This year, for the first time ever, I’m offering Breakthrough Sessions to target focus areas where clients often feel stuck. During these 50-minute sessions, I help clients make substantive and compelling improvements to their websites, pitch/sponsorship decks, or organizational habits.
Over the course of three weeks, I’m taking a closer look at how these offerings can benefit clients and discussing typical problem areas. Why is website messaging so important? What is the outcome of a standout pitch deck? How much can new organizational habits really help?
For more information about Breakthrough Sessions, click here. For now, read on, and stay tuned next week for the last the Breakthrough Series (and check out last week’s post too).
A pitch or sponsorship deck has countless uses in business, but creating a great one is often a challenge. And it’s not just hard for novices; even people who have created dozens of decks can fall into the trap of a pitch deck that’s boring, crammed with information, or simply not effective.
Before I became an independent professional, I held a number of roles in event production and marketing. As a result, I have extensive experience writing decks and responding to RFPs, so I have insight from both sides of the equation. I’ve seen decks that are incredibly memorable, and I’ve also read decks that are forgettable or aren’t successful in getting their message across.
Whether you’re soliciting partners for a nonprofit event, pitching investors for your startup, or reaching out to brands to collaborate with as a solopreneur, you have to communicate lots of information efficiently and in a way that grabs people. If your deck is confusing or boring or overwhelming, it’s too easy for people to tune out and quickly move on to the next deck.
The job of creating a pitch and sponsorship deck also comes with a lot of pressure. If you work as part of a team or a startup or a small company, you know that people are counting on you to come through with funding or partners. And if you work for yourself, you know all too well that every success relies on you. On top of that, pitch decks take time. Working on deadline and under pressure can result in a deck that doesn’t speak clearly or provide the full picture.
Despite all that, I love the process of creating decks. For me, it’s incredibly rewarding to distill what makes a company great and set them up for a great shot at funding, partners or support. In my previous career, decks were an integral part of my job, and the knowledge I gained has been incredibly helpful in my new role supporting business owners and entrepreneurs.
Here are my four best tips for creating a top-notch deck:
1. Focus on a concise version of “who, what, where, when, and why.”
I worked with a client who had launched a startup six months previously and was looking to collaborate with other brands of different sizes. We put together a deck that covered it all: what the startup was (their story and purpose), who the target audience was, how the startup planned to make money, why brands should partner with them, and where there were opportunities to do so. By covering these basics, we told a coherent story and showed why a partnership would be so fulfilling. We answered as many of their questions as possible without being overwhelming.
That balance — providing enough information for readers to fully understand your story, but not cramming too much information in — is challenging for many people who create decks. It can be helpful to read the deck from the perspective of an outsider. Are any questions unanswered? Or are there sections that drag on, and you find yourself looking up from the page to take breaks? Although you can’t be totally objective, you can go with your gut is telling you about content. If you’re bored, readers will be doubly bored. If you’re confused, they’re probably totally lost.
2. Use numbers, testimonials, and photos to help you tell a story.
The goal of a deck is to draw people in and convince them to get involved in some way, and statistics, testimonials and, photos are invaluable in that effort. Outstanding numbers, compelling photos, and strong testimonials are where you can really wow your reader. For instance, if you’re soliciting funding or partners for an event that was incredibly successful the previous year, put revenue and attendance numbers front and center. Or if you’re asking partners to collaborate, highlight your best testimonials from previous partnerships, focusing on excerpts that underscore how the collaboration helped them.
If you don’t have one or more of these elements because your business, program or event is in its early stages, focus on what you do have. What is the most compelling part of your story to date? When you talk to people, at what point during the conversation do they engage most? What makes your business’s story unique from everyone else’s? Strong statistics, testimonials, and photos are great assets, but a resonant narrative is still the most crucial aspect of a deck.
3. Provide tiered and customized options for investors and partners.
Partnerships and sponsorships aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a great deck acknowledges this. Ideally, your deck will include at least three tiered options for people who want to get involved.
For instance, if you’re soliciting event sponsorships, you can have sponsor levels tiered at $500, $1,000, and $2,500. At the $500 level, sponsors get their logo on the invite, their product on the table, and photos of people engaging with their brand at the event. At the $1,000 and $2,500 levels, sponsors get all the benefits of the lower levels, plus enticing, additional perks (like a dedicated booth or a branded step-and-repeat banner) to make it worth the extra spend. By operating with this system, you reduce the barriers to entry for partners who can’t spend at the higher level while also providing perks for brands who can afford it. And of course, these levels and perks are just examples; you have to adjust based on your event or initiative’s budget.
It’s also important to offer customized partnerships and sponsorships to brands who don’t see themselves fitting into one of the outlined tiers. For brands who operate on tighter budgets or other under other constraints, a customized partnership can be the trick to getting them to sign on.
4. Get another set of eyes on your deck before you send it out.
Once you’ve completed a draft of your pitch or sponsorship deck, it can be incredibly valuable to get a second opinion from someone outside your business. If you work at a startup, showing a colleague from another department is also a great option. Ultimately, you’re looking for that outsider’s perspective to help you pinpoint if anything’s missing or lackluster.
The best outcome of a deck is that your reader, whether they are a potential partner or investor, understands your story, is engaged by it, and can share their enthusiasm with colleagues who may be involved in deciding whether to pursue a partnership. If you can inspire that kind of excitement — where people you approach are eager to be involved — your deck has done its job.