Send-Ahead vs Presentation Deck
It’s important to understand the difference between a presentation deck and a send-ahead deck. You increase your chances of raising money if you honor the distinction and create two separate decks.
If you ignore the distinction, if you consciously or unconsciously write slides to do double duty to both send out and show during an investor meeting, both will suffer. As my grandfather used to say, “Chase two rabbits at the same time, you won’t catch neither.”
To write a send-ahead deck—slides that tell your story sans narrative—you’re forced to put a lot on the slides to make them self-explanatory. But if you present those busy slides to investors, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’re inviting all the problems caused by cluttered slides and “too much detail.” Impatient investors quickly tune out, declare your presentation boring, and remember you as a poor communicator.
What are the differences?
Send-ahead slide deck (“stand-alone deck” or “reading deck”) is a document, a “slideument,” created in PowerPoint (or Keynote) to substitute for a written summary. It’s what you print out out or email when investors say, “Send me your slides.” (Though if you have a well-written executive summary, negotiate to send that instead of a deck.)
Send-ahead slides are designed to convey complete thoughts without you being there to narrate. Thus they have more text than presentation slides. They’re designed to be skimmed and viewed out of order, which is how most investors read them. Photos are good, but need explanatory text. The number of slides matters—20 to 30 is plenty—because the reader has to navigate them on their own, and they might print them out.
>> The objective of a send-ahead deck is to get the “first meeting.”
Presentation deck (also called “talking deck”) is slides used solely as visual support for a face-to-face presentation—you talk, a live audience listens. This includes pitches to a small group where you show slides from your laptop or tablet, or a pitch over the phone.
Presentation slides require your spoken narrative to be understood. They work best if low-density, with lots of images, white space, and minimal text. The number of slides in a presentation deck is irrelevant. You never give out or email a copy of your presentation deck.
>> A presentation deck is a vehicle for a great presentation. The objective is to set up for a great Q&A, to make investors eager to know more. Ultimately, to get the “second meeting” and advance down the road to investment.
If you want to give your audience something they can follow and write notes on during your presentation and Q&A, design a third set especially for that purpose—a hand-out deck. A hand-out deck is a highly abstracted version of you presentation deck, without all the photographs and drama slides. It should be no more than a few pages with key rubrics from your presentation outline, sparsely arranged to give lots of room for writing notes. You might append tables, charts, lists, financials that are too detailed to be included in the body of your presentation deck.
Why it matters
If you use your send-ahead deck for a face-to-face presentation, you’re in trouble from the start. Your slides will be too dense, and the sequence won’t be optimized for a real-time unfolding of story and ideas.
If everything the audience needs is on the slides then you, the presenter, are at cross-purposes with your own slides. And you’ve created two nasty dilemmas.
Audience dilemma: you force the audience to choose between reading slides or listening to you. The audience came to hear from you, not read slides. If you’re a great presenter, they’ll listen to you and ignore the slides. If you aren’t, you might as well just go home.
Presenter dilemma is self-inflicted: you force yourself to either read most everything on the slides (audiences hate that!) or skip whole sections of your own slides (audiences struggle to follow you). It’s almost impossible to be a smooth presenter if you’re battling your own slides.
The art of the send-ahead deck
The advice to separate presentation from send-ahead deck cuts both ways. Don’t email investors the beautiful presentation slides you’ve created for your live show.
There’s an art to creating an effective send-ahead deck. Yes, it includes more detail and text, but you still have to design it to be easy to follow without you there as guide. The psychology is almost the reverse of a presentation deck, where slides are designed to be revealed only in strict sequence. A send-ahead deck is a self-guided tour. Once you hit ‘send’ you have no control over how the slides are viewed.
Warning: just because you won’t be showing this deck to a live audience, it’s not a license to dump everything you’ve got onto the slides. Refrain from piling on all the wonderful reasons why you’re great, or doubling down on arguments for investment. Resist the urge to be complete. It’s not a report, it’s still an invitation to want to know more.
Instead, map out only the primary arguments for investment. Make the arguments clear in the way you segment and arrange the material. Save the rest of the good stuff for later, when you meet with investors.
Slides are not the presentation. You are!
If you’re still not convinced that you need two decks, check to see if you unconsciously equate slide decks with presentations. It’s a common mistake, reinforced every time somebody says, “email me your presentation.” They are NOT the same thing.
Admit it, when you need to prepare a presentation, you go directly to PowerPoint, open to slide one, and start writing. Or you load an old marketing presentation into PowerPointand tweak it to make an investor presentation. And when you’re happy with the slides, you say, “Well, that presentation is finished.”
Wrong! The slides are finished. You don’t have a presentation on your hard drive. You have a deck. (Another key distinction!)
A presentation is you speaking to a live audience. You are the presentation. You talking to people in the audience. Your voice, your words, your expressions, your gestures, the way you exchange subtle signals with sentient beings.
Slides, when used correctly, are an important part of the show. They reinforce your words, show photos to bring ideas to life, show tables and graphs to add intellectual heft. But all in service and subordinated to your narrative and story.
Investors don’t go to the trouble of meeting with you face to face to see a slide show. No audience does. “Oh boy, can’t wait to see more slides!” They come to hear you, to see you in action, to begin a relationship.
So, from now on separate presentation deck and send-ahead deck in your mind and in actual practice. Create slides for presentation only! Have ready another entirely separate deck for emailing to investors.
A Guide for Send-ahead Decks
The bulk of my other writings focus on how to create a presentation deck used to deliver a great in-person presentation to investors. But send-ahead decks are increasingly the only way to get the meeting in the first place. It’s so important, I’ve written a guide on how to create a send-ahead deck: The Send-ahead Deck as Gladiator. You can get it by clicking on the Books tab.