Pitch decks are often content heavy, filled with facts and figures about a business, strategy or concept. So when it comes to making them easier to read and understand, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” certainly goes a long way. We talk to Thomas Richards of Parallel about the purpose, importance and design of pitch decks.

Parallel is a strategy and funding firm based in Sydney, Australia, that helps entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses move from their current to desired market position. Working across consulting and venture capital, Parallel develops business strategies, helps companies establish their unique selling point, and facilitates funding.

Thomas Richards

Thomas Richards

Thomas Richards founded Parallel in 2016 to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs setting up new businesses and investors funding new businesses. He and his team are currently helping entrepreneurs develop a variety of new business ideas and platforms including a personal training app and property management app, as well as advancing existing companies, such as a co-working space, brand agency and law practice. These entrepreneurs approach Parallel with their idea, and Parallel works with them to develop the concept, viability, strategy and business plan before pitching to potential investors for funding.

Parallel Website

Parallel's website

So how does Parallel approach potential investors?

With the all-important pitch deck.

“The purpose of a pitch deck is to get the attention of investors and to entice them to take a meeting,” Thom says. “Most sophisticated investors won’t make a funding decision based solely on a pitch deck, but rather based on their reading of the person seeking funding – in which case you need to get the investor in a meeting. So give them enough data and information, demonstrate you have done your homework, and encourage them to come speak with you or your team.”

Thom places great emphasis on the value of design for Parallel and for the companies and startups he works with and represents.

Design is very important for getting your message across – in conceptual thinking, presentation and user experience. It also gives a business personality.

For Thom, attention to design demonstrates a level of creative and conceptual thinking that can reflect the way someone approaches business in general. “A drab pitch deck with minimal information and unconsidered design sends the message that this is how they approach all parts of their business. Whereas, if someone has thought about design and presentation, they can typically think more creatively when they get thrown a curve ball in their day-to-day operations,” Thom explains.

Otion pitch deck

Get the look with this pitch deck template on Canva: Healthy Food Marketing Plan Presentation.

Colorful Healthy Food Marketing Plan Presentation

Try this template now on Canva

He therefore takes a design-led approach to his pitch decks to accentuate and draw attention to key information. “A pitch deck is an overview of the business and demonstrates market fit and business potential. I keep information to a minimum and highlight the most relevant and important numbers and keywords to hit home stats, figures, and messages. I don’t waffle on too much about the services of the business as that can be elaborated once you’ve got the meeting.”

Thom does this through a variety of visual instruments because, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. “You can convey a lot of information very quickly with visuals,” Thom says.

9 tips to designing a presentation for your start-up

1. Keep the brand simple for now

A brand identity can be a large investment. “Branding is tough at this early stage of a business because generally when you’re doing your pitch deck you’ve got no money.” However, as Thom discussed, it is important to convey the personality of the business, which will not only help to establish the future brand but also demonstrate that you value design and creativity.

If you don’t yet have an official fully developed brand, then Thom’s advice is to keep it simple. Choose a two or three-color palette that expresses the brand. Like visuals, color has the power to convey and communicate meanings and messages without words, and can influence how a potential investor might perceive or interpret the personality of the brand. The relationship between a brand and color hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the color being the right ‘fit’ for the particular brand.

Otion colour

Communicate the personality of your brand with a striking color. Have a go with this Red Social Media Strategy Presentation template on Canva.

Red Social Media Strategy Presentation

Try this template now on Canva

Red, for example, is an energetic and lively color that can symbolize strength, power and confidence, which is why Thom used it for the pitch deck for OTION, a new mobile technology platform for personal trainers.

2. Accentuate numbers with charts

Always consider that your audience is time-poor. They don’t have the hours in the day to wade through paragraphs and pages in search of the most relevant and pivotal information; rather it’s your job to make it easy for them. “It’s really important to hammer home the potential of the business, as well as its different features, operations, staffing, budget, etc.,” Thom says. “Using a chart or graph is a visual way to highlight and emphasize key figures, in contrast to writing it in a paragraph, which doesn’t have the same effect.”

Managed charts

Pie charts are one of Thom’s go-to devices. “A pie chart is an easy way to show target market percentages or spending distribution. Just use a bright color on the section you want to draw attention to.”

Another way is to color only the statistic you want to highlight and include that number in the middle of the pie chart.

Aussie Bodies pie chart

Emphasize key figures with charts using this Pink Blue Art Supplies Product Presentation template.

Pink Blue Art Supplies Product Presentation

Try this template now on Canva

3. Reduce and simplify text with icons

Icons can serve two purposes: they inject personality into a pitch deck and they convey information quickly and without words. “Icons work like headings and allow your audience to skim content for key points,” Thom explains. They can also be used to identify categories or classifications, at the same time reducing text overall.  

Iconography can be done as part of a branding identity. But if funds are lacking, as they usually are at this stage, they can be sourced from an online database, such as that in Canva or Noun Project. There are thousands of icons out there, so choose ones that are relevant to the message. “There are lots that are fun and simple and just enough to convey your message.”

Managed icons

Take advantage of these templates with the right icons for an insightful presentation: Business Goals Icons Wide Presentation and Purple Education Icons Wide Presentation.

4. Compare competitors with an XY graph

Competitor analysis is an important way for potential investors to understand how a new business will fit into an existing market landscape, and can be done on price point, location, and niche, amongst other differentiating factors. “The objective is to show that your offering fits in a unique space compared to its competitors,” Thom explains. “It’s a useful positioning tool when your audience doesn’t yet understand what a business does, especially in a new space.”

Thom uses an XY graph, giving the X and Y axes different attributes depending on the offering and market, and positions potential competitors logos in accordance with those attributes. The goal of course is to show off the business as being better than it its competitors based on the two chosen metrics.

AirBnB graph

5. Break down information with tiled layouts

Tiled layouts can be used to break large sections of text into smaller sections, making the content easier to read and digest. “Small bite-sized pieces of information can go a long way, and eliminates the need to elaborate across multiple pages,” Thom says.  

Simply divide a page into six to ten sections, differentiating the tiles with borders or alternating colors, and a brief summary and icon in each section.

Managed tiles

Get the grid layout look with this pitch deck template on Canva: Blue Icons Process Infographic Presentation.

Turquoise Icons Process Infographic Presentation

Try this template now on Canva

6. Chart milestones on a timeline

Timelines are a visual way to demonstrate project progress, milestones, spending and rollouts. “They essentially map out what a business will do over the next 12 months, for instance, including where funding will be sent and the milestones that need to be hit. Again it’s an easy way to read what can be quite dense content otherwise.”

A timeline doesn’t need to be elaborate; it can be two or three sections with key milestones listed in each.  

Otion timeline

7. Represent market trends with a word cloud

A word cloud (or perhaps more familiarly, a tag cloud, which is used to depict keyword metadata) can be a useful format to visually represent market trends, quickly conveying the most prominent of those. Word clouds can be produced in a range of formats, for example using a Tetris-like layout of words, or by placing words in circles with differing sizes to reflect the popularity of the trend.  

Otion word cloud

8. Show off the team with professional photographs

The purpose of pitch decks is to introduce potential funders to a concept or business idea, and to stoke their interest enough that they will want to take a meeting. As Thom discussed, the investor’s perception of the founder and/or team behind the business – their passion, commitment and experience – will heavily influence their decision on whether or not to invest. “Team photos are important because the majority of investors will take interest in a company purely because of the people behind it. An idea can be fantastic, but if there’s no one creative or driven enough to deliver then it’s not going to work,” Thom says.

So, introduce the founder and the team with photographs that convey their professionalism. In his pitch decks, Thom also provides relevant information about each team member: their experience, motivation for starting or contributing to the business, what their role will be short and long term and their tasks and responsibilities.

Introduce the amazing team behind your business with this Black Linear Photographic Marketing Plan Presentation template on Canva.

Black Linear Photographic Marketing Plan Presentation

Try this template now on Canva

9. Differentiate sections with compelling images

Photographs – either stock images or your own – can contribute to a more visually compelling pitch deck, as well as establishing the brand and the personality of the business. On a design level, they can also be used to differentiate sections and give your audience a break from text.

Otion images

Create your own visually stunning presentation on Canva with this Earthy Mountaineering Presentation. 

Yellow and White Photo Marketing Proposal Presentation

Try this template now on Canva

Choose imagery that reflects and expresses the activity of the business or to reflect the target market. Like all the other visual instruments, images help convey content and key messages without words.

One of Thom’s tips is to size your images to fill the length of width of the slide, edge to edge, rather than floating on white space, for greater impact and a more professional look.

One last tip: if you’re emailing your pitch deck, save it as a PDF so that formatting, fonts and imagery remain intact.  

Rebecca is a freelance writer, researcher, and design historian. She has a Masters in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons The New School for Design, New York, and studies cultural history through the lens of architecture, design, and decorative arts.