Meetings that move people – How to prepare

The time spent meeting and presenting to clients or clients-to-be is more precious and valuable to agencies than ever before. But are you making the most of yours? In the first of this four-part series, John Scarrott, trainer and coach to design businesses, looks at how a consultancy should best prepare for a presentation.

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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.

These two pieces of feedback could be warning signs for the design industry. Clients will appoint the agency that creates good chemistry, brings the creative to life and that they can have confidence in. But two thirds of clients believe the presentations they see are generic.

Given that the meeting and presentation represent the primary occasion to develop good chemistry, breathe life into ideas and show confidence, there is a danger that the opportunity could be derailed by a flat and lifeless approach. The great ideas and thinking of an agency, potential game changers for a client will not see the light of day. And agencies that could have grown and reached the ambitions they set for themselves stay rooted to the spot or have their journey slowed to a crawl.

Developing an effective approach to presentations is more critical now than ever, so how do you raise your game?

This series will share an approach to making the most of meetings and presentations. In four articles, I will cover what makes meeting and presentation success by looking at the 4Ps, of great meetings and presentations: Preparation, Practice, Performance and Personal Confidence. I’ll be speaking with people working within agencies who are making successful presentations, sharing their insights in each area.

Let’s consider the first area then, preparation. When I work with design agency teams, this is the area that gets many nods of agreement in terms of its importance, and is also considered to be the toughest to put into action.

What does preparation do for you? And what does a good preparation checklist look like?

I asked Ling Jin, Senior Client Partner at Bell Integrated and Sarah Topley, Account Director at Bell Integrated about what preparation does for them and how they make it happen:

Increases your ownership: If you’re not leading the meeting or presentation, it’s really easy to just go along to meetings but not really be there. Preparation acts as a wake-up call. This was Jin’s experience, “When I put the effort in, I found myself being able to influence the conversation flow and take ownership of the outcome,” she says.

Increases your contribution: The time spent preparing has knock on effects to performance in the meeting. Jin says “By preparing, I became more confident and this led me to contribute more, which ultimately helps earn client’s trust as a result. Now I lead the pitch with the team. This was a mentality change for me”.

Find your voice: Another aspect of the ownership that occurs when you prepare is that it creates the space to talk about the work, or subject in your own language. Presenting with your own words is different from having a set of words created by someone else and given to you. As Jin says, “our passion for the work came through when we were able to tap into what it means to us”.

Increases your confidence: Confidence comes directly from preparation. It’s not magically just present or not. This was something Ling discovered: “I found out that someone who I recognise as being very confident, actually sits down and spends time creating their vision for the meeting. And that’s what triggers their confidence.”

Go beyond “fine”: If your preparation routine includes the phrase “We can wing it if we need to” you could be heading for a mediocre or “fine” performance. Topley says her goals for presentations are set at a higher level – “We want to have a positive effect on our client and create energy and momentum with our presentation. And ‘fine’ is not good enough to achieve that.”

How do you create a positive preparation routine for your agency? Here are four things to get you started:

Have one person responsible for pulling it all together: Having someone as a central point of contact for the presentation is crucial. For Topley, “they make sure the right things happen at the right time. Things like how much time we’ve got. They can also delegate roles to each person. And coordinate timings for presentation practice”.

Involve as many people as possible: The value of creating an early opportunity for people to experience a preparation routine speeds their growth and leaves them less exposed when they are eventually drawn into the spotlight. Topley believes that this early exposure allows “you to get your head into how meetings and presentations work.”

Have a reliable preparation routine: Having a simple checklist means you’ve got the details covered. This means you can relax and use your research in a natural and organic way as the situation arises. You’re not struggling to remember it, rather on the lookout for opportunities to use it.

Plan for it to happen: Preparation doesn’t happen by itself. As Topley points out “the biggest issue with this is time – finding it, creating it and managing it to make the most of what’s available in the run up to the presentation.”

Given how much preparation affects all of the other aspects of a presentation it’s got to be worth the effort. Thanks for reading and thanks also to Bell, Ling and Sarah for their time and valuable contributions. This is just one idea to helping agencies to raise their game. Next time I will tell you about practice.

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 6, 2017 at 10:25 am

    I’d be interested to hear about your experiences of preparing for meetings and presentations. What makes for successful preparation? What gets in the way?

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