Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Every Presenters Nightmare

The following post is from Jim Joseph's blog, Jim is President of Lippe Taylor Brand Communications and author of the book The Experience Effect. I thought his post was a wonderful reminder about both preparation and connecting with the audience.

Every Presenter's Nightmare
I guess I should consider myself lucky that I lasted all these years without it ever happening to me. But yesterday it did. The moment I have dreaded for years ... the moment that all public speakers dread.

I was speaking at the MDPA marketing conference just outside Washington, DC ... talking about the evolution of social media especially as it relates to wellness. The MC of the conference makes a very articulate introduction for me and I confidently walk up onto stage. I say "Good Morning" with all the gusto I've got and hit the button to advance the next slide ...

Nothing happens.

I click again, I point it at the screen, I click again ... Nothing happens. Thinking that maybe something will save me I click again ... Nothing happens.

I decide to give an intro to the slides while the IT folks figure out what's going on -- to buy myself some time ... Nothing happens.

By the look on the IT guy's face, I quickly realize that I am hanging out there on my own. Forty-five minutes of content and I've got no slides. So I just start talking ... and something really cool happens.

I connect with the audience!

I pretty succinctly convey the message I want to make without a single slide. I proceed to tell a story of what I want people to hear from me. I put all my attention into the audience, rather than on the slides. And although I may not have hit every bullet point from every slide, I certainly did deliver the message. And because everyone felt so bad for me (and afraid for when it's their turn), they actually paid attention. Nothing like sympathy to draw in a crowd!!

What a concept. A story that people paid attention to ... at a marketing conference! I got pushed out of "slide land" and was forced just to talk and to tell a story. And by the sound of all the Q&A that happened afterwards, I'd say it went really well. Without a single slide.

Five lessons learned from this "experience":
- Be prepared for the worst case scenario ... always
- Tell a story ... in the moment
- Pay attention to your audience ... and they will pay attention to you
- Give 'em just enough content to spark engagement ... and they will ask questions
- Smile the whole time :) ... and they will smile back!!

Now that was an experience!! Ever happen to you? Jim.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Filament Inc. has a new website

After toiling over every word of copy and scrutinizing every photograph, Filament Inc.'s new website is up and running. While the old site served us well, it was starting to look a little dated. A fresh look at the copy was also useful.

Take a look, give us some feedback!

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant - Filament Inc.

All Hand on Deck!

When I am with a new client working on a pitch, I am usually asked how other agencies handle the responsibilities of writing the deck. While revealing how a particular agency handles deck writing would be like revealing Kentucky Fried Chicken’s secret recipe, there are basically two different philosophies of deck writing represented by a deck dictator versus a deck democracy.
The deck dictator scenario is where one person writes every deck. The biggest advantage of the pitch dictator is that the agency is assured of a consistent flow and cadence to the deck with a low chance of inconsistencies. This typically makes it much easier for the audience to track with the presenters and follow the story. While this is the only significant advantage, the advantage is enormous and should not be overlooked.
The disadvantages of the pitch dictator are numerous. The most obvious is the tendency to get only one point of view. If that point of view is in line with the client, you are golden. If not, you will likely lose the pitch.
From a management standpoint, one author handling all new business puts the agency in a precarious spot. Basically, the entire new business engine is being run by one person. That person can then dictate their terms to management when it comes to compensation. Meanwhile, two or three concurrent pitches, a pitch during the dictator’s honeymoon, or a wayward bus on 5th Avenue could all put the agency in trouble.
Another disadvantage of the pitch dictator is the tone of voice. Presenters have different tones and manners in their presentations, and if they are not writing the content, the tone is not likely to fit their style. A presenter that needs talking points on the screen could be completely flustered by a dictator that does not believe in talking points. A more formal choice of words, which may work for a copywriter, might be completely inappropriate for someone without a copy background.
Finally, the dictator can become the bottleneck in the process, and virtually no work takes place until after the deck is written. Since people have little input on their slides, no one feels any urgency to do any work since they are going to be told what to say and how to say it.
At the other end of the deck spectrum is the deck democracy, where many authors contribute to the process. The big advantages of this style are that more people are developing their new business skills, the bottleneck is distributed among a number of people, and the agency is better prepared to handle multiple pitches (or wayward busses).
From a presentation standpoint, deck democracies are a mixed bag. While it is a significant advantage to have people write their own content, the downside is that this process frequently leads to subtle contradictions in the deck where presenter A says one thing and 30 minutes later, presenter B says something that conflicts, confusing the audience. A way to avoid this is to have enough time to rehearse to uncover the contradictions.
The presentation advantage of a deck democracy is that people own their content. It is written in their tone of voice and they should completely understand their slides since they wrote the slides. This ownership should lead to more genuine and compelling presentations.
If the more democratic approach makes more sense to you, there are a few techniques that will make it go more smoothly. First, have one person in charge of writing the agenda and organizing the content. This will help to make the content flow better and be easier to follow. Develop a style guide that lets staff understand the basic methodology to putting together slides. For example, bullets should not have children or grandchildren. No more than five bullets per slide. Bullets should be as short as possible and not full sentences. When possible, use a picture instead of a bullet. This will help to make the deck look more consistent. The last thing to keep your eye out for is that not everyone is going to be good at writing content. Including bad content simply because it is already written is not doing anyone any favors. Weed the garden and get rid of weak content.
I have seen both the dictator and the democracy systems work. Agencies that win the most seem to be best at adapting themselves to address the weaknesses of either the dictator or the democracy. Pick whichever system works best for you, but have your eyes open for the built in disadvantages of each option.

Mark Schnurman
Filament Inc. - Pitch Consultant

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Clear all hurdles to win the pitch

During the pitch process, clients are not just looking for the agency they should hire. More importantly, they are looking at the agencies they should not hire. An agency needs to clear a number of hurdles in order to win the business. Some of the hurdles are obvious: creative, strategy, capabilities. But some of the hurdles are more difficult to see coming: charisma, likability, chemistry.
First let’s take a look at the obvious hurdles. When it comes to creative, clients are not only looking for good creative (and you can define good however you like), but they are looking very closely to make sure that the creative is on strategy. In both pharma and consumer pitches, I have seen creative presented that was not completely on strategy. There are typically a number of reasons for this. One is that it was politically not a good move to kill the concept. Perhaps the creative person had another concept killed and the team did not want to kill two concepts from the same person. Another reason could be that the concept was really exciting and sexy. While agencies will frequently argue that clients can’t spot great creative (this may or may not be true), clients can absolutely spot concepts that are off strategy. Present them at your own peril.
Another hurdle that the agency needs to clear is strategy. Unfortunately, sometimes the strategy to market a drug is pretty clear, and numerous agencies will wind up on the same strategy. If the strategy from agency to agency is the same, the winning agency frequently is the one that either did the most compelling research or did the best presentation of the strategy.
Research is the piece that establishes that the strategy is solid and not just your team’s opinion. Presentation skill is the component that develops the necessary excitement around your strategy. Do not think for a moment that presentation skill can’t be the difference between winning and losing. A better presentation of similar content can push your agency across the finish line first.
Capabilities is a different kind of hurdle. One would expect that if you make it to the pitch, you have made it over the capabilities hurdle. If you are a smaller agency and made it into the finals against larger competition, have you ever lost because the client wound up wanting a bigger, more established agency? If so, did you really make it over the capabilities hurdle? There is nothing you can do to make your agency bigger overnight, but it does make you question pitching a product when you know that you are at a disadvantage. A competitor three times your size is three times as likely to have someone on staff that is an expert in the therapeutic area being pitched, and their new business budget could be five times the size of your new business budget. I am not suggesting that you never pitch against larger competition; I am suggesting that you recognize when the cards are stacked against you and choose your battles wisely.
Charisma, likeability and chemistry come from a combination of factors, some of which are in your control, some not so much. Some people are naturally more charismatic as presenters. In many ways chemistry is a crap shoot. That being said, rehearsal can help to improve those areas. Once you are confident in what you are going to say, you can start to concentrate on connecting with the audience and being more personable. As rehearsals progress, presenters tend to spend less time worrying about the words and more time focusing on the audience.
When the strategy and creative are similar from agency to agency, presentation skill plays a larger and larger role. Two of our clients pitched a major retailer a few years ago. The agency fee (not including media) was well over $30 million per year. While each agency had its advantages, the winning agency was simply more likeable. Even the losing agency admits that they are not particularly warm in a pitch. The winning agency views warmth and charm as an important part of their presentation and works hard to dial it up. The other agency is also very smart, but they present the facts as they see them and make little attempt to connect with the audience. It is difficult to say that charm was the deciding factor, but connecting with the audience is in every agency’s control and is not something that should be ignored. It is not just the words but how you say the words. This is the last hurdle that you have to clear in order to win.

Mark Schnurman
President - Filament Inc.

Monday, April 18, 2011

One pitch, one leader

The single biggest characteristic of winning agencies is that they have a clear leader for every pitch. Rather than a bunch of people who think they are the leader, a team needs a very clear, one-to-one relationship: one leader for one pitch.
The pitch leader’s primary role is to keep the process moving. The leader is the final arbiter when there is a discussion about things such as strategy or creative. This does not mean that the leader makes every decision. It does mean that this individual makes sure a decision is made and that the process keeps moving.
Far too often agencies get derailed discussing a subtlety of strategy or creative when they would have been better served to move on with the process. The pitch leader needs to remind the team that the clock is ticking, and every minute the team spends on the particular topic at hand is one less minute that they have for the rest of the process.
The natural question becomes who should be the leader.
The advantage of the new business person becoming the leader is that this individual frequently sourced the lead and is very connected to the prospect. He is frequently a very strong strategic person with a great understanding of the new business process. While these are great advantages, the one disadvantage can be huge: no one on the pitch team reports to him. As a result, he can persuade and cajole pitch team members to do their jobs, but he has no hammer. To make matters worse, it is his rear-end in a sling if he loses the pitch. To sum up, the new business person is responsible for winning and is compensated and evaluated on the agencies win rate, but he has virtually no power to get people to execute the pitch. Not an enviable scenario.
The creative director can be a good choice because a large part of the pitch process and a good deal of the last minute work is in her department. She is the best person to crack the whip on the creative department, and she understands the numerous issues that can come up in the creative department during a pitch. There are two basic disadvantages. The first is that it can be difficult to get account services and strategy to listen to the creative director. The second is that process orientation is typically not a term used to describe creative directors, and the ability to stick to a process is very important in working a team through a pitch.
Similar to the creative director, the head of account services or strategy can make a good leader. The advantage is that a good portion of the team reports to him, and he is likely more process and schedule driven than a creative director. The disadvantage is that the creative team does not report to him, and he is not as tuned into the creative process as a creative director. This can lead to a certain amount of resentment when the pitch leader is trying to drive the creative team to stop tweaking and start rehearsing when that pitch leader has never been in that art director’s chair and does not understand the creative process.
The head of the agency is the obvious choice for a number of reasons. Everyone reports to her, so she should have no problem motivating people. Sticking to the process should not be an issue for her. But even the agency head has a few potential downsides that need to be addressed. First, the pitch leader needs to be at most, if not all, of the meetings. If the leader is not present, the leadership vacuum can grind the process to a halt. The second is that the leader needs to be careful to lead the process and not simply take over the process. Because of their role at the agency, suggestions made by managing directors and CEO are frequently taken as mandates by well-meaning staff. As a result, the process can turn into one person’s thinking.
While it may seem as if there is no ideal pitch leader, by simply managing the disadvantages of each potential leader’s role, you can develop a strong pitch process. I have seen people from each role be great pitch leaders, and I have seen people from each role fall prey to the disadvantages listed above. The key is insure that you have one person running the show. While we can discuss which person will make the best pitch leader, typically a committee will have all of the disadvantages listed above without any of the strengths. This is not to say that a committee can’t work, but you will make the process more difficult and painful than it needs to be.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rehearsal tips for nervous presenters

Great blog on rehearsal tips for nervous presenters. Check it out.


Rehearsal tips for nervous presenters

The following is a great blog post on rehearsal tips for nervous presenters.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who Presented vs Who Sold at SXSW

The following is a blog from Luke Sullivan, CD at GSD&M and author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. Luke does a great job of discussing the need for selling ideas as opposed to simply presenting ideas.

To read his blog directly, go to

Here is the cut and pasted version...

The ideas that were actually selling here at SxSW were the ones that were actually sold – by a fantastic speaker.

Now I agree, some ideas are so great they don’t need to be sold. For example, they day they discover a cure for cancer? They won’t need an ad agency. They can take out a classified ad in the Tulsa Weekly-Bugle and the world will know about it within a week. But for those of us with ideas less world-shaking, we will need to sell them.

Fact is, most of the presentations I saw this week kinda blew. The content was great, no question. Pretty much every presenter had something cool to say. (With one exception; one speaker was so 1998 she was puttin’ up slides about how “Consumers can now scan bar codes with their phones!” Dude. Please.)

The big difference in the transmission of ideas comes down to this: Passion. Power. Clarity. Energy.

I don’t care if you’re just on a stinkin’ panel about banner ads, when you have the mike you’ve been given the gift of the attention of 200 people and you’re failing if you do not knock it out with passion, power, clarity and energy. Of the sessions I attended, every single speaker failed. I know, I know, they weren’t all that way. In fact, at last night’s party at GSDM, most people were talking about Gary Vaynerchuk‘s speech. People were blown away by it. Blown away. Damn, I wish I’d seen it. I didn’t, but I heard about it. And you know what? Even if it turns out his speech was content I’m not really interested in, I woulda ended up interested in it because he made me interested.

President Bill Clinton came to speak here at the agency a couple a times (he’s best friends with Roy Spence, himself a legendary speaker). I remember watching Clinton that day and just soakin’ it in, trying to learn everything I could; his intensity; his command of the material; his pacing; his eye contact; his comfort in front of people; his accessibility. It was the full package and, man, it was mesmerizing.

So, if you agree we’re in the business of spreading ideas, of selling ideas, make it your business to learn how to speak publicly. To learn how to put on a kick-ass presentation.


My friend here at GSDM, Jenn Totten, she told me to CTFD. (Calm The Fuck Down, a hip abbreviation I predict will soon to be in the national lexicon.): “You are cranky, but you’re right. The panels were the worst. They all winged it. But I found the solo speakers to be pretty good across the board.” Another agency friend, Lauren Walker, agreed with Jenn. “The solo presenters were great. The panels were ‘eh’ and the discussions just tanked. There were certainly a lot of interesting topics to discuss but moderating a discussion is a fine art. It requires tact and a large knowledge base. Most of the discussions I attended were steered in one direction early on and stayed there. Next time, no discussions for me.”

Dang, I wished I’d been in those cool solo presentations. (BTW, folks. SXSW is very good about listening to feedback, so fill out those survey thingies.)

Final note: I really liked these “Ogilvy Notes” things I saw here and there. I wonder if my own agency oughta do something like this? Maybe have our own artists make big-ass drawings this cool, for those presentations we have to make more than once – like, say, agency themes, case histories, stuff like that. These boards are more interesting, more playful and informal than stupid Powerpoint slides.

Thanks for a great blog Luke!

Mark Schnurman
Filament Inc.

Pitch Consultant
Twitter: @markschnurman
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