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  • Writer's pictureMike Lingle at Rocket Pro Forma

Top 5 Pitch Deck Tips for Non-Designers


I help a lot of founders with their pitch decks. In fact, most of my startups were presentation apps., and before I focused on financial projections I ran a pitch deck business.

I'm not a graphic designer, but I've learned to make decent slides that raise money. In fact, one of the pitch decks I worked on last year was used to raise over $200 million.

Here are a few best practices that I’ve established over the years when creating startup pitch decks:

  1. Google Slides is usually the best option

  2. Create slides that look good and are easy to update

  3. Reduce the amount of info on each slide

  4. Use larger text

  5. Use images, icons, and diagrams wherever possible

  6. Use animations to slowly introduce information

  7. Use the Theme Builder for colors, fonts, and slide layouts

  8. Pick the right colors

  9. Choose sexy font pairs

  10. Practice, practice, practice

1. Google Slides is usually the best option

Pitch Decks are living documents that we need to update regularly—and often in a hurry. For the most part this means tasteful combos of fonts, images, and layouts (see below for my specific suggestions).

We don't necessarily need the best graphic design and animations.

For the most part I find that Google Slides is good enough visually. Google Slides also provides the best collaboration experience, along with killer version control (meaning you can roll back to pretty much any individual edit).

Google Slides does have limitations regarding charts and smart art.

PowerPoint is a close second. It offers a wider feature set, but a poorer collaboration experience.

Keynote looks the best, but is neither portable nor collaborative. And I find that most pitch decks don't need whatever extra boost we think we're getting in design.

The rest of this post will assume that we're using Google Slides, but the tips apply no matter which presentation app we choose.

2. Create slides that look good and are easy to update

My goal is always to create slides that look great and that are easy for us to update ourselves. Remember how we need to update our slides all the time and at the last minute?

90% of the visual appeal is in the choice of fonts, images, and layouts.

Be careful when working with graphic designers. They have a tendency to create slides that look spectacular...but can't be edited easily. I've found it's better to dial down the visuals a bit in order to keep the slide editable.

For the most part this means tasteful combos of fonts, images, and layouts (see below for my specific suggestions).

But first, here's a trick I use all the time:

Cropping images with a shape can improve the visual appeal of slides. In Google Slides we can select the image, click the cropping tool, and then choose a shape to apply.

  • Use both the yellow handle(s) and the cropping feature (double-click on any image) to reshape the frame.

  • There is a limitation in Google Slides where rotating the frame also rotates the image (which can make it confusing when we try to change the image).

For more complicated mattes, it may be best to use PNG layers to overlay photos with a transparent section. In this slide, the background image is sitting underneath editable text, circles with shadows, an orange line on the left, and a blue PNG splash shape on the right:

We can then simply swap out the background without touching any of the layered elements. This gives us incredible power to quickly update our own slides:

3. Reduce the amount of info on each slide

Determine the use of this Pitch Deck:

1) If the Pitch Deck will be emailed, then the viewer will read it on their own and therefore the slides require more text. In this case the slide needs to tell the story.

2) If the Pitch Deck will be presented live, then each slide needs to work as a platform for you to create a personal connection with the audience. In this case, it’s important for the you to tell the story.

In this case, text on the slide competes with the your ability to tell the story. Every time you switch slides the audience will stop listening to you for as long as it takes them to read all the new text. So in live pitches your slides actually start to compete with you for attention.

We normally don't have two separate versions of our pitch deck—one for email and one for live presenting—so I recommend using the least amount of text possible that still works for emailing.

I avoid reading the slides to my audience when I'm presenting live. Find different words to tell your story. Otherwise you'll find that the audience gets bored because you're not adding value (they could just read the slides themselves).

If I do have a text-heavy slide that I want my audience to read, I'll tell them, "Go ahead and read this slide" and then I'll give them 30 seconds before I speak again. This felt weird the first few times I did it (because of the long silence) but it works incredibly well.

A good trick that I use when creating startup pitch decks is to do a brain dump and write really long, text-heavy slides. Then I go back and cut again and again until I get each slide down to just a few short bullet points.

Here's an example of a slide that works for both email and in-person: