Pitch Perfect

D uring the recent AdForum Worldwide Summit in New York, I and about 25 other consultants from around the world had the privilege of meeting with 13 different agencies of every type—advertising, interactive, direct and media. Attending these credentials presentations, one after another, felt very similar to clients visiting multiple agencies in search of an agency partner.

Having been an agency new business strategist for nearly a dozen years and responsible for producing hundreds of presentations for prospective clients, I found watching back-to-back agency presentations a good reminder of what I believe makes for a compelling pitch—and what doesn’t. Here are my thoughts:

Ideas are remembered; details are forgotten.

It’s not that details aren’t important; it’s just that they are difficult to retain after a series of presentations. The concept of a strategic process, a meeting theme or a method for measuring campaign performance can easily be filed away in your brain (provided you don’t cloud the concept with too many surrounding details). And if you can give your concept a visual mnemonic, all the better, since 55 percent of what people learn in a presentation is from visual communications, according to a University of California at Los Angeles study. Think about it. When you playback presentations in your mind’s eye, is there complete audio?

Build presentations around the central concepts you want the audience to remember.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Good speakers present with conviction and passion, and without depending on notes. As a result of their preparedness, they tend to be held in higher regard and with greater respect than poorly prepared speakers. They are also better remembered as 38 percent of what people learn is from audio messages only. (If you’re keeping count, that leaves only 7 percent of what people remember for the “words” that are spoken.) In contrast, speakers who must use notes tend to appear less convicted and passionate. In a situation where a prospective client is seeing multiple agency presentations, don’t give your competition an advantage by allowing your speakers to be ill-prepared. As the great basketball coach John Wooden said, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

The person who doesn’t speak, says the most.

When a member of a presenting team doesn’t have a speaking part, that member can become a magnet for the audience’s attention and their silent inquiries. “Why don’t they want him to speak?” “Do they not have enough confidence in him to let him speak? And if they have no confidence in him, why should I?” Unfortunately for the presenting speaker, these distracting thoughts can make it difficult for the audience to focus. If you’re in the room, you’re speaking.

Allow slides to be visual aids, not visual hindrances.

When a slide with a bunch of complete sentences is shown, the first thing the audience is going to do is read it. And if the speaker is saying something different than what the audience is reading, they have to decide to either listen to the speaker or read the slide, because it’s too hard to do both. And if the speaker is saying exactly what’s on the slide, then it’s not really a slide—it’s a script, which is not good. The purpose of a slide is to help tell the story, not be the story. Visual aids should be just that—aids. There should be just enough information on the visual aid to (1) make the audience depend on the speaker to receive the entire message, and (2) amplify the essence of the message.

Write slides that require a voiceover.

Clients are from the “show me” state.

Whether you’re explaining your “proprietary” process or philosophy, if you present them without supporting examples, the audience can quickly jettison your topic into blah, blah land. Processes and such are like opinions, everybody has one. So give your “opinion” teeth by bringing it to life with examples relevant to the audience. Because the truth is, clients don’t care about what you can do; they care about what you can do for them.

Don’t tell them, show them.

“A team of all-stars does not make an all-star team.”

I’m not sure who said this, but it sure is true in the agency world. Teams that interact with each other, respect each other, play off each other, and seem to like each other are easy to spot and inviting to join. Conversely, teams that don’t seem to like each other or respect each other (as demonstrated by being preoccupied while their teammate presents) are repellents to the observant audience. It’s like a dysfunctional family. Who needs another one?

Establish chemistry within your team. It will show and make a difference.