Lessons from Adland: Presenting work means never having to say you’re sorry.

August 22, 2013

“Good morning. I hope you like this presentation because I sure as hell don’t.”

As a copywriter I’ve presented countless campaigns to both clients and creative directors. As a creative director, I’ve been presented to just as many times. Presenting work and having work presented to you is one of the tougher aspects of a creative professional’s job and it’s one I’ve written about often. To become good at presenting and, in turn, processing presentations is learned behavior and remains woefully underrated. No creative, however talented, ever gets to the top without at least becoming competent at both.

When it comes to making a presentation, it helps to love the rush, which I now do. At first, of course, it was terrifying. One of the many mistakes –and it is a mistake- I made during this early phase of my career was apologizing for work in advance of showing it. You all know what I’m talking about. The art director who says the imagery isn’t quite right. The copywriter who says the line isn’t there yet. The creative director who wishes he had more time. Or my favorite, when the account director says the work you’re about to see isn’t “fully baked” or that it’s “still in rough form.”

Those observing can only scream in silence.

Folks, now is not the time to hedge. You know how annoying it is when you’re mother gives you a gift and then says she’ll be happy to take it back if you don’t like it? Apologizing to bosses or clients is even worse. It puts the receiver in a mindset of doubt instead of excitement. You would never introduce someone by stating his or her flaws. Why are we so inclined to do so with our work?

Never grovel!

Alas, we are insecure. We have become conditioned to receive criticism and are in essence bracing for it.

Stop it.

Half-baked or not, present your work directly and with confidence. (And I don’t mean pre-sell, for that is a sin as well.) Recognize your audience with a simple greeting and perhaps one sincere flattering remark. Above all, get to the work as soon as possible. Present your ideas with understandable enthusiasm, brevity and clarity. Say thank you. And sit your ass down. Easier said than done, I know. But this is the best tack. Trust me.

When the questions and criticisms come –and they will come- we must avoid being defensive. If we are human, our hearts are pounding. Yet, we must listen. Take notes. Pretend to take notes. But whatever you do, refrain from debate unless you are absolutely certain it is the right thing to do. If you are asked a question answer it. Better yet, let the team leader do so. Hopefully, he or she is capable. Again this is all learned behavior. And it starts the moment we open our mouths.


6 Responses to “Lessons from Adland: Presenting work means never having to say you’re sorry.”

  1. Terrific post and so true. The more foreplay and set-up, the worse the presentation (unless you are building drama that the work will relieve).

  2. Excellent post and reminder. I find it also helpful to restate, briefly, the message or problem the creative addresses before showing it. Who knows what other issues the client or other participants have brought with them into the room? Make sure everyone is together and clear on the objective.
    More posts on presenting, please.

  3. This is a great topic. I’d love to see you cover it more in future posts. Thanks.

  4. AMOS079 said

    This is a topic quite deserving attention.Truth be told, I love it and hope for more in future.

  5. […] Rest assured. The cycle can be broken! What does success look like and how do you get there? That’s the subject of my next post. (Hint: you won’t have to go to Toast Masters or take some weird class in a strip mall.) Until then, here’s a fairly recent piece I wrote on the very same subject. […]

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