Great ideas sell themselves… or do they?

John Scarrott, trainer and coach to design and creative businesses explores why is it that when it comes to pitch presentations, design agencies seem to spend little time practicing the presentation, and offers some ideas on what they can do about it.

Great ideas sell themselves, so the saying goes. You simply enter the pitch with your idea, gently nudge it in the back and it will start talking. But what happens when it refuses to speak? Consultancies that rely on this tactic when presenting their work run a real risk that some of their best ideas won’t see the light of day.

The truth is that while some ideas might sell themselves, most if not all will need consultancy leaders and their teams to step up and do it. And this involves being well-rehearsed so you can get out of the way and let the idea speak. How do you rehearse for your pitches?

When the subject of presentation rehearsal comes up in my workshops, there is general agreement about how important it is. There is often time built into the lead up to the pitch to practice the presentation. And yet somehow, that time gets used in different ways. Sometimes it’s with being busy with something else. Often, it’s spending more time tweaking the idea and then the deck, and then back to the idea. If this works for you, all good. But if you’re not winning the pitches you go for, it may be that it’s not your deck or your idea that’s letting you down. It could be the way you’re preparing to present it.

What causes agencies to forgo their rehearsal? It may start from a belief that the idea should sell itself. From here, it would follow that the more work you put into the idea increases the likelihood that it will sell itself. The more you work on the idea, the less you need to say about it. Just start up the Mac and let the idea do the talking. It could also be that rehearsals are painful experiences so best avoided.

Ideas do speak for themselves. But only to the originator. And unfortunately, unless it’s your own branding you’re working on, it won’t be useful to a successful outcome, especially one that rests on a client’s decision. Clients are more interested in you, what you think and how you work. They are judging you on how you communicate with them. Because it’s that future working relationship that they’re buying into. They’re not simply buying your past work (or future work in a free pitch) any more than you’re selling it.

For clients to buy into you, they need to trust you. And you need to trust yourself. Here’s how using the time in your schedule to rehearse, helps with trust:

Rehearsal means you will be congruent during the meeting with your client. This means that your words and actions will be consistent with each other. If you’re not congruent, how you act will be the impression the client receives. For example, you’re not being congruent when you say that you work as a team and then bump into each other as you swap over speakers. Or when you say that you communicate well and then talk over each other during the presentation.

  • Rehearsal means that you can direct your attention towards your client and away from your idea. You know your idea inside out so relax. This means you can pick up on cues that your client gives off, when their attention is waning. Or when they have a question they want to ask. These moments are the moments that pitch success rests on.
  • Rehearsal means you can manage the meeting. You can be conscious of how you’re beginning and ending. You’ll free up your mind to ask questions about next steps and how decisions will be taken. When you have rehearsed you can trust yourself to convey your idea.

How to make a rehearsal happen:

  • All hands-off deck: Decide to stop working on the deck. This will give you the time to practice. It will take strength of will but if you agree that winning the pitch will be part content and part delivery and you want to win, you’ll do it. The leader of the pitch needs to lead on this. In itself this will start to change the culture of your consultancy’s approach to presentations.
  • Appoint a pitch ambassador: this is someone who may or may not be involved in the pitch. Their job is to make sure the rehearsal happens. To observe what happens. To give feedback and ask questions and to assign responsibilities to make corrections and changes. And then to arrange a second rehearsal if necessary. Every consultancy has someone who can do this. If you don’t, think about bringing someone in.
  • Full dress rehearsal: Do at least two run throughs. And make them the full works. This means having everyone there, in position, practicing full-on and saying what they would say in the presentation. Meanwhile someone should be asking questions and try ‘being’ the audience. The first time won’t be an enjoyable experience! You’ll see and hear all the things you don’t like and want to hide from. The second time, you’ll feel better about it. And even with just two rehearsals you’ll notice the difference.

John Scarrott is a trainer and coach, working with marketing, design and creative professionals on their approaches to sales, speaking and presenting and networking. Find him here: www.johnscarrott.com

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Comments
  • Stuart Smith May 14, 2018 at 10:29 am

    Great article. I recently completed a 10-week stand-up comedy course and it has really helped me with my confidence, writing, recognising my personal style and memorising 5-7 minutes of material.

    • John Scarrott May 14, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks Stuart, good to hear. Nice work on the stand-up comedy course. It sounds as though you got some really good things from it. How did you come to choose it as a way to improve?

      • Stuart Smith May 14, 2018 at 6:20 pm

        I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘art’ of stand-up. We all make our friends laugh when we’re at the pub, but I wanted to see if I can make a room of complete strangers laugh for 5 minutes when everything is stripped away. Thankfully, it turns out I can. Phew!

        • John Scarrott May 16, 2018 at 2:39 pm

          Good for you Stuart, maybe an alternative career beckons. I was wondering, when you’re required to present in a business context, which parts of the stand-up workshop have been the most useful?

  • Stef June 5, 2018 at 9:10 am

    Couldn’t agree more with your views on making a rehearsal happen, and I don’t know an agency who also wouldn’t agree. But reality is a far different thing. In my 20+ years of working with all types of agencies of all sizes I have yet to find one that:
    – has the courage to put a cut off point to the deck prep well before the actual pitch (fussing with decks up to 10 minutes before the actual pitch seems endemic)
    – stops prepping the deck in deference to carving time to rehearse the pitch. Mostly I think this is down to ‘squeezing’ in time for the pitch prep amidst the fee-paying work – which results in everything being more last minute than everyone wants it to be.

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