Do Investors Like Slideuments?

Does ANYBODY like slideuments? Really? I’d be surprised.

Yet this was the question I found myself faced with today at Le Camping, the new start-up accelerator in Paris, where I was mentoring some of the bright young entrepreneurs who were preparing their investor pitch.

The trouble is, they had received conflicting advice. I had given them a primer on presentation skills (which you can review here), so they were preparing talks with simple visuals which are aimed at supporting an oral message. However, another mentor told them that investors always want a printed copy of their slides on which they can take notes, and the slides need to stand alone, i.e. include lots of text.

Faced with this apparent conflict, I was asked how to resolve it. Here are my thoughts on this.

Firstly, the other mentor is clearly right about a few things. Investors generally do like to have a handout on which they can take notes, so if you’ve prepared a nice slide with a black background and six words, and if you’ve printed full-page slides for your investors, they won’t have much room to write notes, but they will need plenty of notes to complement your simple slides. So clearly that’s not ideal.

The conclusion could be that you should use a white background for your slides, leave plenty of open space, and still print them full-page.

That’s not my conclusion.

I would make the point that slides are not handouts. Or at least, good slides are not good handouts. Yes, give the investors a document which gives them the overview of your pitch long after they have forgotten what you said, and allows them to take notes while you are pitching. Yes, make sure it follows the presentation closely. But no, what is on the wall does not have to be what’s on the piece of paper.

What if you want to include a short video in your pitch? Can you print that? No, of course not. You also can’t print a product demo. But if you prepare a suitable document for your investors to follow, then you can include some notes about the video and the demo.

So I would recommend producing some simple, clear and attractive visuals to support your pitch, and to help you to hook the investors and keep their attention; and separately to produce a document which you can print as a handout, with space for notes, which follows the same storyboard as your slides, and potentially includes the slides themselves.

Usually what I would do is to put notes in the notes pages (in Keynote or PowerPoint), and print the notes pages to a PDF. This way, on each page, there is the slide at the top, followed by the notes, and followed by white space (assuming you didn’t fill the page with notes). More details here.

What’s the alternative? Forget all the cognitive science and evidence, and bombard the investors with slide after slide of bullet points? No. Investors generally have the attention span of a goldfish, unless you have hooked them – in which case they will be all ears.

You have to hook them in the first 30 seconds, and keep them hooked. It’s tough. These guys see entrepreneurs all the time, and the vast majority of pitches are unsuccessful, so they are partly expecting you to fail, and will seize on any weakness like sharks smelling blood in a lagoon. And they all have smartphones with which you are competing for their attention.

So you have to hook them, and you have to stand out from the crowd to be memorable. As Seth Godin would say, you have to be a purple cow. If you’re not memorable, you won’t get funding. So while the other mentor tells entrepreneurs that they must all produce 10-slide slideuments with a white background and lots of text, I tell them to stand out from the crowd – while remembering to adapt their pitch to their audience.

But adapting to your audience doesn’t just mean feeding them the same stuff they always eat. That’s not necessarily what they like the most. If that were the case, the Japanese would hate Garr Reynolds’ slides, but in fact they love them. My cat has the same boring dried cat food every day, but give her a sniff of an empty yogurt pot and she’ll be all over you. Investors see boring standard cookie-cutter slideuments all the time. Does that mean they’d hate it if you pitched to them like Steve Jobs?

I don’t believe that at all. The entrepreneurs I’ve coached have all had great success with a proper visual presentation, which helped them to rise above the crowd of slideument-wielding wannabes. Try hooking investors with a hail of bullet points. Just try it. It’s like trying to hook a fish with a hula hoop. They’ll be bored before you know it – and investors have a much lower tolerance of mediocrity than most people.

Bore an investor, and your only chance of funding is if you’re so bad he pays you to stop.

Instead, be memorable, select your points carefully and give them the maximum impact with strong visuals, ensure you are answering the questions in the investors’ minds instead of just explaining what your product does (you’re pitching an investment opportunity, not a product), and give the investors a suitable handout which follows the same storyboard and leaves space for them to take notes. Far better to give them good slides and a good handout than a single deck which is good for nothing.

What do you think? Are you an investor? What kind of pitches do you best appreciate?

6 Responses to Do Investors Like Slideuments?

  1. Anke Tröder says:

    At my college we regularly organize investor pitches and funding competitions for budding entrepreneurs. The audience/investors usually are bankers, marketing people and old school industrialists, and they see very many talks…

    They all want different things, but what all of them do NOT want is the stiff and academic science behind an idea. They do not want to see a business plan that has been transferred to 56 slides.

    Slides ≠ business plan ≠ handouts.

    For the past few years now we have been getting the feedback that our entrepreneurs/presenters stand out (both through the quality of their business plans *and* their visual pitches).

    Even if to a group of bankers the figures tell the story and they are *used* to reading spreadsheets or info ridden slides, they will care to listen more if they do not have to dig for the story themselves.

    So yes. Pitch visually. But use as few slides as possible. *You* need to be convincing. A presentation is more often than not nothing but an excuse to *see you*.

    And make sure you also think about the holes in the cheese well before an investor starts picking at your golden bright idea.

  2. Jakob says:

    I can offer a second opinion: I like slideuments. There is a place for them in certain communication situations where they actually satisfy all constraints best. At least much better than making the “beautiful photos with slick type” ubiquitous.

    On a continuum of toolkits they can lie between a Tuftian session and a ballroom style/Garr Reynolds kind of visual reduction. The only problem with slideuments is: You are all doing it wrong!

    You have taken the worst practice examples of lazy communicators to become your straw man to beat down with a presentation style that is en vogue, instead of analysing the potential of each presentation style to satisfy various constraints.

    Take a group of scientific peers. You want to educate them to create better presentations, but you must bear in mind the resources they have at their disposal. One that is very scarce is time. Now, being in the field researchers have some design experience with another visual medium, because they must present at poster sessions sooner or later in their career. So empowering their design skills on poster presentations and transferring them to a projector based format is a cost and time efficient thing to do – better still, they don’t have to make too great a leap of faith into a design territory they don’t feel comfortable in.

    What you could do is teach them to create documents where information is hierarchically scaled. Much like a poster where there is a modularity to the information, there needs to be modularity in the information structure of a slideument as well, but now the vagrant point (or zooming factor) of the camera selects the level of detail that is visible on the screen. During the presentation the audience does not get distracted by the text, but in print the 10pt font text block accompaning that beautiful visualization in the top right side of the handout all of a sudden reinforces what the audience heard when seeing that visualization during the presentation.

    There are all kinds of cognitive processes you could leverage with a design approach like this, spatial recognition being one of them, to enhance retention rates, but I’ll just leave that for further discussions. Let’s just say I feel we still can find lots of areas to improve on in presentation design. We only just got started, really.

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Hi Jakob,

      Thanks for this thought-provoking comment. Slideuments have their place, if they are well done. I am producing one right now for a customer, as it happens. However, it is intended as a kind of brochure which works just as well on-screen as it does when printed, my customer will share it with his prospects via email, and it is absolutely not intended to be projected onto a wall for a talk. For that purpose, a slideument is often a good solution.

      Perhaps we need to reconsider the semantics here. Garr Reynolds coined the term ‘slideument’ as a pejorative term for the busy slides which are so often the norm, which aim to kill two birds with one stone (support an oral presentation, and act as handouts) but end up killing none. I wouldn’t say we all choose the worst examples – the normal example of a title plus a number of bullet points, which accounts for the majority of slides out there, is perfectly bad enough in communication terms without being an extreme example. But indeed the answer is not always a pretty picture and slick type, and that’s only very rarely the kind of thing we produce for our customers.

      I would agree with you that we only just got started. PowerPoint has been big for 20 years, but it’s only in the last five years or so that we’ve started to see people value good design with experts like Garr and Nancy publishing accessible and mindset-changing books on the subject. There’s a lot more to come. And it’s up to us to make it happen.

      I look forward to more provocative comments from you!


      • Jakob says:

        Nothing like a good dose of hyperbole to spice up an argument 😉

        I know that the professionals don’t use one stop shop solutions. So my rant may be preaching to the choir. Nonetheless I find that the way Garr framed the term slideument has turned out detrimental to the public perception of how to approach communication design. People shouldn’t mistake presentation design as a “one solution is best” paradigm for communication but as a labor intensive process of figuring out what works best in specific communication situations.

        Turning the slideument into a straw man instead of pointing to the specific functional deficiencies that one has to take into account when using them is how I perceive the term is often used nowadays. And in my view bad presentations by themselves are a perfect example of lack of general media literacy on behalf of users, as opposed to a domain specific lack of knowledge.

        Thanks for being such a good sport in this debate. I’d love to see an example of how you blend media in the future. Sounds like you found some pretty useful features that translate between channels.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sergey Kozlov, Boris Bäsler. Boris Bäsler said: I agree with @philpresents. I don’t think, anybody likes Slideuments! – Do Investors Like Slideuments? « Phil Presents […]

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