Creating presentations – who’s your audience?

sundar pichaiAn issue I’ve been seeing lately is that founders have been trying to use a single presentation for multiple purposes.
The first problem common amongst founders is trying to use their PowerPoint or Keynote document both as a presentation and as either a leave-behind document or emailed document – usually to an investor.
The problem with this approach is while the audience might be the same in both cases – prospective investors – the use cases are wildly different.  Presenting in real time requires a presentation that complements the speaker’s words and body language – and doesn’t compete with them. That means very little text – forget those bullet points! – engaging graphics and relatively few slides, 10 is a good target number. However, if you plan to send the same presentation to an investor you aren’t sending yourself along with it – at least not until they days of sending holograms – so the presentation document must standalone. So the real time, in person presentation is meant to be seen, the email version or leave behind version is meant to be read.
The best approach is to create the leave behind version first – get in all the detail (but no more!) that an investor would need to know). Then you can edit that documents, cutting out lots of text, extraneous slides, and adding more visuals, like photos and diagrams.
While maintaining two separate documents takes extra effort, tailoring your documents not just to your audience but to their specific use case will pay off.
What about the audiences? Virtually all the pitch decks I see are for investors and there’s plenty of advice on this blog and all over the web on how to put together a pitch deck for investors. What’s less prevalent is how to customize your deck for customers, partners, and prospects.
Customers. First of all, I’m not a fan of presentations as the key element in a sales call. Ideally a sales call should be a conversation, between the prospective customer and the sales person, not a one-way presentation. See my post  Sales calls as a conversation, not a sales pitch. However, if there will be a lot of people on the customer side – and I find the bigger the company, the larger the meeting – a presentation may be the most effective way to at least start the conversation. You can use the list on my post as the outline for your presentation.  Keep in mind, by granting you the meeting your prospects are already engaged, so there is no need to try to wow them with fancy graphics. But you also don’t want to put them to sleep with the standard bullet pointed presentation either. Your visuals should be highly relevant to your audience, such as charts and graphics of competitive market share, diagrams of work flow, and photos of the product in use by your customers. Ideally, depending on what stage your company is at, you’ll want to start off with a demo. Or if you have a working prototype or fully baked product, put it in the hands of your prospects.  You may have to be careful with a prototype and issue some disclaimers up front. Have a video presentation of how the product works and is used as a backup just in case you have a problem with the prototype. And if time is tight you might want to substitute showing the video for a hands-on session.
Partners are a special case of customer. Obviously there are different types of partnerships, but broadly we can divide them between sales and marketing partnerships and product development partnerships. With sales and marketing partnerships, of which I’ve done several, the key question you need to ask yourself is: What’s in it for the partner? Because you should already know what’s in it for you! You can divide this into two types of benefits: financial and strategic. Many startups need channel partners – established companies with an installed customer base – who can resell their product for them. Back in my old days these were often called VARS (Value Added Resellers). Conversely many large established companies see partnering as a way to jumpstart innovation and to learn about a market that they see coming at them – like driverless cars – and they are not really interested in financials. Your contribution to their revenue would be a rounding error on their income statement and they much more interested in learning from you.
Sales and marketing
So know your audience! Is it a sales team looking to diversify their product line and add to their top line? Or are you meeting with marketing leaders or strategic planners who are focused on what they can learn and apply to their company, not incremental sales. If your partner is focused on sales you can modify your customer presentation by adding two new slides: What you will do for the partner, and when. And what you expect the partner to do for you (such as market your product to their installed base on a revenue share basis). The biggest concerns for most resellers or marketers is how will you support the product and how do they know you be around in years to come? As with any presentation, make sure you have a call to action, such as drafting an LOI.
Presentations for strategic partners are more like those for investors. But as with investors you need to be careful to protect your “secret sauce.” I just had a mentee who had his software copied by his partner because they felt he wasn’t moving fast enough on finalizing a partnership agreement! If the partner is the pupil and you are the teacher, make clear how you will help them learn what they need to know, without becoming a drag on your time. Set expectations very carefully, such as a creating a schedule for follow on meetings or Skype sessions, and make sure they are time-limited. Big companies have lots more time than startups – don’t let them suck you dry. On the other hand, realize that like investors, partners will be investing time and perhaps money in your venture. What will be their return? What will they learn? How will they learn it? Who will teach them? How can you define and measure strategic benefits?
Some partners, like large established companies, may be looking for both incremental revenue – financial benefits AND strategic benefits. In that case make sure you have the right people in the room and allow enough time to cover both sets of benefits.
You are definitely going to need that very detailed leave-behind version of your presentation for partners, as they will probably have to pass it around to either other decision makers or those responsible for making the partnership operate smoothly.
Product Development
By far the best type of product development partnership is joining the established developer program of a company like Apple. Rather than a presentation they’ll be giving you an application to fill out. The advantage of these programs is that they have proven successful over the years both for the startup and the established company running the developer program.
However, you might have the opportunity to develop your product with another company that doesn’t have an established developer program. The potential complexities of this type of product development are beyond the scope of this post. Obviously any presentations will be aimed at far more technical audiences than the others covered here. A technical staffer should leader this effort, though presentation and documentation may well need to be created with the assistance of staff with expertise in these areas. Undoubtedly these presentations will be the longest and most detailed, and also present the potential risk to your IP. I would recommend that any materials to be shared with a joint development partner be reviewed by your IP attorney, as you’ll involve your attorney in crafting the joint development agreement.
Last, but certainly not least, are prospective employees, Board members, and advisors. All are special cases of partners: what will they gain from joining your venture and what will be their obligations and responsibilities?
Even thought many, if not all of these audiences may be familiar with your company and your product, it’s best to start tabula rasa – start your presentation from square zero.  You want every one to be at the same starting point. Often the origin story is of great interest to these groups. However, you are going to need a very tailored presentation for employees, as they will have specific concerns about the organizational design, their roles, benefits, etc. This presentation should be tightly integrated with your recruiting strategy. You do have a recruiting strategy, right?
Keep in mind everyone’s time and attention is extremely limited, but prospective Board members and advisors are going to have a lot less time to spend with you than candidates for employment. So keep the presentation part short and again, make the interaction much more of a conversation than presentation. A product demo, or better yet, a hands-on test drive of your product is a must-have for these audiences. You may want to dispense with presentations entirely for these groups and just keep a list of key points and topics you want to cover in the conversation.
So know your audience. The more you know about them the more effectively you can tailor your presentation to their interests.  Being generic and abstract are the best ways to lose people’s attention. Be specific. Put the company’s name and logo into your partner presentation, for example.
And whatever you do – kill off the bullet point! As the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai does, as highlighted in the article Google’s CEO Doesn’t Use Bullet Points and Neither Should You on Inc.com.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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