forward. To learn more

Show them how your business goals align by sharing the backstory that fuels your brand identity.
about that process, see our Brand Engineering Guide. In short, we suggest taking the time to uncover the distinctive elements that define your brand ethos. If you don’t, your pitch deck will lack the necessary context to position your services in the best light. And don’t focus so narrowly on your clients’ immediate needs that you neglect their long-term objectives. Show them how your business goals align by sharing the backstory that fuels your brand identity.

Design the deck

Like your website and print collateral, your pitch deck is a primary point of contact for your potential customers and should reflect your professionalism. Its design deserves the same degree of consideration as those other channels and should align with your brand standards. As you design your deck, introduce signature brand components that reflect your values and company ethos. Convey a sense of your brand’s personality by deploying iconography borrowed from your brand’s visual lexicon.

A few other tips to consider when designing your pitch deck:

  • Keep it clean and simple. Other presenters in your company might need to adapt your deck for their own purposes, so don’t deviate from the message.
  • Make sure it aligns with your established identity and its built-in elements: colors, fonts, graphic anchors, photography and illustration style.
  • Design clean templates to serve as generic slides for basic information, but also find opportunities to add branded elements — such as on the cover and divider slides.

Jeremy Waite of IBM consulted his organization’s supercomputer, Watson, to learn the secrets of a successful presentation. Here is a partial list of Watson’s design recommendations:

  • Never use a font size of less than 20 points (when using 16:9 / 16:10 templates).
  • Wherever possible, use dark backgrounds rather than white ones.
  • Try to keep to one key message per slide.
  • Try to limit images to 3 — and never more than 6 — per slide.
Additional best practices

Even if you implement every one of these recommendations, remember that nobody wants to be subjected to a very long presentation. Keep your pitch brief — less than 10 slides if at all

Don’t rely on the deck to do all the work.
possible — so your audience will have the attention and energy remaining to ask questions that generate additional conversation. These impromptu dialogues can serve as the beginning to a more formal business relationship. Don’t rely on the deck to do all the work. Your charisma and enthusiasm are irreplaceable, and much of your success depends on your ability to embody the values that motivate your business achievements.

Thanks to Watson, Waite of IBM backs up those ideas with these additional best practices for a successful presentation:

  • However long [the] presentation is, average one slide every two minutes.
  • Build three acts into the presentation (a clear beginning, a middle and an end).
  • Break away from traditional slides and include an interactive element or some audience participation every six minutes.
  • Include a call to action.

If you’re struggling to implement these recommendations, it’s worth reaching out for professional assistance. As one of the primary modes of exposure to your brand, high-value communications such as a pitch deck deserve a considerable investment of your time and resources. That investment is certain to pay off in additional business.


Suzanne Miller is Senior Vice President of Client Relationships at AvreaFoster.

© 2020 AvreaFoster Inc.

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