The benefits of taking responsibility for creating and delivering your company’s pitch book go beyond maximising potential investors’ interest in your offer. You also stand a good chance of coming out of it a more effective leader, as Christopher Volk explains.
One of the most important things business leaders ever do is to reduce their companies and ideas to just a few slides and thoughts designed to attract investor and lender capital. Well-crafted presentations convey professionalism that reflects the abilities of the leadership team. And a tight, easy-to-understand message is essential in order to deliver an impactful, compelling, and memorable investment proposition.
I started preparing pitch books for our businesses nearly 40 years ago, cutting my teeth on early versions of Aldus Persuasion and CorelDraw, later moving to PowerPoint. Presentations I have prepared were instrumental in raising equity from hundreds of investors for private funds, private companies, and three New York Stock Exchange initial public offerings. Eventually, our IPO presentations morphed into quarterly investor decks for our public shareholders that detailed our results and investment attributes. Not to be omitted, I designed pitch decks for an assortment of private and public debt issuances, together with accompanying rating agency presentations.
Slide preparation helped me be a better leader and strategist. Reducing the investment attributes of our businesses to a handful of images presented the opportunity to focus on what matters most to investors and lenders. Often, pitch book slide inspirations would come from our intended audience. Every audience response helped me sharpen our message. Ultimately, the thought process required to craft a quality presentation helped me and fellow leaders both define and hone our corporate core competencies as we simultaneously honed our messaging.
The Presentation Order
Over the course of working on hundreds of presentations, I came to follow some loose guidelines. The most important of these is the general presentation flow and keeping the main body of the deck short. The first rule? The number of core presentation slides should be no more than 20.
The slide order would typically be this:
Start with a summary slide describing the business and the investment opportunity together with expected returns and compelling attributes.
The slides in the body of your presentation build the case for your investment proposition. The information might include the market opportunity, leadership team, prior performance, competitive advantages, business model fundamentals, and other important things the audience needs to know, ordered to lead to a conclusion. Each slide should hold to a similar format, using a selected colour and font palette. Likewise, your text should be consistent. Full sentences are fine and so are truncated phrases, but not both. I also like to include “takeaways” on most or all slides in the body of my presentations. “Takeaways” are footers at the bottom of slides that contain a concise interpretation or summation of the slide material. If there is one thing you want your audience to take away from the slide, this is what needs to be said. But keep it short. Like bullet points, the text should be on a single line.
Expected Return Slide:
In raising investor equity, I typically had two concluding slides. The first contained a range of likely returns, often presented as a data table showing estimates given changes in two key financial model variables. Investor returns come from three sources: distributed cash flows, reinvested cash flows, and changes in investment value. The first two sources pose the least risk to final performance estimates, whereas investment appreciation is subject to a higher level of risk. Often, I would add colour with a verbal commentary, noting what I believed the worst returns might be. For the most recent company I formed, my expectation of the worst-possible annual return approximated 9 per cent, with an expected return of around 20 per cent. We ultimately delivered a 26 per cent annual return.
The final slide provides a chance to bookend the presentation. You began with an opening slide that essentially told your audience what they were about to see. Then you showed it to them and now you can conclude with an ending slide noting the highlights of what they saw and why they might agree to invest with you or lend you money.
The core slide presentation may consist of a maximum of 20 slides, but having an appendix with added slides is a good idea. Appendix slides are more detail-oriented and supportive. Often, we would prepare appendix slides to use for anticipated audience questions. Appendix slides are the secret weapon, because they are not in the core presentation, but using them in response to anticipated questions will elevate presentation credibility and provide evidence of your preparation.
The Presentation Format
When it comes to pitch book formats, I have found that there are absolute rules that should be followed. The number one rule? The font size must be large enough to be readable. This is especially critical with slides projected onto a screen. Here are a few more dos and don’ts:
A pitch book should be designed to sell to people, not educate them.
An early mentor once noted to me that a core presentation need not answer every question. Yet, this is often what presentation authors wish to do. No, it’s all right for a presentation to make a simple statement, knowing that it may elicit a question from the audience.
The most recent company I co-founded was engaged in the ownership and rental of real estate to middle-market companies. Few of our tenants had a credit rating from a rating agency. Yet, in our inaugural presentation, we stated that the majority of our rental streams were of investment-grade quality. There was maths and analysis behind this determination and we were totally prepared to support the statement. But what we did not wish to do was to write that explanation down in our core slide presentation.
It’s completely all right to make unsupported statements in the core of a pitch book. This is where appendix slides can be really useful. Appendix slides can help answer questions your core slides tee up.
Now that you and your team have put effort into preparing a pitch book, it’s time to make the presentation. If your images are to be projected on a screen, keep the clock in mind. The core of the presentation should take no longer than 20 minutes, or a minute per slide. In reality, we would fly through some of the graphic slides, spending a bit more on slides having more text. I recommend sharing presentation duties with up to two people to provide your audience with a feel for the leadership team and your management depth.
The goal of a projected pitch is to finish the presentation as soon as possible, while not making the audience feel as if you’ve rushed through the slides. You want to get to the questions. Here’s where you and your team can shine, closing the deal in the free-flowing question-and-answer session. Here’s where the Appendix slides come in handy.
An important piece of information I once received is worth remembering. The audience is not likely to remember with any precision your presentation or the answers you give to questions. But they will clearly recall the passion and enthusiasm shared by you and your team. And they will remember how knowledgeable you came across. The poet Maya Angelou was right.
Flip Book Presentations
Most of the presentations I have ever made have been flip book presentations, where I and other company leaders would sit at a table opposite or next to our audience. I have made many such presentations alone, but I highly recommend having at least one other leadership team member there to share in the presentation responsibilities. Having other team members present shows leadership depth. Presenting with other team members also improves performance by giving each of you time to think as questions are posed. Tag-teaming reduces the likelihood that you will forget to make important points, while also improving conversation interactivity.
The number one rule of a flip book presentation? Never hand out flip books at the start of a meeting. Your audience members will simply open them up and begin to thumb through them. They can’t help it. And, as they are rifling through the pages of your presentation, they will not be listening to you.
Instead, pull the flip books out and allow them to sit on the table in front of your audience. Your audience will be looking at them with anticipation. Meanwhile, you will be doing something far more important: asking questions. You want to size up your audience, discovering its interests and concerns. The fact that you are making a presentation to just a few people will allow you to tailor the presentation in a way you might not with a projection presentation given to a larger audience.
After making mutual introductions and asking audience questions, the presentation is ready to be distributed. Only now can you instruct the audience where to turn, giving it less of a chance to get a sneak peek at each slide. Occasionally, you might get permission from the audience to go through the presentation in order. But much of the time, your newly gained knowledge of the audience may allow you to direct their attention to select slides. With knowledgeable audiences, I have often turned to select appendix slides, overlooking the core presentation altogether.
When it comes to flip book presentations, asking questions and following the audience’s lead leaves a far better impression than robotically and reflexively diving into your core presentation. The effort you put into the presentation becomes self-evident when you and your team can spontaneously respond to cues and questions.
My pitch book illustrations have presumed in-person presentations. When it comes to seeking investment or borrowing proceeds to fund your business ideas, an in-person presentation is always best. Remote presentations are fine, though, and best used when your audience already knows or has invested with you. Still, the same rules apply. Avoid emailing the pitch book in advance. Conduct the meeting as you would an in-person meeting and then share the slides you wish to present with your audience. One of the advantages of a teleconference is the opportunity to include more team members, further demonstrating solid leadership depth. Still, it is wise to limit the main presenters to yourself and two others, cuing your added staff to assist with questions. As your presentation winds down, offer a copy of the slide deck in PDF form.
The end goal of any pitch book presentation is to achieve an agreement on next steps, turning your pitch and ideas into something actionable. This is especially true for flip book presentations with a small audience. For projected presentations with a larger audience, you or your bankers and representatives will need to follow up with the attendees.
Pitch wins go well beyond actionable next steps and the ultimate capital raise. As president and later CEO of three publicly traded companies, I personally directed and authored pitch books for more than three decades. That may surprise some readers, thinking that I could instead have delegated the task to marketing or investor relations professionals. But, to my mind, this had to be in my wheelhouse. I had to have a feel for why investors would want to own our shares and why lenders would like to support our company. Knowing this made me a far better leader.
If you are looking to raise money to start a business or are raising money to grow a business, having a handle on pitch book fundamentals is important. So is knowing why, in an ocean of opportunities, investors and lenders would pick your company. The good news is that there are more than 10,000 professional asset managers out there looking for actionable ideas and solid management teams. And behind them, there are many thousands of additional institutional, family office, and individual investors. To my way of thinking, there have been few better times in history to start or seek funding for a business. So, get started.
About the Author
Christopher Volk, author of The Value Equation: A Business Guide To Creating Wealth For Entrepreneurs, Investors And Leaders, has been instrumental in leading and publicly listing three successful companies, two of which he co-founded. The most recent is STORE Capital (NYSE: “STOR”), where he served as founding chief executive officer and then as executive chairman. Volk, who has written about corporate finance since early in his career and has created an award-winning video series about the topic, is a regional winner of EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. He is on the board of Banner Health and is the Chairman of the Board of Tenet Equity. He resides in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and Huntsville, Alabama.
You can learn more at http://www.thevalueequation.com/