User experience (UX) research is the unsung hero of your favorite apps. A world leader in research-based UX consulting, Nielsen Norman Group has researched and documented the effectiveness of many user experience techniques. We apply their forward-thinking UX methodologies to pitch decks we build for our clients.

VCs only spend about three minutes reading your pitch deck before a meeting. People can only keep seven things (plus or minus two) in their working memory. You have limited time and space to make your point, so raise the bar with respect to what information makes the cut.

Key considerations to keep in mind through the body of your pitch deck include:

  • Reduce the hard work for consuming key information (Rate of Gain)
  • Don’t over-burden the reader with information (Cognitive Load)
  • Be as succinct with your messaging as possible (“BLUF”)
  • Organize information for max understanding (Progressive Disclosure)
  • Give the deck some design basics for strong ethos (Halo Effect)

Let’s look at each of those considerations more closely:

Rate of Gain
The Rate of Gain is a measurement used in user experience to measure ease of use and value to users. It’s calculated by dividing the value a reader gets from new information by how much work the user needs to do to get it.

In the case of your pitch deck, the user is an investor, partner, or customer, and Rate of Gain measures how valuable the information on each page is divided by how many words are on the page. This would mean that a good slide would have the most valuable information possible in the least amount of words.

One of our partners hired a highly coveted speechwriter for a Series B raise and the main piece of advice they shared — delete more words.

Cognitive Load
It’s well documented that there are limitations to one’s ability to remember things while doing a task, aka working memory. People have a very finite working memory to consume the content of your pitch. This is why you should use techniques to be as succinct as possible to convey the most value.

A reader may naturally try and determine what information they need to know in order to preserve their working memory. This means giving the reader the ability to triage a page to decide whether or not they need all of the information is a good technique for keeping a user’s memory free to remember the main points.

This really forces you to boil down the words on a page to the point where you keep track of the cost and benefit of each word. Each additional word adds additional cost to the reader to try and understand.

Bottom Line Up Front (“BLUF”)
There is a concept in journalism called the Bottom Line Up Front, you can also think of this as TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read). It’s the same reason that we put an abstract at the beginning of a research paper, or an executive summary at the beginning of a business plan. Respect the reader’s time and tell them the main point up-front so they can triage the page and decide if they need to look at the details or not.

If you use a “headline” based approach you will allow readers to skim the page and decide if it’s something that they think they need to invest the effort to further investigate. If the reader avoids taking in more information than they need, they can arrive at the end of the deck quickly having only read the information they cared about. This will reduce frustration and increase retention and overall satisfaction.

Progressive Disclosure
The concept of progressive disclosure in apps defers advanced or rarely used features to a secondary screen, making the learning process easier and less error-prone. For applications, this means showing the most important features front-and-center and leaving the seldom used, or less important features to be shown later or at the user’s request. This removes the added complexity of needing to understand more features than may be necessary.

Take Google for example. The home page is literally just a search box, and the ability to search (or click I’m Feeling Lucky like I always do).

Now you’ve given the user the option, should they want more information, to go find it. In deck-writing, progressive disclosure serves two ends: keeping the deck clean and succinct, but also allowing the user ready access to any information they would need — perhaps even in an appendix.

Halo Effect
The halo effect is a phenomenon that causes people to be biased in their judgments by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, unrelated, attributes. In the case of decks, the overall aesthetic and cleanliness of the deck will set a sense of sophistication to your reader. The easiest way to create this is to be concise; use abundant white space and be consistent throughout.

  • Consistent margins (white space is your friend)
  • Consistent use of font sizes (we use 32pt and 18pt fonts for everything)
  • Consistent messaging (Whatever you call it, call it that every time)

Pulling It All Together
The slide design below does a good job of implementing the UX techniques we just covered.

  • Rate of Gain: With only two to three lines (tops!) for the main message, the value of the information is high, and the workload to obtain it is low.

  • Cognitive Load: By using the headline approach, we allow readers to triage whether supporting information below the headline is worth further investigation.

  • Progressive Design: By including the path to more information, you let users know that there is a way to learn more. In doing this you also free their minds to focus on the slide at hand.

Fundraising is always hard. Fundraising in the current climate is harder. There has never been a better time to make sure your company can stand out, effectively deliver its message, and spark the interest of investors who will be more selective than ever before. Use the Sequoia Pitch Deck Template and our techniques outlined here to make it easy for them to understand what you do and why your company deserves to be at the top of the stack.

For additional help building a successful pitch deck, be sure to contact William Dyess of the Dyess Group. Click HERE to visit their official Website.