Meetings that move people – How to practise

The time spent meeting and presenting to clients or clients-to-be is more valuable to consultancies than ever before. But are you making the most of yours? Following on from the first article on Preparation, John Scarrott, trainer and coach to design businesses, looks at the second ‘P’ of successful meetings and presentations: Practise.

Portrait of young businessman giving presentation to colleagues. Young man showing new app design layout on white board to coworkers during business presentation.

The presentation is a golden opportunity for design agencies to differentiate themselves and win work. But using live meetings to brush up on your technique is learning the hard way and commercially risky. It’s safer to practise in private but what else is valuable about rehearsing a meeting? What does good practise look like and how do you build it into your studio so that everyone grows and develops into great presenters?

According to Up to the Light’s annual survey ‘What Clients Think 2016’:

  • “The top three reasons for winning a pitch are good chemistry, bringing creative to life and confidence in delivery.
  • “62% of clients believe that agency new business presentations feel generic.

I spoke with Bell Integrated’s senior client partner Ling Jin and account director Sarah Topley as well as Ex-Bell account director Su Duff about what practise means for them and how they make it happen:

Fine-tune your approach: When you practise, you increase the self-awareness that allows you to notice what you might want to change before the meeting. This is highly valuable when it comes to performing well at the meeting. Jin observes that “practise proved to be very useful in a recent case, because during the run through we realised we needed to re-consider who is best to present what. That change made the presentation much more engaging and successful. We would not have discovered this without practise”.

Increase your confidence: When you rehearse, you behave as if you were giving the presentation. This gives you more awareness of why you’re meeting and what you want to get out of it and with this comes growth in confidence. As Jin says: “Personal confidence comes from preparation and practise. I own this meeting because I know what I want to get out of it. Confidence is the result, preparation and practise are how you get there.”

Reduce nerves and anxiety: Imagine if your meetings felt as though you’d already had a dry run of them. The rehearsal is the right time to be nervous. Topley says: “People often come to the run through a bit nervy but afterwards they feel more confident.”

Given there are some good reasons to rehearse, how do you build good presentation practise routines into your studio? Here are some ideas:

Agree practise has to happen and take action to plan for it: You have to make time for it. It won’t happen naturally or because everyone thinks it’s a good idea. You have to take action. As Jin says: “You have to plan for it to take place. By planning for it to happen, you make it happen.”

Make it a part of your general business practise, not just big occasions: Planning will be more likely to happen when it always happens. It will have become a habit. Jin has made it part of the way she works. “I now insist on a run through for all presentations, not just pitches but every kind of presentation where a client is involved,” she says.

Commit to the practise: Practise the full meeting or presentation twice. And say what you’re going to say. Make it a full dress rehearsal with no short-cuts. If you are practicing correctly, the first time you run through your meeting, the experience will feel painful. The second time will be easier. As Topley says: “We have at least two run throughs of the presentation.”

Make feedback part of the process: Practise is a place of safety. You’re free to make mistakes or try things. It’s also a good opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback with colleagues. This is something that happens at Bell and Topley says: “We give honest feedback to each other.”

Be tough but flexible with practise: Proactive planning for practise is sometimes a balancing act. A certain amount of pragmatism is called for. Topley suggests that this is fine: “We sometimes find we may only have time for one and a half practises or there may be one person missing for the first one. This is still effective because, by preparing as a team, it makes us more resilient and flexible if the unexpected does occur.”

Practise on each other with non-design related topics. Develop a culture of presentation learning and practise, in which all of the agency participates. This is what happens at Bell where Topley says: “We have a monthly session where we ask people to make a presentation on a topic they are passionate about. This practise means we can all say ‘we’ve done this before, we’ve been successful.’ Knowing this makes us better presenters.”

There’s not enough time: this might be your first thought. Duff has useful insights to share on this. “When my first thought is, ‘there’s not enough time’, I recognise the thought. Then I pause and think more about it. Often it turns out that I do have time to prepare but I would need to create it,” she says. The rest then melts away. This comes from an understanding of why you want to perform well: why does this matter? This meeting? This presentation?

Given how much rests on your meetings and presentations it’s got to be worth making time to practise. Thanks for reading and thanks also to Ling, Sarah and Su for their time and valuable contributions. This is just one idea to help agencies to raise their game. Next time I will discuss the third ‘P’ – performance.

If you’re interested in honing your presentation skills, I’m running a one day workshop on 23rd February called “Influential Meetings and Presentations”.  

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  • John Scarrott January 20, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    What’s your approach to rehearsing a presentation or meeting? What helps and what gets in the way?

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