Pitching and Presenting, Part II. Selling your work is as critical as making it.

November 24, 2008

images4…Er… I…um… like… you know… basically…

Fact: Public speaking (or presenting) ranks second in what people fear most. Right behind falling out of airplanes.

Fact: Public speaking is hard and most people aren’t very good at it. Most people will never be very good at it.

My opinion: Writers are usually better at presenting work than art directors. Nothing personal, it’s just that writers are more comfortable with words than non-writers.

Folks, I’m pretty good at selling work. God gave me grace under this pressure. I thrive in front of an audience. Maybe you can too. Here’s my best advice, some of it learned the hard way.

1)   Being nervous is okay. It is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it’s a sign of respect.  Tell your clients that you’re nervous. Seriously, I do it all the time. This is something that works before any speech you might be giving. People warm up to you. Remember… some of the best performances begin with a healthy dose of stage fright. It’s not a ploy. It’s the truth.

2)   Look nice. What can I say? If you can’t afford nice clothes, borrow them. I think it’s a pleasant surprise when creative people wear suits. It means you take your audience seriously. It means you take your work seriously. The average commercial costs 400 grand to produce. And you’re going to sell two or three of them wearing blue jeans? Whatever you choose to wear, remember what legendary ad man, David Oglivy once said: nobody ever bought anything from a clown…with the possible exception of Ronald McDonald.

3)   Don’t start your sentences with the word ‘basically’ or end them with the phrase ‘you know.’ Or, even worse, the word ‘like.’ This is something you can learn how not to do. I did. You’d be surprised how inane these words make you sound. On that note, try to avoid saying ‘I think.’ If you didn’t think it you wouldn’t have said it.

4)   Be funny if you can. But not if you can’t. Do not try to be funny. You either is or you isn’t. It shouldn’t be an issue anyway. Yours is a business presentation not Tony and Tina’s wedding. Besides, a competent straight man is just as good as the humorous, big personality. Maybe even better. The bigger sin is the presenter who thinks he’s funny but is hopelessly not. Sadly, the culprit here is usually the creative person. He thinks his job is to bring the funny. One lackluster joke and the boat starts taking on water. A few more and you might as well book an early flight home. While funny wins pitches, so does charming, respectful and polite. Again, no adult ever bought anything from a clown.

5)   Passion is good. Properly directed. Be passionate not only about your work but what your work can do for your client. Remember: The quickest way for you to become rich and famous is for them to become rich and famous. Everything you say should imply this. If you cut all the fat away it is why they are listening to you in the first place. All clients want results. Sound like you can give it to them.

6)   Avoid being defensive. The whiny creative is as much a cliché as the anal account guy. And, in my view, a lot uglier. Especially if he’s wearing dirty blue jeans and is sporting a faux-hawk.

7)   Never force a client into anything. Ever. Whether it’s a million dollar TV commercial or your opinion on euthanasia, don’t push it. Even if you somehow manage to browbeat a client into submission, it will come back to haunt you. Buyer’s remorse is inevitable. And when it happens your client will hate whatever it is you sold him twice as much as when he first saw it. Guaranteed. God only knows how many ad agencies were fired because somewhere along the way they were browbeaten into submission.

8)   Options. A client can be genuinely right and you can be genuinely wrong. Happens all the time. One has to be able to stand outside of one’s own arguments. The first lesson of Journalism is that there are two sides to every story. In your presentation you are pitching only one. You don’t need to give other scenarios equal time just be aware they exist. Be open-minded. On that note, when selling ideas, I am a firm believer in providing a client options. Do not be afraid to show work other than what you are recommending. Contrary to popular belief, clients do not gravitate to the worst idea in the room, especially if you frame it as such. I’ve never seen a client buy work that has been deemed flawed. She may not go with your recommendation but she won’t go with crap either. Whatever your opinion on the matter, this much is true: After the meeting, you never want a client talking about something that’s not in the room.

9)   Power points. Surprisingly, I’m not going to advocate dumping them. But if you can hold a meeting –and I mean hold it– without one, you’re having a good meeting. For routine stuff go ahead: point and click. But for the big show try looking for the magic from within yourself or your work. Both. Stand behind your work, literally and figuratively.

In Conclusion… If I had to select the most important item from the above list, it would be the bit about nervousness. So many people try to cover up and play cool. But that didn’t work when you were stoned in high school and it rarely does so in presentations. Like your mom, they can see it in your eyes. You know that they know that you know your nervous and you end up stuttering and saying “basically” too much. Best to just be honest about your nerves. Tell your client that this is the biggest meeting you’ve ever been in and of course you’re nervous. Tell them it would be disrespectful if, for some reason, you weren’t. Not only is it the truth, it’s a great opener. Trust me on this. Clients do.

When it’s all said and done, confidence tempered with respect is the most important attribute a team can bring into the room. Second only to big ideas and a cashmere jacket from Barneys.


5 Responses to “Pitching and Presenting, Part II. Selling your work is as critical as making it.”

  1. Sarah J said

    This is very helpful. Thank you.

  2. SRP said

    I aims to please!
    Thank you, Sarah.

  3. Terry said

    And the key to confidence is believe in what you are saying, and prepare far enough in advance that the presentation comes from the heart not the head.

  4. SRP said

    Wise words, Terry.
    Nothing against being prepared. On the contrary. This allows room to breathe. Using one’s heart -being emotionally honest- will resonate far better with an audience versus a formulaic lecture.

  5. I agree that more than one option should be presented. But make sure you’re happy with your alternates. To me, you’re disrespecting the client and yourself to fart around on your alternates just because there’s another one you prefer. Don’t let it out the door unless you feel strongly about it.

    For every presentation, I want to be able to say something like “We would be proud to go with any of these. They are all smart and compelling. We wouldn’t show them to you otherwise. But ____ is our recommendation, and here’s why…”

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