Time-tested tactics for building investor presentations


Bulb drawing made from Yellow Crumpled Paper Ball; investor presentation tips
Image Credits: Constantine Johnny (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Lev Kerzhner


Lev Kerzhner leads Saragus Agency, which provides corporate storytelling services to startups, companies, entrepreneurs and investor groups.

Over the past two years, I’ve designed dozens of presentations for a variety of companies at various stages of fundraising — from startup SAFE rounds, to VC rounds and IPOs.

In this article, I will attempt to recap and share some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Don’t build one presentation, build three

A story, like a relationship, is built in stages. It’s important to match each stage with the appropriate content. Typically, this means a short intro presentation for the intro stage, a frontal presentation for the meeting itself and a reading presentation to send as a follow-up.

You could write a book on the subtleties and differences between these three presentations, but for now, here are some guidelines:

Reading presentation

This is your main presentation, and it should be able to stand on its own without a speaker. You will send this presentation as follow-up after your first significant meeting with an investor. Its purpose is to facilitate in-depth and open discourse, and so is typically between 12 and 20 slides long.

Intro presentation

This is a short and succinct version of the reading presentation. Its purpose is to get you the first meeting, so you don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of the business and can leave room for questions.

It is common to send six to eight slides and hit the basic “notes” of the pitch, such as what the problem is, what the solution is, who the team is, what the differentiation is and what is happening in the market.

Frontal presentation

A stripped down, minimal version of the reading presentation, the frontal presentation is designed to empower and keep the focus on the speaker, not compete for attention. This presentation is often heavier on visuals and illustrations and lighter on text. This presentation doesn’t get shared and the number of slides don’t matter. Use as many as you need to bring your point home.

A presentation’s goal is not to get you an investment

An amazing presentation alone will not convince an investor. In practice, the best result a presentation can provide is a follow-up meeting with a sense of momentum and clarity about the company’s story, its current situation, goals and opportunities.

In the best-case scenario, an intro presentation will give you another opportunity to present your story in depth. Afterward, the reading presentation you send will create additional questions on financial specifics, market validation, etc.

In essence, both presentations play a similar role — they’re meant to open the door and allow you and investors to communicate openly and directly about the company, yourself and the various questions that arise.

With that in mind, be prepared for follow-up meetings and in-depth questions, to explain your working assumptions and validate them with real numbers. You should also plan to break down your promises and goals into operational plans that make incremental sense.

Stick to the facts

When used correctly, facts are points of agreement upon which a story is constructed. A fact can surprise, shock, draw parallels, and most importantly, generate curiosity in the reader.

I once opened a presentation with a slide that only had the question, “Did you get the best price for your hotel room?” The next slide stated the fact that there was no way to know because of the way the hotel industry works. Explaining the reasons behind our statements helped construct the first chapter of the presentation while creating empathy.

Resources like Statista can offer great facts to lean on, and common sense as well as popular quotes can create a similar effect.

Impact is greater than features

Entrepreneurs live and breathe their product and its specifics, but when building the story for an investor presentation, focusing too much on features of the product rarely helps.

I’ve found that it’s much more interesting to talk about the meaning of the product and its impact on the lives of those who suffer from the problem you’re addressing.

To enhance the impact of the problem, ask questions such as: What does the problem mean for people who suffer from it? What can they not do as a result?

Likewise, to showcase the impact of your solution, use questions like: What does the solution mean for the person who has suffered the most from the problem? What can they do now that was not possible before?

Use PDF format

Presentations change hands. In relatively large organizations, the associate who receives your presentation will forward it to a relevant partner for approval. And in smaller organizations, it is likely that after reading through it, an investor will pass your presentation on to a subject matter expert or a colleague for a professional opinion.

All this may happen through a variety of channels (email, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.) and across platforms (computers, phones, tablets, etc.)

It is important to ensure your presentation looks the same across all platforms and can be sent easily and quickly. Sending it as a PDF file will ensure you retain your formatting across devices and maintain compatibility.

People do not read. They skim and then (maybe) read

People don’t read everything you write. In fact, research from Nielsen Norman showed that unless people think they are about to be tested on content they’re reading, they seldom read it.

Instead, people often skim in various different ways that may include looking at the page as a whole, going through titles, headings and phrases in bold — all while skipping blocks of text. If a heading catches their attention, then (maybe) they’ll read the main block of content.

With that in mind, remember that headings are prime messaging real estate. It is wise to use them to tell the story. Move traditional titles like “The Problem” or “The Solution” to subheads, or remove them entirely. Ensure your headings offer a summary of the whole slide.

Make sure you use the correct hierarchy of headings, text blocks and subtitles to structure the text. If you feel a sentence is important, and you want the reader to understand it verbatim, use a “big sentence slide,” where the text is positioned front and center with no additional elements.

One message, one slide

Entrepreneurs spend a long time crafting the messages and value propositions at the core of their company. All this work makes it hard for them not to use these messages when offered the opportunity.

This is a recipe for disaster. One of the side effects of this is repetition — every slide becomes a slide showcasing differentiation as more and more superlatives and features are highlighted. Meanwhile, the story collapses, floundering under the burden of too many promises and a lack of sequence or movement.

To avoid this trap, I recommend starting by writing an abstract document with a line for each slide. Give each slide a juicy name that describes its essence, like “Our Secret Sauce” or “Market Tailwinds.” Then indent each line and write what the reader needs to understand from it. What you’ll be left with is a blueprint for your deck.

Lastly, do not push the conclusion you want the reader to reach. Instead, tell them what you’ve done or accomplished, what impact was created and trust them to understand on their own.

Maintain logical sequence and causality

Any good story is driven by a chain of events, and presentations are no different. Each slide should organically lead to the next slide and be the natural conclusion of what was said before.

One way to indicate a logical sequence is to connect the slides with statements like “As a result” or “And because of that.”

You can reference your abstract document to see if you’ve veered off course. While the presentation and abstract document do not have to be identical, they should speak the same language and sound similar.

Establish trust and momentum

Fundraising is largely the result of trust and momentum.

Trust manifests in several ways: Trust in you as entrepreneurs and your ability to build and lead a team to the results you promise; trust in your product, its feasibility on a technical level and its ability to produce the promised impact; and trust that the market you operate in is ready for your product.

Equally important is a sense of momentum — the feeling that your company is successfully moving you toward your goals and that passing on you means truly missing an opportunity.

To establish trust, don’t overhype your numbers. Misrepresenting reality creates distrust, and that’s nearly impossible to fix. You should validate your claims and give references whenever possible and necessary.

Remember: The bigger the promise, the bigger the validation needed, and traction speaks louder than promises.

Storytelling should be an entrepreneurial core capability

Did you know that 95% of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously? Good storytelling is the bridge between the empathy that drives persuasion on an individual level and the analytical process that validates it in their mind. As a skill, it has far more impact than a presentation. The ability to tell a compelling story is critical for attracting partners, employees and customers, as well as creating media interest.

Ultimately, a compelling story is the result of synergy between the speaker, their story and the listener. So read the room, speak to the people and tell a good story, even if it breaks the guidelines described here or anywhere else. The best ones often do.

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