Pitch Deck Charts
Show me the data...
PART 1 -- How to choose the perfect chart for your pitch
As I've discussed in my previous pitch deck articles, statistics can add credibility to your deck.
After all, without data charts, your pitch is just opinion. And most investors ain't interested in opinions.
The problem with charts is that there are so many to choose from. Not only do you have to decide which data you want to show off, but you have to think long and hard about the best type of chart to use.
And this could be the difference between getting an investor interested and them getting plain confused.
Let's take a look at the best charts to use.
Simple and basic, tables are best suited to include in your appendix.
If you are going to use them in your main deck, try and make them look as interesting as possible. For example, you can combine a table with a heatmap to add a bit of extra sparkle.
Pie charts (and the problem with them)
In my last article, I said I wasn't a fan of pie charts. Is this true?
While I don't have an issue with pie charts as such, they're not the best way to present data on a pitch deck.
Not only do 3D and exploded pie charts often misrepresent the size of particular portions, but our primitive monkey brains just aren't good at comparing angles.
You only have a few seconds for your chart to make an impression, and a pie chart isn't the most impactful way of demonstrating your data.
If you have to use a pie chart, keep it as minimalist as possible. A donut chart can look better as it's easier on the eyes. Alternatively, use a bar chart instead.
Unless you're a lifestyle magazine, I'd give pictograms a wide berth. Not only are they confusing, but one bad number can throw your whole presentation into disrepute.
Want to use a pictogram? Make sure your elements are in proportion, and you're not manipulating the icons to show the results you want. It's always best to rely on the graphic design experts than to try and knock something together in Canva.
Booz? At this time of the day? Don't mind if I do.
Booz Balls (aka Harvey balls) are small standard pie charts used to show qualitative information. They can be handy for competitor analysis or feature/roadmap status.
This type of chart can be seen as subjective as Booz Balls are used for qualitative rather than quantitative data. If you use them, you need to bear that in mind.
Ah, the classic. A vertical chart is useful for many, many different types of data. Keep your chart simple, precise and clean, and you're onto a winner.
Multi-metric, percentage and stacked column charts can be harder to get right. Make sure there is value in using them, and you're not just putting them in your deck for show.
Horizontal bar charts are handy for ranking items by the same characteristic. The simpler, the better and of course, always rank from largest to smallest for the most aesthetically pleasing effect.
Component and positive-negative charts have their place but again, make sure they add value and keep them precise.
If you need to show a trend in data, this should always be your chart of choice. Be careful to pick a y-axis that ensures your line covers at least two-thirds of your chart area; otherwise your investor will be squinting to see it.
Multi-line charts can be effective too, but pick your colours so they don't merge into a tangled mess. A bar chart might work better if you've got more than four lines.
A spin-off of a line chart, an area chart can help show trends and growth over time. I've not seen many of them feature in pitch decks, but they're there as an option.
I'm just going to come out and say it – don't use a combination chart just to save space on your pitch deck. If you're plotting two series on the same chart, they need to be relevant to each other.
If you do opt for a combination chart, label your axes and legend clearly and use contrasting colours
If in doubt, just create two separate charts.
By graphic charts, I mean one that displays your data as an image. Think Venn diagrams, flows, timelines, mind maps and Gantt charts.
If you want to use a graphic chart, think of the key message you want to convey and how your chart will help you achieve this. Is it the only way to do this, or is there another option?
Think MECE when it comes to graphic charts – Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive. This means there is no overlap between the data, and all data comes together to provide a comprehensive solution.
It might be the case that you need to pull out an advanced chart but only use it if the situation warrants it. Don't use one just to show off your super-l33t design skills.
Some of the more advanced charts you might come across include:
If you're tempted to use an advanced chart, think A-B-C:
Is it accessible? Can your audience understand it at a glance?
Is it brief? Is this the most concise way of relaying the information?
Does it convey the message I need?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, you might want to consider an alternative.
PART 2 -- The seven deadly sins when it comes to charts
If you're familiar with the works of Dante, you'll know that he talked about the nine circles of hell. He forgot to mention the tenth: crap data charts.
With this in mind, I present to you the seven deadly sins of pitch deck charts….
Greed: Overusing colours
Avoid using colour for decoration or to make your charts look fancy; otherwise your audience will have to dig out their sunglasses to make it through your presentation.
Stick to two or three colours, four if you absolutely must, and make sure they work in greyscale if your investor prints your deck out.
Choose your colours to complement each other and work with your overall brand scheme. I put together a bit of info about colour theory that you might find helpful.
Lust: Manipulating the axis
We're all guilty of glancing at a chart and assuming things are good because the stats are going up and vice versa.
While manipulating your x and y axes to make the odds work in your favour might sound like a good idea, a savvy investor will see through your chart, and ultimately you.
Look at the 'Lust' charts for example in my PlayBook, from the ever-impartial Fox News.
They're trying to make the stats look like things are bad, when in reality, changes are negligible. The bar chart doesn't even have numbers on the y-axis!
If there's a blip in your data, it's better to be honest and explain it to your investor. If they think you're trying to pull a fast one, no funding for you.
Envy: Overly complicated charts
I've sat through many pitch decks in my time, and a lot of charts. I've seen companies try and use fancy charts, just so it looks like they know what they're talking about.
Take a look at the 'envy' chart in my PlayBook. What does it tell you? What does it mean? Why is it even there?!
The presenter could have easily used a stacked bar chart to show this data instead. It's simpler, cleaner and has less chance of an investor saying: 'What the hell am I looking at?'
Gluttony: Too many categories
I get it; you're eager to show off all your hard work and the data you've put together. However, there's a fine line between being thorough and being a train wreck. Too many data categories can quickly propel you into the latter.
Check out my PlayBook for the 'gluttony' example of a pie chart I spotted while doing my pitch deck analysis. I really wish it wasn't.
How many categories should you have on a chart? It depends on the type of chart, its size, and the information you're trying to get across. Four categories are usually a safe bet.
Pride: Being too precise
Sometimes putting data in a table is the best way to showcase your stats. However, you need to make sure your data is easy to read and not too dull.
Unless you own a scientific or healthcare scaleup, you don't need to go all-in with the data. It's okay to round down/up, and it's absolutely fine to leave information out if it's not relevant.
Here's a handy tip – if you have a lot of data you want to put out there, include it in your appendix. That way, it's there if your prospective investor wants to go through the stats with a fine-tooth comb.
Wrath: Leaving out critical information
Your charts need to stand on their own. If you've emailed your pitch deck to an investor, you won't be there to explain the context behind them. This means you need to make your charts as easy to understand and complete as possible.
Annotate your axes, legend and units to keep things clear. And of course, always say where you got your data from if you didn't collect it first-hand.
Sloth: Cramming everything into one chart
Everything you have on your pitch deck has to add value. If it doesn't, you need to ask why it's there.
Take a look at this chart. If you need a ruler, a strong pair of reading glasses and an hour of free time to decipher the data, you need to go back to the start.
Coco Chanel once said to look in the mirror and take one thing off before leaving the house. You need to apply the same principle to your charts and graphs too.
Want to see all the seven deadly sins in action? Of course you do. Behold this'sloth' abomination in my PlayBook!
Confusing colours? Check. Confusing data? Check? Confusing sources? Check and check. Print this table out and pin it to your workstation as an example of what not to do when designing your pitch deck.
If you want to see some absolutely fantastic business charts, be sure to visit The Economist. With a few exceptions (hey, nobody's perfect), it's the gold standard when it comes to presenting data.
In summary: Think about your charts
A chart may not seem like a big deal when putting your deck together, but it can make or break your bid for investment.
A sloppy, confusing or irrelevant chart can tell an investor more about you than you might think.
Choose your charts carefully, keep the data simple and don't try and manipulate things to make your business look better.
Always know your main idea. What do you need to convince your audience of?
What's next? Cracking your pitch story
In the next part, we'll be looking at how to define the narrative of your pitch deck. Every pitch deck needs to tell a tale.
Will yours lead to a happy ending or be a gruesome horror story? Let's find out in the next PlayBook.
The complete guide to different types of data charts and visuals and where to use them in a VC start-up pitch deck. From Jonathan Bullock, ex Google Chief of staff & SoftBank COO