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Pitch Deck Narrative


Once upon a time...

PART 1 – how to outline your pitch deck

Once upon a time, there was a scaleup company that needed investment.

Our brave heroes took their pitch deck and embarked on a long and hazardous journey to the valley of the Venture Capitalists. They did this to get the funding they needed to grow and bring joy and love to prospective buyers across the world.

However, a dragon ate them. The end.

You may laugh, but there is a fine art of storytelling you need to consider when building your pitch deck. A high-quality narrative will give your deck substance and have your prospective investor hanging on your every word.

In this playbook, we're going to look at how to outline your pitch deck, and I'm also going to let you in on a little secret that will improve your pitching efforts by over 50%. Shh, don't tell anyone.

Got your attention? Let's start building that narrative!


A beginning, middle and end

Think of all the books and films you loved as a kid and love now. They all follow a classic narrative arc, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Yes, even the really complicated films like Tenet. I think.

I know I've talked about it a lot in the articles I've written so far, but it's essential to keep things simple. I've seen many excellent scaleups fail to get investment because they've overthought things at the funding stage.

Making sure your deck has a solid beginning, middle, and end will make your life so much easier.


The beginning/setup

Snow White takes refuge in the forest with seven dwarfs to hide from her stepmother, the wicked queen.

This should be your big call to adventure. Paint a picture of the world as it currently stands and draw your audience in. You ultimately want them to be in agreement with you.

Then suddenly… the issue comes into view. This could be the tornado that's hurtling towards Kansas or Darth Vader bursting through the door of the Death Star. You want the problem that you want to solve to be in full view, and you want your audience to feel that pain.

Figuratively speaking of course, not in real life. You want an investment, not a restraining order.


The middle/confrontation

Snow White is more beautiful than her evil stepmother, so disguised as a peddler, she poisons Snow White with an apple.

Next comes the middle of the story and, in my opinion, the hardest part to nail. This is usually where things can get messy, so you need to keep your narrative simple.

This part is where you will share your solution and how you're progressing as a business. This is the long road to Mordor, Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson in the trial of his life, Huckleberry Finn escaping down the Mississippi River.

Many businesses are very wishy-washy at this stage, but you don't have to be. Polarising your audience can be a great thing and means your pitch deck is one that they remember.


The end/resolution

The handsome prince, who has fallen in love with Snow White, awakens her from the spell with 'love's first kiss'.

A book or film's final line can make it into history. Even if you've not sat through Gone With the Wind, odds are you know what the last spoken words are.

The same needs to go for your pitch deck. If your prospective investor is sitting through several pitches, you want to go out with a bang, so you're first in line when arranging a second meeting.

Build your momentum and make sure everyone understands the benefits working with your scaleup can bring. You want them to leave the presentation with FOMO – fear of missing out.

My top tip? Plan your ending and call to action first. This makes it easier to work your way back.


Think about what you want your audience to feel and do

We humans are a simple bunch of creatures. Show us photos of fluffy kittens in the rain, and we cry. show us photos of fluffy kittens wearing silly hats, and we laugh.

You can use this to your advantage in your deck. What emotions do you want your audience to feel, and what can you say and do to get them there?

It's all about taking your investors on a journey; you want them to go from one mindset to another in a handful of slides. You could have a perfectly designed, well-structured pitch that makes your audience feel nothing. And trust me, that's the kiss of death when it comes to funding.

Let's split our deck into six:

  • The vision. Your focus here is to get your audience excited about your big idea. Even if they don't understand it, the passion needs to be there

  • The hook. This presents the obstacle which needs to be overcome. You want your audience to care, which makes it an excellent place for emotive language and powerful anecdotes

  • The essence. Here, you need to provide your credibility and make the audience understand what you do. Keep your language simple and data-driven

  • The evidence. Tensions are high, and you need to capitalise on this. You have to show your product is in demand, stronger than the competition and has bags of potential

  • The plan. You're winding down, and it's important to show your end results as well as your plans for the future. Repetition works well as you refer back to the start of the deck

  • The ask. Last section – make it count! Tell your audience exactly what you want and persuade them to act

Follow this plan, and you'll have a pitch deck that any of the great film directors would be proud of. Boom! Take that, Hollywood.


PART 2 – The magic move – how to supercharge your pitch

At the start of this article, I mentioned there's a way to make your pitch over 50% better. I hope you didn't think I'd forgotten!

I've been around a long time and seen a lot of pitch decks. The sad truth is many founders get their deck wrong before starting.

Why is this? They're following the wrong advice.

Many sub-par entrepreneurs have created articles that say – 'this is what you want to put in your pitch', focusing on 'here is a problem – this is the solution'.

The issue this brings is that while it's technically accurate, it doesn't explain why the audience should care about your scaleup. This leads to a harder sell and a reduced chance of getting that second meeting.

(Not that I want to brag, but my article about pitch deck elements rocks – you should check it out.)

The truly great entrepreneurs of our time, the Steve Jobs', the Elon Musks', the Marc Benioffs' take a different approach when it comes to pitching. And this is what I want to talk to you about now.

Presenting… the Magic Move.

Follow these six (and a bit) steps, and you'll be well on your way to investors showering you with cold hard cash. I've included some examples from Tesla so you can see how everything comes together.

Remember, these are steps, not slides. Weave these into your pitch deck wherever you see fit to do. It may be the case that you can deliver these steps purely by voiceover – making them great for elevator pitches and other talks too!


1. Introduce the hero

Last night I slept in the factory to solve an assembly line issue.

Here you introduce the main protagonist – your business or you as a founder.

They're relatable, real and yet also somehow uniquely special. It's a bit of a challenge to get right, but when it works, it works!


2. Name the big change

It's not a question of if fossil fuels will run out… just when.

This is the truth underpinning your startup – a big, undeniable truth that is changing the world.


2/3. Validate the truth

Raise your hands if you think most people will not be driving a gas car in the future?

As well as the six main steps, there are some transition steps that will add extra power to your pitch. Here you need to make sure your audience agrees the change in step 2 is real. If you move on without doing this, it will be harder to get the ask at the end.

This is where delivering the pitch with a voiceover is good, as you can read the room before moving on.


3. Tease the potential future

Imagine a world of self-driving cars powered by the sun…

What is the future going to be like? Tantalise your audience with a revelation that will make their lives easier and that ties in with the big change.


4. Show the stakes

Every single US car manufacturer has gone broke at some point.

We're all risk-averse to a degree, and this is the step where you need to overcome the audience's potential unwillingness to take a chance on your scaleup. Tell them how change will create big winners and why they need to act.


5. Establish the challenge

Car design is not hard… it's designing the factory that is hard.

What real-world problems will bring your business and its investors closer to success when solved?


5/6. Expose the villain

Car companies, big oil and governments are scared of change.

You've talked about the hero; now it's time to introduce the villain. Who is blocking a better future and causing problems for everyone?


6. Ask the question

So we thought, what if we built self-driving EVs that are safer, faster, cheaper and better looking than gas cars?

Introduce your solution as a question and explain how your product features overcome all obstacles.

My top tip: Use the line 'so we thought, what if we built…' to make writing this line a cinch.


6/7. Bring the evidence

We will reach full self-driving in the next X years.

Facts are your friend here. Explain how your product will defeat the villain with facts and evidence. Getting there will be hard, of course – but it will be a worthwhile and profitable endeavour.

By showing your audience the bigger picture, you're in a great position to engage investors and get them intrigued by what you do.


Plan, plan and plan again!

I've worked with many companies that are focused more on the design than the ultimate story when it comes to pitch decks.

Just throw down ten or twenty good-looking slides… job done; gimme the money please.

However, thinking about your narrative and the story you want to tell really does make a difference. Not only this, but a well-written, highly-structured pitch deck will reflect well on you as a founder too.

In the next article, I'll show you how to take what you've learnt so far and storyboard a pitch deck that will bring results. Post-it notes at the ready for this one!


PART 3 – How to storyboard your pitch deck to tell the perfect tale

I have showed you how to create an outline for a pitch deck that told the story of your business.  The next step? Putting it all together to create a step-by-step storyboard.

When you think of storyboards, you might think of action movies, cartoons and even company explainer videos. However, a storyboard can work wonders for planning your deck too.

I’ve seen many scaleups jump right into Google Slides when it comes to creating their pitch decks, but the reality is, this can do more harm than good.

A decent storyboard means you can plan your slides, understand the relationship between them and visualise how each element will look.

On average, you have about 45 minutes to present a pitch. This means you need to make every slide count.

So dim the lights, dig those post-it notes out of the stationery cupboard and get the espresso brewing. It’s time to tell your business story…


15 steps to storyboard satisfaction

‘Did I hear you right, JB? 15 steps? I’m creating a pitch deck here, not an Academy Award-nominated short!’

Yep, I heard the collective eye roll from here. The good news is these steps are quick and easy to understand. Plus with a little bit of practice, you can skip straight from step 1 to 11.

I’m not a complete sadist, you know.

Let’s look at the steps you need to consider…


0. Complete your core strategy

Get this part right, and creating your pitch deck becomes a whole lot easier.

By core strategy, I mean the elements that will make up the ‘how’ of your pitch deck. Your strategic soundbites and your elevator pitch, as well as your SOAR analysis and top-down case logic.

You’ll know what fundamental elements you need to cover in each slide when you have this info to hand.


1. Draw out your outline pitch plan

Did you read the previous article in this series? If yes, well done – gold star for you.

If not, go and look now. I’m not in a mad rush to be anywhere. I’ll wait.

Done it? Good. This article shows you how to outline the beginning, middle and end of your pitch, as well as how you can use ‘The Magic Move’ to make your audience stand up and pay attention. If it’s good enough for Elon, it’s good enough for all of us.

Having a solid strategy and outline makes it easier to put your pitch deck together and means you can move straight to the end of the guide.


2. Turn core building blocks into ‘post-it note’ headings

Do you have to use post-it notes here? It honestly depends on what works for you.

If you want to use post-it notes, by all means do. If you prefer to keep everything digital, an app like Google Keep, Microsoft Sticky Notes or Notezilla can work too.

In a previous article, we looked at what slides to include in your pitch deck. When you know what slides you want to include, turn each one into a post-it note and stick it on your wall/computer/co-founder/dog.

All you need on each note is a one or two-word heading at this point. 

We’ll flesh this out in a bit.


3. Add extra post-it notes slides

You’ve got your core slides sorted; now it’s time to add the extras. For example, you may want to provide your patents or include testimonials from customers.

Scribble your extras onto your post-its. Remember, you can add or remove them later as your storyboard evolves.


4. Divide your post-its into beginning, middle and end

Now you have your content, you need to put it in order. Decide which slides you need to have at the start, what will be at the end and what will be in between.

My last article goes into more detail about what needs to go where. You should start with your vision, move on to the challenges, talk about your solution and finally, include your call to action.

Remember – you want to aim for a total of ten slides for seed-stage pitch decks and 20 for later-stage scaleups. Any more than this, and you’ll either rush through your deck or risk the cleaners barging in while you’re halfway through delivering it.


5. Start at the end

Did you ever watch Columbo? Every episode started with the crime being committed so the audience could focus on how the criminal was caught, rather than who did it.

When creating your deck, it only feels natural to focus on the beginning first, but taking a different angle can lead to a huge payoff.

When you work on the end of your deck first, you can hone in on that all-important call to action and how you want your investors to feel.


6. Think through your beginning

When you’ve got your ending licked, it’s time to go back to the beginning. Many businesses try and be too clever with their opening gambit. You’re writing a pitch deck, not a Game of Thrones prequel.

Keep your beginning simple, use your end slides as inspiration and don’t forget to incorporate those Magic Move elements.


7. Add in the middle

The middle of a deck can often be messy, especially when you’re going for later-stage funding. I’ve seen many scaleups start really strong, only to completely go to pieces at this point.

Focus on what slides you want to include here. We’ll sort them into order later.

Don’t forget to check your pitch deck length as you go. As the middle of the deck is the hardest to summarise, it typically has the largest number of slides.


8. Use investment thesis to organise the middle

Next step – putting your middle slides in a logical order.

Investment thesis-driven logic can help you organise your slides by breaking down your mid-section. Think of the main areas you want to focus on and fit your individual slides into them. For example:



9. Put everything else into the appendix

Now you should have a relatively well-defined beginning, middle and end. Take one final sweep and see if there is anything that can be left out.

If anything doesn’t add value, it needs to go. Don’t be afraid to ‘kill your darlings’ here.

The good news is that you can use an appendix for any information that you think is supportive but doesn’t fall into the narrative arc of your main pitch deck. For example, your company history, sales pipelines or risk mitigation logic.

Your appendix needs to be well-thought-out and designed though. Don’t just use it as a dumping ground for the crap slides that didn’t make the final cut.


10. Update your overall narrative flow

You now have your story arc in place. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Now you can look at adding extras that will add sizzle to your slides. For example, anecdotes and soundbites, which we’ll look at in the next article.

You may decide to include a product demo here. If you do, make sure you’ve rehearsed it well and have a contingency plan in place. If the tech gremlins are on the prowl on the day you pitch, you need to have a backup.


11. Build your storyboard

Note: If you know your stuff when creating storyboards, you can jump to this stage straight from step 1.

It’s now time to start building your deck. Begin by creating your slide placeholders in your software of choice, making sure you’ve covered everything you need to talk about.

I’m often asked if it’s worth adding divider slides to split sections up. Don’t do this. They waste time and space, plus if your storytelling is on point, you don’t need them.


12. Think through slide-by-slide inspiration

Next, you can hand sketch out the rough outline of each slide. Don’t create them in PowerPoint or Google Slides just yet – you’re focusing more on key slide elements than artistic excellence.

Need some extra creative insight? Let my pitch deck analysis inspire you. Don’t be afraid to take a pitch deck structure and use it as your starting point.


13. Don’t forget your appendices

If you’re using an appendix, don’t forget to give it some love. How will you arrange it, what will each section look like, and who will be responsible for each slide in your leadership team?

If you want to go all out on your appendix, I recommend splitting it into five different sections:

  • Product and technology

  • People and organisation

  • Customer referrals and pipeline

  • Go-to-market

  • Financial model


14. Iterate, iterate, iterate

A good headline can make or break the rest of your slide and can be a helpful way of reiterating your pitch deck narrative.

Don’t fall into the trap of just using the topic of the slide as your headline. Your title is prime real estate which can add a lot of value to your presentation.

I always recommend drafting your slide headlines in Google Docs. That way, you can see if they work together and tell a story. Not only this, but your team can collaborate on the document and let you know if your headlines suck.

Did I say suck? I meant they can tell you how much your headlines rock and how much of a genius wordsmith you are.

You’re not going to nail the narrative on the first try here. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong – it means you’re one step closer to the perfect pitch deck.


In summary:  Get that story nailed down

You should (hopefully) now have a pitch deck story in place that would make Steven Spielberg jealous.

Don’t worry if you need to go back and forth between the steps – while my step-by-step storyboarding guide is designed to be linear in theory, it seldom is in practice.

Remember, the goal is a well-written and solid pitch deck… it doesn’t matter how you get to it, as long as it works for you.


What's next?  Short sexy summary soundbites

My next PlayBook is all about positioning your pitch deck. What soundbites and propositions can you take advantage of to tell a sensational story about your brand?  Read on.

A guide to writing a great start-up pitch presentation narrative and step by step slide storyboarding process. From Jonathan Bullock, ex Google Chief of staff & SoftBank COO

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