Do Investors Like Slideuments?

February 18, 2011

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?

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