5 Common Pitch Deck Design MistakesFeatured

The Visual Narrative Company's vision is to show how design can be an influential communication and persuasion tool that can yield tangible results for female founders and entrepreneurs in the startup space. They value collaborative working processes that go beyond just delivering a document; their goal is to infuse their client's unique personality, business values, passion and entrepreneurial spirit into a pitch experience that they are proud to show and tell the world.

How you present yourself during a pitch is your first impression: this is the defining moment that can determine if you, your brand and your idea will be deemed investment worthy. Many founders make the assumption that design is either optional, or just a process a deck needs to go through in order to “make it look prettier.”

Design is the science of how humans absorb, process, and interpret information. When done right, it is a powerful persuasion tool rooted in psychology that can speak volumes to a founder’s credibility, professionalism, and reliability. Every image, text box, and layout are the components that come together to create an overall tone and message, and ultimately work to deliver the story you want to tell about your business. Here are 5 common pitch deck design mistakes that we see in startup decks.

  1. Using irrelevant imagery. If it is available, we always recommend using original photos of your products and customers as a method of validation to show real life interactions amongst your customer base. If original images are not available, stock imagery is fine, as long as it aligns to your brand’s visual tone of voice. Some questions to consider: Does the vibe of the image align with the emotions you want to evoke in your audience? Does it communicate something valuable about your customers and their lifestyle choices? Does it show how your product is making your customer’s lives better? One quick way to check if your deck is using the right images is to do the “Instagram feed” audit. If it’s not an image you would post on your Instagram account’s tile matrix, then it is most likely off brand and shouldn’t be used in your pitch deck.
  2. A generic introduction slide. If you’re an early stage startup, investors are not just going to be looking at your product and business numbers. They will also be focused on you as a founder, and how coachable and scrappy you are. Rather than a standard issue LinkedIn profile picture, consider using a real life photo of yourself with your product, or connecting with your customers. For example, if your product is a B2B supplier selling organic produce to local businesses in your area, your photo might be a picture of you visiting your suppliers at their farms, or interacting with their animals. This is visible proof that you are not only a founder, but an experienced expert in the industry that you are trying to disrupt.
  3. Long form bullet points. Unless you’re sending your deck as a pre-read, an overwhelming amount of bullet points makes it difficult for your audience to focus on what you are saying during the pitch. Bullet points should be short words or phrases that sum up the main points of your talk track. Lengthy bullet points can also act as a crutch for speakers to read off of, which can be seen by investors as a lack of preparedness and expertise. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” -Albert Einstein
  4. No clear call to action slide. So you’re at the end of your pitch deck. Now what? Be really clear and explicit about what you’re looking for from investors today. The deck is there to act as a visual aid, so build that ask into a clear slide with the amount you’re looking for, and any other important information investors would need to know in order to make their decision. “Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” - Ira Glass
  5. Lack of visual cohesiveness across all slides. Imagine this: Each one of your slides is a separate piece of paper. Then those pieces of paper are thrown into a pile of 100 other slides from other pitch decks. If you have a strong and consistent brand, anyone should be able to pull your original slides back out of the pile and put them back together. Every consecutive slide that you show your audience should burn your brand story deeper into their minds. Even after you’ve left the room, you want them to be able to recall your company in their minds from the brand colours, logo, and images that they’ve seen.

We hope these five tips will help you not only build stronger pitch decks, but also build more confidence in your presentation. We are in the business of building visual narratives, not just presentation decks. We strive to build a compelling experience of a founder’s story from all angles: the visuals, the verbiage, and the vibe. And from this holistic experience, drive the results that you, as a founder, want to leave the room with.

This is great! I'd love to share it with my clients. My favorite takeaway: No clear call to action slide. -- 100%! and I see this SO often! I love this quote -- โ€œGreat stories happen to those who can tell them.โ€ - Ira Glass
I love that quote too! I've posted it on my instagram before here ;)
Great! I just followed you :-)
Loved the list! Thanks @pansycheung
Hope it was helpful! Did you have a favourite tip?
The clear call to action on the slide. When you are story telling you almost forget to include the 'what are we talking here'? section on each slide or at the end. So that would be my favourite one. Otherwise it is a nice to have conversation instead of a deck guiding the directions of the conversation afterward.
great tips.
Glad you liked them! Any that stood out to you?
All your are common sense and that we have to keep reminding of them. As you describe in your last tip, each slide is a piece of paper and if mixed in with other pitch decks anyone should be able to put them back together. That is powerful. Thanks much.
Yup. It's all here! Great job laying this out. We are so excited to create our deck. Do you have any links to decks that got it right? Love examples. x
Hey Isabell! I have an example of an Airbnb deck that I have redesigned that illustrate these points IRL. The first thing that you'll probably find when you google "best pitch decks" will likely be a version the original Airbnb deck and/or a bunch of other big brand ones. But I think that design can always help and improve!If you're interested, I'd love to show you over a coffee chat :)Feel free to send me an email at [email protected] or send me a DM!
Hi Pansy! Thank you for this, I'm sure a lot of startups can benefit from it.