There is a saying I like from the prolific writer Mark Twain. “Clothes make a man,” Twain quipped. “Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
Well, in a sales pitch, you’re always trying to exert some kind of influence—and in doing so, it’s important that both you and your presentation are well-dressed. Today, in the third part of my series on building the perfect pitch, the topic is visuals; or, to be more precise, design.
These two words are not synonyms. After all, anyone can decorate their slides with graphics and visual flair; that’s not what I’m talking about here. Visuals can be much more than ornamentation; they can underscore your main points and make your entire pitch more effective by creating a sense of emotional connectivity. But for any of that to happen, you have to be strategic in the visuals you employ; you have to actually design them.
Let me offer a quick illustration. My brother-in-law used to work with a wonderful Italian suit designer—suits that retailed for $3,000 or more. I wore some of these suits myself, and of course they looked very dashing—but more than that, they were very precisely and finely constructed to be comfortable and functional. Every square inch of that suit represented some sort of a design decision that was made—and the goal wasn’t just to make something that looked nice. It had to be functional, too. Remember Mark Twain?
That’s how your visuals should be. I have a hard and fast rule here: If there’s no reason for a visual, don’t use it. Your visuals should never exist just to be eye candy. They should exist because they serve your words, and the emotional connections you’re trying to make. All of this requires you to do some real design work.
But how? Here are a few principles that I generally go by. First, I’m a big fan of black and white imagery, with little splashes of color. (You can see what I mean by looking at my own website or logo.) I like this approach because it’s clear, crisp, and easy to understand; the signal to noise ratio is favorable. By the way, when I started at Apple, the company’s logo was multi-colored, but grew more monochromatic over time. As the marketplace became flooded with flashy, colorful logo, Apple stood out by opting for elegance and simplicity.
I also recommend looking into the Golden Ratio—illustrated with the nautilus shell above. This is a natural, mathematical principle that’s applied in architecture, fashion—you name it. It’s all about scaling things on your page, ensuring the right proportions, making the layout of your visuals easy on the eye. Spend some time brushing up on this key concept.
Allow for some empty space on your slides, which keeps them from appearing messy, disorganized, or overly busy. Empty space is just as important, and just as impactful, as the visual elements you do choose to include.
Remember that grouping is important; the items you lump together visually will also be lumped together in the minds of your audience members. I often shake my head when I see slides that list all the key benefits of a product or service, and then include the price tag in that same grouping. One of these things is not like the other. Put the dollars on a separate page or maybe not on any page. Price is not a presentation point, it’s a value outcome.
One more thing. I’ve noted before that what people remember from your presentation is the way it makes them feel. Emotional connection is everything, and that’s what should drive the visual decisions you make. As you design the look of your pitch—as you seek something that’s both visually pleasing and functional—choose imagery that will reinforce the emotions you’re trying to drive home.
For your pitch to do its job, it needs to be well-dressed—and that’s going to require some design work on your part.