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How to Craft a Pitch Deck that Commands Attention

Listen in as Dr. Douglas Franklin, marketing maestro and co-founder of Deck Launch, joins us to unpack the transformative power of a well-crafted pitch deck in the business arena. As we navigate through the intricacies of these strategic presentations, Dr. Franklin illuminates their role as a 'license to operate' for businesses at any stage, from fledgling startups to established enterprises. We dissect the dynamic relationship between pitch decks and business plans, highlighting how the former serves as an agile, visually compelling synopsis to captivate potential investors and stakeholders. With Dr. Franklin's expert insights, entrepreneurs will discover the key ingredients that forge an investment-winning pitch deck, crucial for anyone looking to leave an indelible mark and secure funding.

Our conversation further demystifies the process of developing a successful pitch deck. Drawing from the foundational Lean Business Canvas and analyzing success stories like Uber and Airbnb, we offer actionable advice on creating a presentation that resonates. Aesthetics aren't overlooked; resources such as Flat Icon, Unsplash, and Canva are recommended to elevate your deck's visual impact. We also touch upon the emerging role of AI in pitch deck creation, underscoring the importance of tailoring its output to reflect your unique vision. Embrace the journey of refining your pitch deck through honest feedback from friends, family, and industry professionals. Remember, each critique, even a rejection, is a stepping stone to perfection. Tune in for this enlightening discussion and arm yourself with the knowledge to propel your business idea to new heights.

Show Notes

  • 0:02:25 - The Importance of Pitch Decks (65 Seconds)
  • 0:07:51 - Essential Elements of Pitching Success (46 Seconds)
  • 0:15:05 - Pitch Deck Development Resources (43 Seconds)
  • 0:16:42 - AI in Pitch Deck Creation (94 Seconds)
  • 0:23:38 - Benefits of Developing a Pitch Deck (128 Seconds)

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we are talking about the importance of a good pitch deck and, according to the Harvard Business Review, a good pitch is a balancing act that can be adjusted to the current in the room. And it's not just how important it is to understand that what you are pitching, but who you're pitching to, and this was relatively unsurprising. For these reasons, according to this recent Harvard Business Review, stay with us for today's guest. Really important information.

On today's episode, we're discussing what a pitch deck is and how they work. Joining us is National University's assistant professor of marketing, Dr. Douglas Franklin. Dr. Franklin currently teaches marketing courses to undergraduate, masters and doctoral students, and his research interests include influencer marketing, diversity, equity and inclusion, and ethical leadership. He's also the co-founder of Deck Launch, an organization dedicated to helping startups validate business ideas through the development of pitch decks and other strategic materials. Dr. Franklin resides in Houston, Texas, and enjoys spending time with his son, writing and mentoring students in his free time. We welcome you to the podcast, Dr. Franklin. How are you?

0:01:41 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

I'm doing well. Thank you for having me.

0:01:43 - Kimberly King

Absolutely. It's great to have you here. Why don't you fill our audience in a little bit before we get to today's show topic on your mission and your passion?

0:01:52 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So I am the son of a business executive and a teacher, so I wanted to be able to get the opportunity to bring those two worlds together. So I worked a little bit in corporate, so I worked with Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, RJ Reynolds, and then I came back to school. So the reason why is because I wanted to be able to bring some of that practical experience back to the future of business, which are students at National University.

0:02:21 - Kimberly King

Great. I love that. I love how you're bringing the worlds together. So today we're talking about pitch decks and what they are and how they matter, and I know in business and in communications, pitch decks are really key, important events to produce while you're introducing. So what is exactly a pitch deck for those that may not know?

0:02:41 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So a pitch deck is a brief presentation of some of the capabilities that you need to be able to launch a business, and so what we like to call it at Deck Launch is your license to operate. So we're talking about some of the fundamental things that you need to be able to share with people your business ideas. So if you were to go on Shark Tank and you were to have your pitch, that's what you're looking at with your pitch deck, is basically the summary of all those elements that make your business idea unique and profitable.

0:03:15 - Kimberly King

I love that and that's so true. I think you know when you even say a pitch- we all learn from Shark Tank what that elevator pitch is- but I guess it's putting it in a process where you can see it in front of you. What does that elevator pitch look like? So who needs pitch decks?

0:03:33 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So I would say that anybody with a business should consider having a pitch deck. So it's not just for the people who are starting up, but I might as well start from the beginning. So it's for those people who are early stage. You may have an idea but haven't really started to make the traction that's necessary, and so this is so a pitch deck ends up being a foundational piece that allows them to grow and grow and go to the next level. For business ideas that exist, that have a little bit of traction, that are trying to go into programs such as incubators or accelerators, where they're going to help grow the business, a pitch deck is necessary now to be able to even join those organizations, those programs. And even if you have a really mature business, a pitch deck allows you to see your business strategy from a bird's eye view, which allows you to fix it in a more agile fashion than you would if you're reading your business plan.

0:04:31 - Kimberly King

I love that and you know, a lot of times, even putting together a pitch deck, as the person that's pitching or that's, you know, in front of a board or a panel, sometimes it helps when you put it together because you're creating it and it just kind of helps the flow of things. So my question, my next question, is how is a pitch deck different from a business plan?

0:04:55 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So, before I even talk about that, one of the things that I do want to tell our audiences is that you have to still have both. So a pitch deck does not replace your business plan, but what it is is it's a summary of a lot of the things that are in your business plan that makes it easier to read for an investor. So one of the reasons why we actually got into building pitch decks came from working with a friend of mine on a business idea where we pretty much put together the whole 40 pages plus the appendix of a business plan and sent it to an investor. And he sent it back and basically told us that this would be a good doorstop and he wanted a pitch deck.

And we came from the business plan world and had no clue that pitch decks were so necessary. So this is about 10 years ago. So seven years ago we created Deck Launch and we've been working with pitch decks ever since and it's just a great idea, and so you use your pitch deck every day. You're probably going to be able to update that a lot faster and it allows you to parallel what you're doing on your business plan to a more agile document in a pitch deck.

0:06:09 - Kimberly King

I like that too, and it's so true. Think about the world we live in now, where it's just, you know, we're a visual world, right? So I think the pitch deck really does help tell the story of your business plan. What should go into an investment winning pitch deck? That's the big question for you.

0:06:27 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So this is. So for some people, this is the million dollar, million dollar question. So, first, the first thing, of course, is the idea, the elevator pitch of your idea, so, if you will, so basically being able to explain to people from a bird's eye view, in a way that you can explain it to probably a junior high schooler, what your business idea does and how it fulfills a need, and so fulfilling that need is really important, and having a provocative problem that you can tell the story about is necessary. From there, if you have an idea, you have to tell people how to make money, how you're going to make money, and that's what happens with a lot of. What happens with a lot of founders is they have the idea and they just hope that the money is going to come, and they don't necessarily work on the revenue idea, the revenue model, which is really, really important, and so so, finally, there's two other key pieces that we always talk about, and so it's mentioning the team.

So, if you don't have a team yet, it's don't freak out yet, it is okay. You can find mentors and advisors through so many of these technical resources in communities that are in most of most most of the United States, if not virtually. So. Putting together the right team around your business idea is key, but then asking for something. Go figure, we want money, but sometimes we don't even ask for it in the pitch deck. That is the most important thing to do after you've told this beautiful story that you have to ask for something. If it's mentorship, if it's the, the, the, the. If it's financial investment, if it's acceptance into a program, ask for it and tell people what you're going to do with it.

0:08:21 - Kimberly King

Time, talent and money, right? You're asking for something at the end of that pitch deck, but I love that and it's great that you're teaching a class on this because really, again, in the business world and the communications world, it's just I think it's just so key. What are some things that you should absolutely do when creating a pitch deck?

0:08:43 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So you want to tell a story, so you can have all this information in a pitch deck and you you don't necessarily bring it all together into a narrative and so, like many things that are marketing and communications, it it's really building the narrative and the story of the hero all the way to the conclusion, and your idea is the hero, and so being able to build your idea up and show people the problems and how you resolve it and all of the strengths of your idea and how they and how they are going against the competition, telling that story is necessary, Unbelievably necessary.

Another thing is making sure you do your research. So when we do our, we do a seminar here in Houston called Perfecting your Pitch, and the thing that I always talk about is research, for basically the gist of the the hour that we're talking, I'm always trying to find a way to tie research into every slide that we talk about. The reason is not just because it's important to know what's going on, but your investors and sometimes a subject matter experts in the places that you want to be in, and so being informed is really, really important. And then, finally, making sure that it's still pretty. This is still a visual, is a visual medium and there's so many resources out there to be able to, to help you uh pizzazz your pitch deck, if you will, and make sure that you have something that is just uh graphically desirable, as much as the idea is uh desirable and profitable.

0:10:27 - Kimberly King

Oh, that's great, and I mean, you know, I was even thinking when you say perfecting your pitch deck know who your competition is as well. So, um, I think you kind of need to know that going in there. What are some things that you shouldn't do when creating a pitch deck?

0:10:43 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So some of the things that you shouldn't do is you shouldn't be too brief, and so when I say that is a lot about uh, about hiding the secret sauce, and so a lot of people get really, really concerned about not sharing their ideas because they don't want people to take them.

And the reality is, for most ideas, unless you have intellectual property, there's probably someone working on it, and you have to be the better leader and the better strategist in order to roll out your idea, and so being able to share your idea in a really clear way is really important.

That's a lot of “reallys”. Some of the other things that we also talk about is, again, making sure that you know you're not only doing your research, but you're also keeping a set of references, and so sometimes we find people do their research and then when they're asked, where did you get this from? They forget. And that's just because we're human and we're talking about probably tens of, not hundreds of different things that you're looking at and building a pitch deck, and then finally, just sometimes, what my business partner Darell would say is just having the ugly pitch deck and not taking the time to basically organize the ideas and into these pieces and not using the marketing resources that are there. So it's basically not telling the story and then also not telling the story visually, and having those two components are very important, especially with all that information that you share.

0:12:25 - Kimberly King

Great advice and I love that you know putting these pitch decks together as you are, and you're mentoring and teaching your students that you know it is a practice, it's perfecting that practice and a lot of times you know we can just go out and produce it, but, yeah, it does need other eyes on there. So this is great information. We have to take a quick break, but we'll be back in just a moment, Don't go away. And now back to our interview with National University's assistant professor of marketing, Dr. Douglas Franklin, and we're discussing pitch decks, so important, especially in the business world, what they are and why they matter. So, Dr Franklin, I've never created a pitch deck. How would I get started?

0:13:14 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So one of the ways that we get started is using what is called the one hour business plan, and you can find that on etsy.com, and so basically what it does is it just makes you answer all the questions about your business.

Like you're putting posts on to X, or formerly Twitter, so you have 140 characters to be able to talk about each thing that's supposed to go on to your pitch deck. So we use that. One of the other resources we use is the Lean Business Canvas, so we can see- which basically has boxes for the business channels that you're gonna use to sell your product, the marketing who is your market, how are you going to make money- and so we use that as another foundational piece. And so, using those two pieces, then we go and look at we still look at successful pitch decks. So not only do we look at our repository of the stuff that we've done, but just Googling successful pitch decks. So looking at some really good ones. Uber has a really solid pitch deck out there, Airbnb, and so looking at those and then adding on just the other pieces to a story are pretty much the easiest things to do.

0:14:44 - Kimberly King

That's good. And everybody loves to see what the sample pitch decks, the successful sample ones, look like, and I would imagine in that 140, or yeah, I guess those the small characters in there that you have only a couple of minutes, not even 30 seconds, to say you have to be specific too, right. You have to really get right to the point and it teaches you that. What are some good resources- you just mentioned Etsy for developing a good pitch deck. Any others?

0:15:12 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

Yeah, so it's interesting that we would use Etsy of all things, but the Etsy one-hour business plan is just a great resource to use. Other resources, like I said, Google. So Google links successful pitch decks. It seems really broad, but there are so many websites out there that are pitch deck repositories for successful pitch decks that if you just do it, run a search, you'll find so many things and so many resources for you to be able to build the foundation.

There's a lot of artistic things, so we said no ugly pitch decks earlier. So Flat Icon. Flat Icon is really great for just finding the- If you wanted to show people that you're planning on using marketing, but you want to use something that shows social media marketing and you just want to show something that has Instagram and Facebook and X all on in one little image, then using Flat Icon is very helpful. If you need some really high resolution stuff, there's Unsplash, there's Pixabye, there's Gratisography. Those are some of the better image sites that we use when we need free pictures, because buying pictures when you're in the idea phase, in the early stages, can be expensive.

Then, of course, there are the Canva's of the world that really help you build things artistically and, speaking of Canva, one of the things that I think of now is how they have AI for their presentations, and there are resources like Beautify and Slidebean that have AI capabilities that are available. The only thing that I'll say about AI is you have to make sure that you still are doing the work after it provides you with a guideline, one of the things that we used to find with our clients when AI pitch decks started to become a thing which has actually been closer to four or five years, we could tell which vendor people actually receive their pitch decks from, and people spent more time and more money paying us to fix their pitch decks that could have otherwise been prevented if they just went and did some of the additional things on their own. But right now it's a wide open space and the resources are so much better. I recommend, if you do need that help, using AI as a foundation and then continuing to grow your pitch deck based on your vision.

0:18:02 - Kimberly King

Good point and I love that. It is still sort of the wild, wild west, but again using it as that foundation and then going in and making it your own. While we can still do that, right? Things are changing so drastically and quickly. Now that I've created my pitch deck, what do I do now?

0:18:23 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

This is the place where you're sharing now. Sharing is caring, and knowing where to share is really important. The first place that you ever want to share your pitch deck are actually with close friends and family and people who are going to give you honest feedback. That's the big thing- honest feedback, because the reality is that if you're not making your pitch deck by yourself and you're hiring someone to do it, or you're using some help from Fiverr, you're investing a lot of money into your pitch deck. For people who just say that, hey, your idea is awesome and they're not giving you any feedback is not necessarily helpful in the long run. After you share it with friends, the next step is to try to start to share it with the greater community. There are so many shared work spaces now accelerators, business incubators, organizations that are dedicated to entrepreneurship that will look at your pitch deck for free and give you some feedback. Here in Houston, we review pitch decks once a month for free. Then also, there are organizations like SCORE, where you have executives that will look at your information and give you some feedback. Getting feedback from those groups is also really helpful.

Even after that, when you've done some due diligence, you might as well go ahead and reach out to some investors. If you can get the research on where the interest of these investors, you should always just go ahead and send them an email and see what happens. The best that could happen is you get an investment. The worst that could happen is they might give you feedback and, surprisingly, most people who work for investment groups, family offices and VCs that if you get to the email stage and you're talking to them as an individual, they generally are good about giving you feedback on what you're doing. It seems like it's daunting. It can be a little bit, but it's kind of like that ask. You might as well do it, because the worst that could happen is someone says no.

0:20:54 - Kimberly King

I love that. You know what story hearkens when you're telling it back in the old days. When was it Kentucky Fried Chicken and he would just knock on every door? Was it like 100 nos until he finally got a yes, or maybe 99 nos, and then the 100th was a yes. Now you get that pitch deck out there and now they're also giving you feedback. That's a win-win as far as I'm concerned. So we've talked about the pitch decks for investment. Are there other uses for pitch decks?

0:21:25 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

Yes, so one of the things that's actually becoming more popular is a pitch deck for like for getting jobs. So there's a creative thing. We make them. We call them personal pitch decks, where you're teaching people about your experience academically and professionally. You're telling them you might share a case of something that you've done that is really successful. You're giving people a little bit more information than they otherwise would receive, and I like to call it the mixture of your resume and LinkedIn.

You're getting that visual piece, and then you're getting some of the experiences that you otherwise wouldn't receive if you're just looking at a resume, and so I think that is becoming more popular, especially when you're looking at place, especially in marketing, do things like that. And then also, I spoke to it a little bit about if you have an existing business, make a pitch deck anyway, and, just like you said, Kim, when you're in that process, you see things about your business that you didn't necessarily realize. That's what's really important for these existing businesses. You don't know if you can grow a pivot from your idea to do, from your business to do something bigger, or that your miles above beyond your competition. If you're not doing your competition slides. Those things are still important for businesses that have been around for a while, and so we encourage everybody to use pitch decks whenever they can and whatever medium they can as well.

0:23:14 - Kimberly King

I love that idea. I love that also for the younger generation just kind of getting into the workforce or starting a new business, that the ability to really kind of stop where you are, take note, look backward and see where you've come from and then, yes, pitch it against the competition and see where you're at and see what's working, what might not be working. So that's great. So how would learning how to develop a pitch deck help your students?

0:23:43 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So I always love doing things that help teach me about processes, and so it's the nature of learning processes to do things that will ultimately affect how they how you work in the future as well. And so, going to organizations, you're still gonna have to be organized, you're gonna have to do things in lockstep, and building a pitch deck is a lot of that.

It's also a test of creativity and critical thinking, and those are skills that are really necessary when you're in the workforce, and it's communication, and so that's a big part of everything is you're building a, you're building a resource for communication, and the biggest thing that I really think that comes out of it because soft skills are so important is the leadership aspect. The one of the things I always tell my clients is that you're not necessarily just selling the idea, you're selling the fact that you are a leader, and so this is an opportunity for students to show their leadership skills by demonstrating the plans that they're putting together, being honest about the shortcomings of their business idea when compared to the competition. Doing those things in a pitch deck actually build not only those technical skills and critical thinking skills, but some of the soft skills as well.

0:25:17 - Kimberly King

Good point and I have a question for you, outside of- going backward for a second, on those personal pitch decks. So if you create one, say you're interviewing for a job and instead of just sending in your LinkedIn profile or your resume and you do send in that pitch deck do you let them know? Are you presenting it to them, or is that on your first? So, like when you send in your resume, do you attach that pitch deck along with it?

0:25:43 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So I would attach it along with it. One of the things that I always think about when I'm giving the scenario is if I go to a job fair and I receive a business card back after I've done that resume drop, I'd love to send that thank you. And then, by the way, this is my professional pitch deck that shows you some of the work that I've done. So now I've given people like my work portfolio directly to the HR representative. That might be the difference between anything. So if I've made an impact on somebody at a resume drop and then they really want me to continue to communicate, then I put my foot further in the door with that pitch deck.

0:26:30 - Kimberly King

Right and it also shows how organized and just advanced you are. You know you're already next level, so that's great. I know we mentor students or kids or whatnot. You know that's always great information. So what are some resources at National University that can help me develop a pitch deck?

0:26:51 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

So the flagship would be the Center for Business Management and Entrepreneurialism, which is CBAM. They do something called the Business Launchpad. It's always an early March this year, so March 2nd to 3rd, and they teach you everything about setting up your business, and then they also give you this crash course on how to get your business launched, because it's the Launchpad, so you have this opportunity to be able to learn all of these elements of how to launch your business. And it's very helpful to not only get the technical and legal pieces of the business that they provide, but also the training, the leadership training and some of the tactical things that you learn about a business strategy as well. And then also, CBAM has a pitch competition that I had the opportunity to judge last year, which is so fun to see all of these wonderful ideas from students be able to come to fruition, and so they have pitches from the idea stage. So basically, you're starting from the beginning to, if you have some traction, and so basically, you have the opportunity to be able to share your idea in a safe space with the National University community and, of course, trusting your professors.

In my courses sometimes I get the question of, Dr. Franklin, I'm doing marketing and innovation. I want to figure out how innovative my business idea is. I say, go for it. I tell my students all the time research is me search, and if you're doing work within your business, you might as well go for it. So like, yeah, it's always telling them to remember from something that I received from my mentors research is me search.

Go ahead and get everything together, and if you can work on your own business and at school, then you have a lot less work to do.

0:29:08 - Kimberly King

I love that. Research is me search. That's great. I'm going to use that now. That's great. Well, this has been so interesting, Dr. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and if you want more information, you can visit National University's website at nu.edu. Thank you so much for your time today.

0:29:26 - Dr. Douglas Franklin

Thank you.

0:29:30 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"Even if you have a really mature business, a pitch deck allows you to see your business strategy from a bird's eye view, which allows you to fix it in a more agile fashion than you would if you're reading your business plan." - Douglas Franklin, https://shorturl.at/HKLOU Click to Tweet
"One of the things I always tell my clients is that you're not necessarily just selling the idea, you're selling the fact that you are a leader, and so [a pitch deck] is an opportunity for students to show their leadership skills." - Douglas Franklin, https://shorturl.at/HKLOU Click to Tweet