It happens. Some startups can create one slide that shows a line from 0 to 100 million users or $500m revenues in 1 year. Some startups can show a slide with clinical data proving they have the cure for cancer. If you are not one of them, don't listen to pitch advice by these startups and have some more backup information.
The bar is rising in presentation design. More and more people know how to design decent slide, more and more people know how to explain a business concept visually.
The challenge that remains is often a very specific point. In most cases, this is the answer to an "elephant in the room" question, a very specific answer to a question an ignorant but intelligent layman might have.
Most people burry these super important points inside a "standard" slide. "Oh, that is the point I make verbally when we present the competition slide."
I tend to make these points more in your face. Dedicate a specific slide to it. Even sometimes putting things straight in the headline ("No, we are not another Google").
These slides can be hard to design. The best approach is to listen really carefully when you explain it verbally to someone. "There are 3 groups of products, 1, 2, and 3, but none of them address y". "Gasoline engines can do x, but with electrical power we can do this.". "Up until now you could not see at nanometer level, but now it is possible". Look at the sentences and see what they do. Divide things in groups (boxes), contrasts between two options, "From to". Your language gives clues about what visual concepts to use. They don't have to be sophisticated, they just should be clear.
Image via WikiPedia
A quick post written on my iPad while enjoying my vacation here in beautiful Vietnam. I make a lot of Instagram snaps and here is the way I edit photos in the application.
I do not use the pre-installed filters, they are random permutations of image adjustments that distort my photo too much. Instead I go in edit mode.
The most important adjustment to any image is its composition: use zoom in/out, move left right, make sure the horizon is straight with the left most edit function. Then, on to brightness and contrast. Move the sliders and see whether your image improves or not. Next, highlights and shadows. That's it.
You see the functions I don't touch: saturation, color overlays, structure, blur, etc. etc.
I have been touring the city of Rome for a few days with my son which was great fun. It is amazing to see how tourists gather around sights that guides and guide book say are famous or beautiful. I snapped the double helix Bramante staircase in the Vatican museum (picture below), my guide was surprised I wanted to see it and he had to look for it. You can see on the picture that not many other people were interested.
Each pitch has a weak spot to overcome. How to deal with it in your presentation?
- You can ignore it, sweep it under the carpet. You will have had a very pleasant meeting, but you are unlikely to land the deal
- You can mention it, and support a very shallow case why it is not an issue. (Vague analyst quote)
- Overcompensating, give 15 different possible analysis that triangulate to the most likely market size number. This just might scare your audience. If 50% of you time/charts are about this issue, this must really be a big deal.
Better: admit the issue is there (you scored some realism points in the process). Give an honest defence, but don't burry the audience in analysis (yet). Wait with that for the 2nd meeting which might have that issue as its sole agenda point.
If you use colours correctly, there is actually no need to put your corporate logo very prominently on each page to remind the audience what company they are listening to. Colours will give the page the recognisable look & feel instantly.
Make sure you use the correct colours instead of PowerPoint's default colour scheme. Your marketing department should have the brand guidelines with RGB codes, and if not, you can "steal" them from a logo image using a colour picker. Try saving them as a template in PowerPoint so you don't have to go through this exercise for every presentation you start.
You actually do not need many colours for a page to look great. (My presentation design app SlideMagic only allows you to use one). It is important to think about the relative importance of colours. Which colours can you use often, or for large surfaces, and which ones are meant as accent colour only.
Throughout the presentation, try to use the same colour for the same concept. Everything to do with competitor A is always green. The results for the drug are blue, the control group is orange.
Colour can be a powerful tool to group things together on a slide. Especially if objects are far away from each other, using colour is a much better tool than trying to draw connecting lines.
Watch out with the colour red in financial results. Even a huge profit will look like a massive loss when set in bright red.
A light colour is a much better way to give a box contrast than drawing a dark line around it. I hardly ever use lines around shapes.
If you have dark colours at your disposal, try using them to colour text, especially in diagrams, it will look nice.
Test colours not just on your own screen. Printers and poor quality VGA projectors can wash out subtle colour shadings, making a whole page look unbalanced. Sometimes you might have to design your page specifically for the VGA projector, making them look bad on your usual monitor.
Like every year, I will be spending less time at the computer and more time with my family over the summer. Blog posts will be less frequent. I am publishing all my posts almost instantly and don't use a large buffer of content (going against good social media practice). I hope all of you are having a good summer break.
- I want you to make it look great, like Steve Job's slides
- Can I buy 15 slides from you, maybe 20?
- How many hours would 15 slides take you?
- I am actually a pretty good presenter, if I may say so. We just need the final 5% of extra punch.
- Can you already include 3 slides in your project proposal?
- I will put you in touch with Harry from corporate communications, he will be your main contact point throughout the project
Every time I pitch my company gets confused with this other technology. On the surface, they have a point, but we need to dive really deep into science to kill the issue, in 10 minutes. Can you help, I really need it.
Below is a professional print ad for Audi, trying to convince us that its heritage of cars is still present in today's models.
The concept is a very simple one. The way it is visualised is highly complex. To pull off something like the above requires a significant investment in a designer who knows what she is doing. Any attempt to DIY it will make your slide look amateurish.
But if you are not a global car brand with a million dollar advertising budget, you can still get that visual concept across.
- A simple time line of cars
- Overlapping circles with car images
- Shapes around the current car with images of vintage cars
You can relax the ambition level of the type of visualisation you want to use. You cannot compromise on the professionalism of your slide.
We deployed a new version of my presentation app SlideMagic that eliminated the TEMPLATES menus. It makes things even simpler. Templates are now more integrated in the workflow
- When you click INSERT SLIDE HERE, you get presented with a number of pre-designed layouts in addition to the 3x3 blank grid.
- In your file browser (the DECKS menu), you have access to a number of featured presentations at the top of the page. These are example presentations designed by me that you can duplicate.
- In the STORY mode, you can import individual slides or entire presentations (including featured presentations) into your own presentations
There are a few levels you can go through as a startup with a VC:
- Basic fit. "Sorry, your mobile gaming app is not really a good fit with our biotech focus"
- Does the idea make some sort of sense. If the VC thinks not, you are likely to get very generic feedback from the VC, "too early for us". There are simply too many things wrong with it that the VC does not even get started to get into it.
- No obvious hygiene issues. Difficult cap table. Unfriendly co-investors. Questionable IP. Lots and lots of follow-on investment required. VCs will usually give straight feedback, unless the issue is for example a really toxic CEO they don't like, at which point they might say "too early for us".
- Then there are the real, gentle difficult questions. Is there really a market for this? Will the regulator agree? The VC really wants the answer to these to be "yes", but needs backup to convince her partners.
Once you have reached stage 4, the VC will tell you what the issue is. And this is the main issue that needs to be cleared. All the other slides in your presentation have been bought into already. You can give a great presentation, but if you did not manage to convince the investor of the Big Question, then you are not going to land the investment. Trying to hide the elephant in the room is not an option.
The interests of the entrepreneur and the investor are aligned. You want the answer to be "yes". A good VC might even hand over data sources, give access to people to talk to, to help you make the point. Hopefully it is the start of a long cooperation together.
It is impossible to make a correct 5 year business forecast in an investor pitch. But your financial projection is not really a forecast, a prediction of the future, it is a picture made out of numbers. "If our company will be successful, this is what it could look like".
Mistake number one is to make the projection ultra precise with 5 digits after the comma. It is just a guess, so a year 5 revenue number of $99,234,318 is not more credible than ~$100m.
But oversimplifying is not right either. The fact that you are for sure going to be wrong does not mean that you simply take 1% of a big market number to get to the year 5 scenario.
The trick is to make the words/visuals in your presentation consistent with your financial model. You are going to sell to millions of individual customers, drive the model that way. You rely on 5 big telco operators, put it in. SAAS company with recurring revenues? Model it. One-off perpetual licenses, use it as the basis of your model.
Teaching investors how the business works is more important than getting the point estimate right.
Wide 16:9 aspect ratios are great for movies as we can follow the car chase across the full width of the screen. For slide design however, they cause problem.
- Looooong titles across the screen are hard to read as the eye needs to move over a long distance
- A stretched rectangular design canvas limits the amount of compositions you can create.
Maybe it is time to experiment with an unconventional slide layout, where we put the slide title on the side of the design canvas.
In my presentation design app SlideMagic, I took a different approach. The app sticks to 4:3 slide aspect ratios, with a title in the traditional top position, but the user has the option to add a slide out panel on the right with a verbal explanation of the slide for those cases where the presenter cannot be there to explain an abstract visual.
It can be hard to figure what to talk about when you are invited to speak at a professional event as an entrepreneur, an investor, a designer, a CEO.
One option is to prepare a business school-grade lecture about your profession. Organised, structured, all the key points laid out, with informative slides that will be photographed by hungry aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, designers, and CEOs. But in the world of Google and Amazon, there are probably hundreds of "how to's" for these professions available at the click of a mouse.
The other option is to make it more personal:
- Case examples
Yes, you might not hit all the points of investing 101, but the audience will learn something they cannot learn anywhere else, will remember more, and have a better time.
On stage, you do not present slides that layout your weaknesses in the best possible visual way. On the other hand, when preparing for your presentation, (or briefing your presentation designer), it does not make sense to brush every weakness away.
I have clients who respond to every possible probe with: "of course not", "and this", "and that", "and then there is this data", "look at this customer quote". And still, there must be a reason why the company hardly has any revenue.
A better approach is to recognise the weaknesses, lay them out openly on the table, and try to figure out a way to address them.
It is that time of the year. Here are some things kids do, and you will recognise them in grown-up presentations as well:
- "Press play", rattle down the lines to show that you can memorise things. You speak slower, softer when your memory needs to work harder. Eyes up to locate that next phrase.
- Blank stare. You can't see the audience because of the stage lights, so you are not really looking at them.
- No connection to the substance. You simply say the words without feeling their meaning.
- "Bye". The moment you spoke the last word, you turn around and walk off stage
Art: The Country School, Winslow Homer, 1871
Doctors know what causes a certain disease. Investors know that hardware margins are small. Social media experts are aware of the huge install base of Pokemon Go. Cable operators know that an onsite visit to a customer costs a fortune. Even this presentation designer has argued many times not to preach to the converted, it is better to spend time and slides on issues that are less clear cut or controversial.
I still believe this is true, but I would not go as far as completely eliminating the obvious point from your presentation. This will break the flow of your story. Also you miss out on the opportunity of using the same visual concept for both presenting the (obvious) problem and your (not so obvious) solution.
A place holder slide with a simple image or statistic is enough to remind the audience of the obvious in 20 seconds.
More and more I am trying to self-analyse the process I go through when designing tricky charts for my clients, all with the hope of one day putting all that skill in my presentation design app SlideMagic.
Here is a process I went through yesterday:
- Write all the key things that need to come out on a piece of paper (the most important objective of this exercise: the things that are NOT written down).
- Cut down the messages to the bare essential:
- Re-write them as short as possible, no filler words
- Group similar points, eliminate duplications
- Underline verbs/action words: "is at the centre", "nobody can do these 3 things at the same time", "integration is possible because of IT", "across all channels"
- Map cause and effect/result
- Select the most important action (something being at the centre, the IT that integrates everything, a Venn of 3 overlapping things?) and sketch a basic visual concept ignoring any conventional way to depict things in the specific industry
- Now fit in the other bits
- Re-shuffle, re-position to make sure lines, arrows don't cross and related things are close together
- Add colour (selectively)
- Make sure everything lines up with a grid
- Fix typography, odd line breaks, orphan lines, etc.
I still have some work to do in SlideMagic...
In little bursts of work I will be updating my presentation app SlideMagic over the coming weeks. I noticed that many users stick to the 9 box grid that is the default blank layout of a new slide. Yesterday we released a new insert routine. You now get presented with a number of slide layouts to choose from when inserting a new slide, without having to import and/or clone template slides.
Try it out and let me know what you think.