Presentation Tips for Agency Life

When I was writing last week’s post on the new business process, I started to conflate the idea of the pitch process with the presentation itself – and as the list was getting a little unwieldy so I broke these out because presenting is one of the most important skills to have in business. Being able to command a room. Communicating an idea – not just the “what” but the “why. Building rapport with folks you’ve never met before.

Careers can be made and broken in presentations and in the exposure to increasingly senior colleagues. I can point to at least five people I’ve worked with who were subsequently (and quite rightly) labelled as up and coming rock stars on the strength of their performance in a presentation. But what is often forgotten is that presenting is a team sport, so these are some tips to building and delivering a great presentation:

  1. Be the best you. A lot of this is just a reminder to do whatever makes you comfortable. From how you like to prepare, to what to wear and how to deliver your story. If something seems interesting and you try it and it works that’s great. If you read something don’t think it will work for you, that’s fine too. Hopefully you can take this and push yourself outside your comfort zone to be a little better at one of the truly important business skills.
  2. What’s your story? When you introduce yourself, either as a team or as an individual, tell a story. For you, personally, don’t let anyone else introduce you because it discounts your own expertise and builds unnecessary cognitive distance between you, your expertise and the story you’re about to tell.
  3. Tell a story with a theme. Its been called a thread of steel for a reason. If you can hang your pitch on one thing, you’ll be a few steps ahead of most of your opposition. Tell a story with an emotional arc and you’ll be miles ahead.
  4. Not having the courage of your convictions. You have a great idea that you love but instead of putting all your faith in that basket, you decide you need a second idea for the client to “kill”. Now you’ve divided your focus, your time and your audience’s attention. A great idea should be able to stand on its own; two ideas shows you’re second guessing yourself
  5. Who said that? I helped a couple of clients with agency selection last year and although we only saw two agencies, I found myself getting lost between who said what. Imagine that multiplied by five or six. One of the keys to pitching is being memorable and being provocative – bring that through into the presentation itself.
  6. Get the timing right. An old colleague would time you down to the second for your piece. Its a great practice, as is enforcing the timing. Nothing worse than someone stealing time in the up front because it puts the back end of the presentation at massive risk. We all have absolute horror stories on this one – the problem is the more senior you are, the more likely you are to steal time up front and the more likely it is that the junior folks have to “pay” for it by cutting their own sections on the fly.
  7. Don’t worry about repeating yourself. The folks you’re pitching to are seeing maybe three, maybe four, maybe eight agencies just like you. Repeating yourself and others can help your ideas be remembered. Hopefully through the quality of your ideas and being as provocative as you can be practical will help as well.
  8. Repeat other people. As well as being a team sport, presenting is another word for persuasion. Strengthen your collective argument by strengthening your collagues’ arguments – I always like to call back to something smart my colleagues have said to cement what they said and to build the argument I’m trying to make as well. You can do this in the q&a section as well
  9. To script or not to script? Whatever makes you the most comfortable. Some people need to be 100% scripted, others 100% off the cuff. Personally, I like to know what I need to say in general but also have specific sayings or turns of phrase that I can sprinkle in throughout. I often over write myself and the sayings can feel a little trite or staged, so I need to practice until they feel natural. Then I like to use visualisation to “see” me saying it in the room.
  10. Reciting vs Presenting. Again, whatever makes you feel comfortable. An old ECD I worked with used to have their notes on index cards which they always held, but never looked at. They were an amazing presenter and I always loved that quirk. I find that if I ever have notes, I get lost on where I’m supposed to be so they don’t work for me.
  11. Piling on. In the q&a section, it can be very hard to be consistent when there are lots of people answering the same question with their particular take on the subject. Because of that, I like the rule of one answer and one follow-on if its in a formal presentation. If its more of an organic conversation, the rules are a little different but for a client. However, I can’t imagine its great for a client to ask a question and hear three or four answers back – or how those answers can all be consistent
  12. Edit, edit edit. Too often we fall in love with certain sections, certain ideas or certain slides. As the presentation evolves, the content has to change too. Be ruthless (ruthless) in your editing. You don’t need all those words on a slide. You don’t need all those pictures or charts or graphs. You need simple, bold imagery which support what you say, not distract from it. Come to think of it, you may not even need a “deck” at all.
  13. What to wear? There are two schools of thought here. One is to dress about 25% more formal than the people you are presenting to. This builds credibility in you before you open your mouth. The second is to wear whatever makes you comfortable and ready to go so you can do the best job you can. Track pants and a hoody are comfortable at home but if I’m in a board room, I usually go for jeans, a crisp shirt and a sharp blazer. YMMV.
  14. Nail the landing. End with a bang, not a whimper.

Like the pitch process post last week, I’ll try to add to this as I see or pick up new tips.


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