Pitch Decks: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Over the years at Avalaunch Media, we’ve produced countless visual presentations for companies large and small, aiming to transform complex, forgettable dribble to elegant, persuasive wisdom. We’ve seen all manner of decks: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. And that’s great, because it means we have an important role to play in helping individuals and businesses put their best foot forward.

So why pitch decks?

  • Pitch decks communicate business goals, investment opportunities, and more in an exciting, engaging way that eliminates the impression of flaws or risk.
  • Pitch decks are valuable for startups and small companies who are not as well-known.
  • Pitch decks use strong visuals to simplify designs for clear, memorable communications and increase calls-to-action.

Shaping the perfect deck is a process — dare we say, an art form — that’s not as simple as it seems. Each pitch deck will be unique to its company to effectively outline the issues their audience is experiencing and how their product will solve them. If you’re serious about making your message stick, here are some examples of how best to (or best not to) approach your slide deck creation.

The Good

There is no one, ideal deck. But there are common traits in good decks, and similarly, in decks that fail. Here are the hallmarks that identify a “good deck.”

Audience: At the core of any Avalaunch-designed deck is deep consideration of the intended audience, and how the PPT will be used. “Why should I care about this?” determines the design direction and the messaging. So, put yourself in the shoes of the audience. What do you need to hear to be sold on something? What would make sense to you if it was explained in a certain way? What would impact you? This is how you are going to write an effective presentation outline. We make sure to ask the right questions.

  • Where will the presentation live? Will the deck be presented by a passionate speaker? Will it be distributed via email, or downloaded from a website? Or maybe all of the above? Whether the viewer is seated at a conference or in front of their computer will impact the level of familiarity in the messaging and how many slides you should build. Designers need to know whether a speaker can elaborate on certain points or whether the viewer can bounce out of the presentation as easily as closing a web screen.
  • What should the tone be? If you were in an elevator with your intended audience and had 2 minutes to pitch your idea, what would you say to get them interested and want to know more? Will the audience appreciate something fun and playful? Professional and buttoned-up? Serious? Emotional? Is the presentation process-driven or personality-focused? Messaging and design need to communicate the underlying magic of your product in a palatable, branded way. We use context to create emotional appeal and audience empathy.

Use of Space: Rely on visuals more than copy—sadly, people don’t like to read. It’s always the case that a good deck only uses the necessary amount of text, and preferably, converts written words to icons, charts, or other types of visuals for immediate digestion. This is an easy principle to understand but difficult to execute. Our designers and copywriters are experts not only in collaborating to create decks that look great… they design decks from the ground up to tell a client’s story.

Fonts: We use Powerpoint-safe fonts, which minimize the risk of fonts not showing up properly when a person doesn’t have the “right” font downloaded. We consider the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts (one works better than the other); and we know how best to align the text on a background of a certain darkness. What point size is too big or small? It depends on the deck, but there are guidelines we certainly follow.

Visual Hierarchy: Emphasis and arrangement tell a viewer what to pay attention to. When designing your deck, we employ hierarchy to guide the viewer experience. We use color theory to create focal points, and contrast to make each slide easy to understand. Consistency is paramount to a good deck — introducing new colors or elements midway through is an unwanted distraction. We also group common themes and data groups for organization.

Rule of Thirds: You’ll know a good deck when you see it, and that will largely be because of its composition and consistency. The rule of thirds will be used to create a comfortable flow of information, and the slides will be dynamic. They won’t all use the same layout, but they will be consistent. Designed decks work to a grid that is not apparent to the naked eye, but makes for a pleasing viewer experience. A ratio of graphical elements and mechanisms is used to balance the type of layouts within a deck and make sure it is unified and harmonious from start to finish.

The Bad

There are aspects of deck design that are permissible, but best avoided.

Outdated Practice: Shape outlines, shadows, text box background colors, and gradients are all great ways to make your deck instantly look unprofessional and out-of-touch. We study the latest trends in graphic design to modernize your pitch deck’s look and feel. A hip, sophisticated skin can move your audience from one point of belief to another. We often refresh clients’ old pitch decks for a youthful facelift.

Animations: Just because animations and transitions are available, doesn’t necessarily mean they should be used. If they don’t contribute to a deck’s story, leave them out. There are occasions where animations and transitions, such as a reveal of the second and third element on a three-element slide, can be effective. In general, less is more when it comes to animations. Sounds? No. Just no. There is no place for distracting noises in a slide deck.

Static Images: Photo treatment is another area of Avalaunch expertise. A photo placed on a slide and abandoned with no bleed, border, or cropping of some kind sends the wrong messages to your viewers. We consider photos carefully to produce tasteful yet impactful graphics. For example, instead of showing an app in a lonely, awkward, uncropped photo, we can show it in a device mockup, to heighten the viewer’s connection with your product.

Verbosity: A temptation may be to “fill up” a slide and kill any negative space. Brain dumping is a recipe for failure. You don’t want to be too fluffy—the audience is generally more interested in the purpose of the presentation. What we do is empty slides as much as possible, without compromising the story. There is power in minimalism — Apple designers know a lot about that! A couple of words with an effective visual sometimes says more than a thousand words. Here is all you need to answer:

  • What’s in it for the audience?
  • Why should they invest in you?
  • Why now?
  • What are you going to do with their investment?

The Ugly

How do we define an ugly slide? That’s the easy part. Too much information. No grid system. A mish-mashed rainbow of colors. An overwhelming variety of fonts and point sizes. Illegibility. Blandness. Cramped information. Not to alarm you, but there are literally so many ways to deter your audience. Deck creation is a minefield of distraction.

But really, the elephant in the room is bullet points. They’re a common offense — a primary reason why PPT decks get a bad rap. But what to do about them? Aren’t they unavoidable? Well, they’re a case study in why businesses come to Avalaunch for help.

We approach the bullet point scenario in a number of ways. Perhaps each bullet can be made into its own slide? Maybe we’d turn them into infographics. Or give them their own icons. Or create a column or shape to house the content. Or possibly, using a diagram is the best option. Whatever the solution… it is bound to be better than the dreaded bullets.

Our Best Advice?

The best way to make sure your decks fall into the “Good” category? Get in touch with Avalaunch Media to find out how we’d take your presentations from “ho-hum” to “creative, resonant and effective.”  You’ll be amazed at the reaction our clients get when they make the most of the design knowledge we’ve built up over years of crafting purpose-built slide decks. One thing we know for sure — superior deck design is a proven business booster.


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