For a bit of venture capital history, the pitch presentation became fashionable in the late 1990s during the dotcom boom, when investors were frequently buying into businesses that had website traffic and no money, and no business model they could use to get money.

The pitch presentation is a 20-minute (or so) slide presentation, usually done live but with either PowerPoint or Keynote slides in the background, that tells investors about a new business.

The best writing anywhere on this is in Guy Kawasaki’s “Art of the Pitch” chapter in his book The Art of the Start.

The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki Read more about this book…

And I’m happy to say that Kawasaki has posted much of the same material on his blog, in the post named The 10/20/30 rule for PowerPoint presentations. He says on that post:

It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting — and venture capitalists are very normal. (The only difference between you and a venture capitalist is that he is getting paid to gamble with someone else’s money.) If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about are:

  1. Problem
  2. Your solution
  3. Business model
  4. Underlying magic/technology
  5. Marketing and sales
  6. Competition
  7. Team
  8. Projections and milestones
  9. Status and timeline
  10. Summary and call to action

Of course that’s an excellent general guideline, but you’ll customize and tailor it to fit your exact needs.

For example, you don’t need a slide on the business model unless your model is unusual. If you’re buying things and reselling them with a profit margin, or you’re providing a service and making a profit, or manufacturing something that you can sell for a profit, then ignore the business model. If it isn’t obvious, then you have to explain it. That comes up most often with website businesses.

Or, if you’re doing a presentation for your own team, summarizing the key points in your business plan, you don’t necessarily include slides showing the team, or the business model, or the underlying magic. Those descriptions are for outsiders, not for internal use.

Always be flexible. Don’t change the truth for a presentation, but do present first that part of the truth that answers the audiences’ more important questions. Make the presentation easy for people to follow, and highlight the most important things, not all the details.

Please use good presentation technique. Give people pictures to look at that are related to your topic, but not lots of bullet points to read while you talk.

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds Read more about this book…
Beyond Bullet Pointsby Cliff Atkinson Read more about this book…

PowerPoint slide presentations can be terribly boring. Read Garr Reynolds’ book Presentation Zen if you can, or Cliff Atkinson’s book Beyond Bullet Points, or Seth Godin’s excellent post Really Bad PowerPoint, or, at the very least, Guy Kawasaki’s chapter on presentations in The Art of the Start.

Don’t forget that you might be using a slide presentation as the only output of your core business plan. That would be unusual, but it could work very well. Instead of bullet points or an elevator speech, wrap it up in a slide presentation. Then you’ll be ready when the pitch moment comes.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.