How to get your next creative pitch right

Creative presentations can be rough. Here are some tips.

Speaking to even a small group of people – especially clients – can be very difficult. Few people are truly good at this. It's more like some are just less terrible than others.

You get less terrible at it by doing it more. Which is why larger shops have account executives, and even entire 'new business' departments. But we creatives still get pulled into the presentation teams anyway, so not much way out of it.

Here are some tips for making what can be a dreadful experience into fun. (Okay, at least less dreadful.)

It's all in the prep

The recent documentary 'Best of Enemies' showed how in the Gore Vidal vs William F Buckley debates, Gore cleaned Buckely's clock. How? Because during the weeks before the debate, Buckley went sailing. Vidal stayed home and prepped.

Just how to prep will vary. But here are a few givens:

  1. Know your own productSeems obvious, but many don't. What does your studio offer? What is your 'unique selling proposition'?
  2. Know your client's businessThis is harder, but it can actually be done with the client's help. They will be impressed you care.
  3. Know your client's needsAsk them what they need, and where they want to take their business. At the very least, you must have a clear idea as to what it is they are asking from you.

(Wo)man with a plan

Armed with the above information, it's now just a matter of putting your message together. Map out what you want to say, and how you want to say it. Make a list, much like a table of contents.

Many creatives are uncomfortable with 'selling' their services. But realize it's simply an opportunity to share your excitement about what you do, and how it can help the client. There's nothing high pressure there, and it can actually be fun. Remember, clients are hoping to find someone to work with – they want to like you.

Visuals into words

Describing creative services to lay-folk isn't easy. My parents still scratch their heads wondering what I do. Similarly, some clients are more savvy, and others will need more hand-holding.

So make your presentations about SHOWING, instead of TELLING. As visual artists, this is our forte anyway. Here are some production options for a presentation:

  1. Use your websiteMaybe you need to keep a presentation simple, and don't have time to create new material. The best bet can be to use examples off of your existing online portfolio. It takes on a whole new meaning with you talking them through the examples, explaining each in terms of their needs.
  2. Slide showsPowerPoint or Keynote are still standards and work just fine. And give far more control than just browsing your site.
  3. Multimedia presentationsIf this is a big presentation, then pull all stops out and go big. A short reel (yes, even for still work) and some over-sized displays can make a big impact and are all options. Going all out also tells a client you will deliver for them. (But yes, it's a bummer when you don't win the job.)

An away game's bag of tricks

Will the presentation be held at your fancy penthouse offices with panoramic views and tricked-out conference room? Or, if you work out of your basement, might you be better off presenting at their space?

Heading to their space means you don't need to clean the basement cat box. But it also means they'll have distractions and interruptions in their own office space.

Since their offices may not be as tricked-out with presentation gear as yours, here are a few cool tools we have in our bag of tricks, for going on the road:

The Cube LED projector is a contender for the best in class of ultra-affordable projectors. Unlike the large, heavy and expensive projectors, this retails for under $300US, measures a super-tiny 2-inch cube and weighs in at a featherweight of 0.3 pounds.

While it caps out at about 50 lumens and 854 x 480, in the real world it kicks out a usable image even in moderately lit rooms. It comes with a small stand (sporting gorilla-style legs), a remote control, charger and even adapter cables—awesome!

You can't always bring the whole team to a presentation, right? With Logitech's line of portable conferencing devices, you can do it virtually.

We looked at their new ConferenceCam Connect ($499US) with it's ultra portable all-in-one design. It comes with a remote that snaps into place, doubling as a lens cover during transport. It supports a full HD 1080p video, 360-degree sound, and is optimized for up to about 6 people in a conference room.

For the next presentation, skip PowerPoint and Keynote and give Prezi a whirl. As a cloud based tool it offers a different take on both creating and presenting your content. It's a natural for remote collaboration, and perfect for presenting to remote clients. (Look for their free version option, which is sort of hidden off to the side.)

The confidence to jump on their desk!

Ad man Ben Colarossi gained fame as Creative Director, creating campaigns for Wendy's, Texaco, Revlon and Timex. He was known for his indefatigable passion when it came to pitching a client. "I just didn't stop. I would pound an idea home to them until they understood what I had in mind. Nothing could stop me back then," explained Ben.

Once during a presentation, he didn't feel like the client was paying attention. So he stood up, leaped onto the client's desk and said, "Do I have your attention now? Don't you understand how important what I am saying is to your business?" He not only won the account, but the event was later chronicles in AdAge Magazine by its Editor in Chief.

Not everyone is as ballsy as Ben to pull off such a stunt, nor talented enough to get away with it. But confidence and charm is important when making a presentation. Confidence comes in knowing what you are saying is true. And charm comes from being relaxed and talking TO your audience, rather than AT them. Both will come with a bit of practice.

Words: Lance Evans