Friday, June 18, 2010

Stop talking about rehearsing

During the pitch process, every agency gives lip service to rehearsal. They plan for rehearsal time and schedule a conference room, but how much time is actually spent rehearsing? Odds are people would rather talk about rehearsing than actually rehearse.
We have all been in sessions where it took half a day or even all day to get through a 90-minute pitch deck. There is a great deal of spirited discussion as to the content on slide 37 and whether the strategy is well articulated in the strategy section. In addition, everyone is happy to report that they spent a full day rehearsing when, in fact, they spent 90 minutes rehearsing and about seven hours talking about rehearsing.
Discussing the content, removing slides, wordsmithing, etc. are all important parts of the pitch process; they are just not rehearsal. Once the presentation deck is tight and the discussion of content is over, this is when rehearsal starts. Rehearsal is the part of the process where presenters become so familiar with their content that they can start to concentrate on other issues. For example, connecting with the audience.
Agencies get so wrapped up in the content that they frequently forget that the audience is a group of living, breathing human beings who want to be conversed with, not simply presented to. When pitches work well, agencies often hear that there was good chemistry. If chemistry is such an important part of winning pitches, doesn’t it make sense to at least make some effort to enhance the chemistry in the room?
Chemistry happens when the presenters make an effort to connect with the audience. The presenters need to be more than just automatons, getting up and delivering their slides. They need to be personable and charming. In essence, presenters need to give the impression that they would be a pleasure to work with. The more conversational tone the presenter has, the more chemistry they will be building.
This kind of tone is natural for a precious few presenters, but for others, it only comes when they are no longer nervous about forgetting their part. It is rare that an agency hears that their strategy or creative was bad, but it is not uncommon to hear that the chemistry was bad.
Think about the acting world. Actors have read-throughs where the actors sit at a table and read their parts. This is not the time to practice the physical part of acting. This is the time just to get comfortable with the lines and what comes before and after the actor’s part, much like the first read-through of a pitch deck. After the first read-through, the actor goes home and practices. The next step is to get up and rehearse. Here the actor rehearses both the words and the delivery. Finally, we are ready for a dress rehearsal. The actors go through the entire performance without stopping, without discussion. Actors are smart enough to know that the first time they get through their performance without stopping should not be on opening night. Agencies can benefit from the same rigors when it comes to rehearsal.
The question is how to allocate time when the timeline to get a pitch ready is so compressed. Typically, agencies work forward from the day the pitch process starts, and rehearsal time is whatever is left over after the team is done talking about the deck. Winning agencies work backwards from the day of the pitch. Those agencies know exactly how many rehearsals they need in order to have their best chance of winning. Typically, it is a relatively low number of rehearsals. Four or five usually do the trick. Winning agencies also do not rely on working until midnight the day before the pitch. They finish at a reasonable hour and get some rest. This way if they need the extra time, they have it.
Agencies in the consumer world suffer from the same short pitch timelines, but they still manage to dedicate significant time to rehearsal. You can bet that when the Martin Agency won Geico and NASCAR, they didn’t decide to wing it on pitch day. That team was rehearsed and ready to go when they arrived at the client to give their presentation. If rehearsing helps to win at the big consumer shops, then it can clearly help give agencies the winning edge in the pharma world.
If your agency is not winning at least 40% of its pitches or if you’re hearing that the chemistry is not right, perhaps now is the time to rethink the pitch process and dedicate a bit more time and discipline to rehearsal.

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