Much like any other field, marketing has a language and terminology of its own, and today’s term is a prime example of this. After all, taking this term at face value can be very confusing – with pitching known in sports like baseball and cricket as throwing something and deck involving either cards, a ship, or an outdoor extension onto a building. On the other hand, in the realm of business (especially marketing), a pitch deck is an essential term that can connect like minds, provide vital funding, and get great ideas off the ground.
At its most basic level, a pitch deck is slang for a quick/brief overview of a business plan, typically created with PowerPoint, Prezi, or Keynote, to present to potential investors. Though much cooler and trendy than saying “investor slide presentation”, the actual origin of the term is hard to find; however, considering PowerPoint’s widespread acceptance in the business world began in the late 1990s, it can probably be traced to around this time.
Breaking the term itself down, the literal meanings in this compound term are “massaged” to fit a need. From the Old English piccean, our word pitch, initially meaning ‘to cast or throw’, first appears circa 1380 in the story of Sir Ferumbras, where it is written that: “His heart was angry & full of mood, & was full high of pitch.” In contrast, the modern understanding of “throwing” ideas and attempting to “cast” persuasion and acceptance (in order to sell something) first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on September 25, 1943, recording that: “Louie..pitches kitchen gadgets.” Deck, originally referring to a platform that extends from side to side on a ship, comes from a nautical use of the Middle Dutch decke, meaning ‘roof or covering’, and was first mentioned in a letter from Sir Edward Echyngham to Cardinal Wolsey in 1513 (found in Alfred Spont’s 1897 Letters and Papers Relating to the War with France), where he details his actions, stating: “And because I had no rails upon my deck I coiled a cable round a[long] deck, breast high, and likewise in the waste.” The visual appearance of a ship’s decks stacked one on top of another soon lent itself to any things laid flat on top of one another, as seen in Francis Markham’s 1625 work, The Book of Honour (“Any whose Pedigree lies so deep in the deck, that few or none will labour to find it.”).
Putting it all together, you’ve got the presentation of a small number of “stacked” slides (first physical, now digital) with the intention of selling a business concept to potential investors; however, there is complexity in such a simple explanation. Throughout the course of approximately 12 slides, an entire (albeit simplistic) business plan, including vision, reasoning, financing, overall market and competition, business model and budgeting, etc., is presented, with the goal being attracting enough interest to get to a second meeting. The key becomes finding the right balance: too much information or too many specifics could turn off investors, while too little information or specifics leaves too many questions (which could also turn off investors).
In many ways, much like the term itself, the right proposals find a way of defining what they are while still remaining aloof enough to attract interest.