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Pitch Elevation

Your Guide To Becoming A Better Presenter

Michael Weiss

Dedicated To Anyone Who Wants To Engage,

Educate and Inspire An Audience

2012 | All rights reserved

Michael Weiss | figure18 |

Why I Wrote This Book.............................................................................................5
Disclaimer .....................................................................................................................9
Quick Exercise No.1................................................................................................. 10
The RFP ....................................................................................................................... 13
Where It Usually Begins.................................................................................................13
Quick Exercise No.2................................................................................................. 17
Prepping For The Pitch.......................................................................................... 19
Beware Of The Bullets ....................................................................................................20
A Few Points For Pitch Prepping ................................................................................29
Quick Exercise No. 3 ................................................................................................ 33
First Things First ..............................................................................................................43
Youre A Creative. Right? ...............................................................................................50
Dig Deep and Find Your Style.......................................................................................53
Ensemble Pitching ...........................................................................................................66
Two Of My Little Secrets ................................................................................................75
Top 10 Things To Do Before You Present................................................................79
One More Thing.............................................................................................................81

Why I Wrote This Book

I love to perform. Whether it is presenting at a TEDx
event, a conference, a pitch meeting or a corporate
event, I simply adore being on stage. I truly believe
that in every single one of those situations it is my
responsibility to engage and entertain the audience.
And frankly I think too many presenters are failing at
doing just that. Time and time again in this book, you
will hear me say that a presentation is not a meeting.
Its a performance. Your job as a presenter is not to
lecture or even teach; it is your job to engage and

A confession. I started playing in rock bands when I

was 11 years old. By the time I was 14, I was playing
all over Boston on the college circuit to crowds as
large as 2,000 people. So I am very comfortable on

While anyone who speaks, pitches or presents can

take advantage of Pitch Elevation, I wrote this book
with ad agencies, web agencies and creative types in
mind. As the former CEO of a digital agency, its what
I know. Over the past 20 years I have listened to
hundreds if not thousands of pitches, speeches and

But for every presenter who, like myself, comes alive

onstage, there are just as many others who lack the
skills to be effective while up on stage or in a
conference room. Thats where Pitch Elevation comes
in. Perhaps youve read some of the excellent books
out there on presentation skills. If you havent
already, I strongly recommend reading Resonate by
Nancy Duarte and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.
In this book, youll build on what youve learned

elsewhere and gain the skills you need to transform

your presentations. Like a great presentation, in this
book I will focus on a handful of ideas to pique your
interest and get you thinking. It may feel at times
that I am on rant, and, to be frank: I am.

I am tired of the same old, same old and I am fed up

with presenters who dont try. There is no reason a
presentation cant be engaging. There is also no
reason you cannot become a better presenter; one
who inspires your audience, challenges them to think
and -- most importantly -- to take action.

Pitch Elevation is simple; it means that anyone can

elevate his or her presentation skills with a few
pointers and some specific ideas no matter how
obvious they may be to go up the path to

Pitch Elevation focuses on two ideas:

1. How to prepare for a presentation

2. How to lead a presentation

Included in each section are my opinions, some

anecdotes and simple suggestions to improve your
presence, style and presentation success.

I applaud you for taking the initiative to become a

better presenter. And I give you a standing ovation
for accepting the fact that you are not perfect and
that there is room for improvement.

Plenty of books, websites and resources exist to help
you deal with the fear of speaking; this is not one of
them. I just love this quote as a kick-off point:

A recent survey stated that the average person's

greatest fear is having to give a speech
in public. Somehow this ranked even higher
than death which was third on the list. So, you're
telling me that at a funeral, most people would
rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand
up and give a eulogy.
Jerry Seinfeld

Quick Exercise No.1

I want you to put the book down.Wait! Hold on
Dont put it down until I tell you what I want you to
do! Find a random person in your office, on the train,
the person seated next to you on the plane, and tell
that person a story about the first time you went to
Disneyland. If you have never been to Disneyland, tell
them about the first rock concert you ever attended.

As you tell the story, pay attention to how you feel.

Nervous? Excited? Passionate? Are you able to weave
a compelling tale or are you just stating facts? Take
notice of the other persons body language and eyes.
Does your listener seem interested? Bored? Did you
get a laugh at the right time?


The objective with this exercise is to get a baseline on

your storytelling ability and establish if you can
engage an audience with a simple, personal story
about yourself.

I do this exercise all the time. It helps me to better

read my audience and to know if I need to change up
my story to make it more engaging.



Where It Usually Begins
Love it or hate it, the agency pitch is here to stay. It
starts with the RFP, moves into the RFP Response
and, with any luck, ends with the opportunity to pitch
in person. Its an antiquated process that has seen
little change in the past few decades. You bust your
butt (spending good time and money) putting
together a proposal in the hopes of making finals and
having the chance to pitch your services and ideas to
key decision makers. Its like applying to college you
put yourself out there and someone else decides if
you are worthy. The irony is that the clients dislike
the process as much as the agencies, yet no one is
willing to change it; at least for now.


In 2004, I stood in front of my agency and said,

From this day forward we are going to just say no to
RFPs! That lasted about two months. Why? Because
all of my competitors were still saying, yes to the
RFP and I was not being invited to any pitches. So I
began answering RFPs again, but this time there were
some rules:

Rule No.1: I will not answer any RFP unless I

know who I am up against. The Giants knew they
were playing the Patriots for Super Bowl XLVI. They
prepared for the game, they watched films, the
studied and figured out how to beat the Patriots. Why
shouldnt agencies have the same advantage?

Rule No.2: I will not answer any RFP unless I

know the budget. This is a no brainer, yet it still
amazes me that clients will not even hint at a budget.

How many times have you heard, Were using this

process to figure out the budget. And we all know
what happens they get budgets ranging from
$10,000 to $1,000,000. No budget means no ideas.

Rule No.3: I will not answer any RFP that asks

for creative work to be included in the
response. Why, oh why, do agencies give away free
work? Nuff said on this one.

Now, how does this all fit in with Pitch Elevation? Nine
out 10 times, we begin the presentation process with
the RFP. Many of you reading this book can attest to
the fact that the RFP process can be rigid and
particular. Clients are often very strict with responses
because they want to be able to compare apples to
apples. Of course, we all know that in the end they will
have a Gala, a Fuji, a Granny Smith and a Honey Crisp,

but they are in charge, right? If we know that a

handful of agencies are going to answer the RFP, then
we MUST assume that on paper we are all going to
look the same. So the RFP response is simply your
ticket to the presentation round, where you will be
able to stand out and differentiate your agency from
the rest of the pack!

I am in no way downplaying the importance of a solid

proposal. It is a critical part of the process. So assign
your people, spend your resources and do it right. But
if there is one thing you take from this book, it is this:
your proposal is NOT the layout for your slides or the
script for your pitch. A proposal is factual and filled
with process and budgets; your pitch is emotional,
engaging and inspirational.


Quick Exercise No.2

Chances are good that you have a handful of
presentation decks on your computer. Find one and
open it up. Most likely, it is a PowerPoint presentation
filled with bullet points, clip art, charts and graphs.
Take a look at it and spend five minutes reminding
yourself of the content and the purpose of the
presentation. Try to remember how long it took you
to give this presentation. Now, close the program,
stand up and give the same the presentation but
without all the slides.

Can you do it?


Photo by Crossroads 2012


Prepping For The Pitch

The proposal has been written and delivered. The
waiting game has begun. Youve called in to touch
base or check in, yet there is no newsyet. Then
the email arrives.

Dear Biz Dev Person,

Thank you for your proposal for the Most Important
Project of The Century. We received over 50
responses and would like to invite you to present your
proposal and ideas to our Willing Decision Making
Team in 10 days. We have the following impossible
times available:

Day 1 9:00 AM, 2:00 PM

Day 2 4:00 PM


You will have 60 minutes to present followed by 15

minutes of Q&A. Please coordinate with me.

Judy I know nothing about this project from


What do you do first? You open the PowerPoint deck

from your last pitch to see what you can reuse. Add a
few words here, a new logo there, swap out some bios
and youre done, right?


Beware Of The Bullets

Stop relying on PowerPoint to do the talking. And

please stop reading your slides! Its not about your


deck; its about you and your ideas. In fact, in the

words of Seth Godin, Dont use PowerPoint at all!

All PowerPoint, Keynote and Presi do is act as a

crutch and interfere with the presentation. I can hear
it now, But Mike, I need my slides! And I am here to
say, No you dont. What would you do if your client
said, I need to get lunch, lets talk about this over
some sushi. Where would you project your slides
then? At the sushi bar? I dont think so.

PowerPoint is a support tool. It is not the focal point

of the pitch. If it were, why would you even need to
show up? Just set it on slideshow and take a seat
with the audience. Yawn!


Garr Reynolds is the king of proper deck etiquette.

Here are three of his best and easy to implement

1. Dont use animation its cheesy, takes up time

and is distracting

2. One idea per slide - if you MUST use bullet

points keep it to three per slide

3. Use high quality images that evoke emotion and

grab attention please please please do not use
clip art

To illustrate this point, I have created a couple of

slides to highlight what Garr is talking about. Think of
it as a before and after.


We have all seen this slide. In fact, I bet most of you

have created and presented slides that look this. Poor
imagery, multiple bullet points, logos falling off the


screen, a footer I can go on and on, but I think it

speaks for itself. Its flat, underwhelming and will
make your audience wonder if every slide is going to
be like this.
I was once in the audience of a presentation and the
presenter opened up with a slide that looked just like
the dolphin example. Not only was the slide ugly, he
read every single point. By the 5th slide the entire
audience knew what was happening. When the 6th
slide came up, you could hear the moans and groans.
By slide 12, half the audience was gone and the
remaining audience members were tweeting about
how terrible the presentation was.

Instead of putting ALL of your thoughts on one slide,

keep it to one idea and use an image that sets you up
to tell a story.


Bullet points and bad design are distracting. You want

the audience looking at and listening to you, not

Now consider what I think is a great opening slide for

the first bullet point: I Met One Once. It clearly
shows the emotional tie to dolphins. The image will
get an Aww from the audience and allow the
presenter to tell a story, instead of boring everyone
with a recitation of a bunch of bullet points. It will also
allow YOU to focus on THEM; to move around, make
eye contact and entertain.



One final note on slides, and let me be clear:

Your Slides Are NOT A Leave Behind!

Yes, I know they are pretty and I know you worked

hard on them. Your slides are for support only to
evoke an emotion and to solidify a point. As far as I
am concerned, a good slide deck should be
meaningless without the presenter.

However, if it is a requirement or you simply want to

have a leave a document behind, create one for that
purpose. It can include as many bullet points, charts,
graphs and text as you desire. Make it as exhaustive
as you want. It just cannot be what they just saw up
on the screen.



A Few Points For Pitch Prepping

I know it is easier to simply reuse old slide decks and

regurgitate what you put in the proposal. But that is
not going to differentiate you. You have to assume
that is what your competition is going to do and you
dont want to be like them, right?

Rather than get overwhelmed and lose focus, here are

some thoughts on how to better prepare for your
next presentation:

1. Dont try so hard. You dont have to tell the

whole story. In fact, if you do, you are going to
run out of time, rush through and bore your
audience.. Find the most interesting, creative,
differentiating points and talk about them.
Embellish them. Stretch them out. It will inspire


you because it is the best part of your story. In

return, the audience will be engaged.

2. Too many people rely on their slides. In fact they

build their presentations around their slides
instead of building their slides around their
presentation. Its the preparation of the slides
that takes up the most time. So, you know
what? Get rid of them. Dont use them. If you
cannot get your point across without them, you
should not be presenting in the first place.

3. If you are going to use slides, I suggest the


a. Sketch them out on paper first

b. Create a simple set of slides and practice
your presentation

c. Get your creative team to make them look

d. Edit and get rid of one-third of your slides
e. Practice again and again and again.

4. When you schedule the actual date of your

presentation, plan to finish all of your slides and
preparation five days in advance. Make that fifth
day before the presentation the LAST day you
can make changes or edits or additions. After
that day, you are stuck with what you have put
together. So get to know it!

The timing is never going to be ideal, of course. At

times, youll have 24 hours to prepare and present.
My point is that you should never simply pull out an
old deck, change some data and use it. Take a couple
of hours to think through the purpose of the

presentation and what you can do in a short amount

of time to deliver something that shows your
creativity. Thats the reason they called you in the
first place.


Quick Exercise No. 3

Sometimes your best audience / critic is yourself.
Oftentimes we practice our presentations in the
shower, while we drive to work or even on the
treadmill. I want you to walk into the bathroom, look
at yourself in the mirror and give your presentation
while looking directly at yourself. Its a very awkward
feeling, but it is a critical step in your development as
you elevate your presentation skills.

Take notice of the little things. Do you look away? Do

you touch your nose? Flip your hair? Do you say
umm a lot? How about your body language? Are
you standing up tall? Are you stiff or do you look
relaxed? The purpose of this exercise is to make you
aware of your body, your face, and your physical
presence. It is also a reminder that there is always an

audience; there is always someone watching you as

you present.




Delivering The Pitch

By this point of the book my philosophy on
presentations and how to prepare should be clear.
Lets say youve created your deck with inspiring
imagery, one idea per slide and youve thinned it out
so that the attention will be on you and NOT the

So, now lets assume youve been invited to pitch and

youre on the shortlist! Its your time to shine. Ive
been there many times as well, and I always go into a
pitch meeting with this assumption:

They already like me, so its up to me

to win it or lose it.

The difference between a good pitch and a great

pitch comes down to how the client FEELS about you

when you finish. The proposal that got you here

TELLS your story; now it is your time to SHOW the
client who you really are. This is the time to
remember that you are on stage and it your job to
entertain, inform, transform and have fun.

As an agency, your pitch needs to focus on the fact

that you are selling a relationship that could last for
many years to come. Keep in mind that the
competition has access to ALL the same resources
and skills that you have. The proposals all look the
same. You can all do the job at hand. The decision
comes down to who the client wants to deal with
every day for the next 12 months?

Do you ever ask yourself why you have been invited

to pitch? Well, one reason is because you passed the
first test you answered the RFP correctly. And so

have four other agencies. At this point, the client has,

for the most part, already made a decision based on
either the proposals, a recommendation or a feeling
that its best to stay with the incumbent. As I said
earlier, your presentation will either confirm their
decision or change their minds.


While you are presenting, keep these things in mind:

1. Too often, agencies get hung up on their own

stories. Their presentations are a series of big
name logos and case studies. Its an exercise
focused on the past. It has nothing to do with
the client sitting at the table. The pitch is about
what you can do for THEM. Whats the clients


story going to be for the next 12 months?

SHOW them the future.

2. Assume that most of the people in the room DO

NOT want to be there. Even if your meeting is
set at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday, the last thing
these people want to do is sit in a conference
room listening to yet another pitch. How can you
WAKE them up?

3. Everyone you bring contributes. Everyone at the

pitch from your team talks. . Its as simple as
that. Dont beef up your team with bodies. I
have been to many pitches in which people just
sit there and say nothing. Its obvious and looks
unprofessional. Anyone who is not on the team
or has nothing to add should stayback at the

4. Let the client interject and ask questions. Be

ready to improvise and go off the script.
Remember, the client has heard it all before.
They have their questions and concerns. Let
them talk. And most importantly, LISTEN to
them; dont just hear them, actively listen to
what they have to say. Let the presentation skip
around and go off on tangents. It shows your
agility and creativity.

5. Remember a pitch is a performance. Bring

people who are energetic, lively and personable.
But, at the same time, bring the people the
client will work with once you are chosen.. If your
Creative Director doesnt like to talk to people,
you have two choices: ask for a change in
attitude or get a new Creative Director. The

cast must be comfortable with public speaking

and be aware of the client and the project at

Some things to consider:

1. Be confident but not arrogant

2. Have fun without getting silly

3. Always have a plan, but be flexible enough to

know when its time to completely throw away
your entire script

4. When in doubt, remind yourself that winning or

losing is up to you.


Are you the right person to deliver the pitch? Do you

have what it takes? I bet you do.

First Things First

Let me be the first (or maybe the 10th) to tell you

that you dont know how to present. In fact, you have
no idea how to present. How do I know this? Two

1. Youre making it to finals and youre not winning

2. Youre focusing on yourself and not the client

Its that simple.

Why is that agencies feel that ME ME ME is the way to

go into a pitch or a presentation? If you are lucky
enough to get into the room with a client, there is a
reason you were brought in. No client is going to take


the time of their stakeholders and have you schlep to

their offices for just another meeting. The client has
read (or at least scanned) your proposal, they have
spent time on your website, and they have checked
with trusted sources to see if you are worth it.
Bottom line they already know you can do the job.
In fact, they have created a short list of three
agencies that can do the job. The pitch is not the
time to prove you have what it takes they already
know that. The pitch is your chance to differentiate
yourself from the competition, to be creative, exciting
and engaging!

If you walk in there with a 90-page PowerPoint deck

chock full of past client logos and case studies, you
are going to lose your audience in a matter of
minutes. Each of the finalists has the same client list
and skill sets. On paper, you all look the same. At this

point it is not about your past. Clients do not want to

hear what you did for OTHER clients. They want to
know what you are going to do for THEM. What does
their future look like?

In truth, the client most likely has already made a

decision before your even open your mouth. So
youve got 60 minutes to either confirm the decision
(they already chose you) or change their minds (they
chose someone else). Do you think talking about your
past is going to inspire them? Not a chance. 90
percent of the people in the room do not want to be
there, because to them it is just another meeting.
Well, what if it wasnt? What if you turned it into a
riveting, inspiring, engaging performance? I am not
talking about interpretive dance, but not too far from


Take the time to think about what you can do in 45

minutes (leaving 15 minutes for Q&A and/or
applause) to win them over. What can you do to make
them put down their Blackberries and iPhones and pay
attention? The clients want new ideas; your proposal
and website highlight your creative well, why not be
creative when you are in the room with them? You
have the opportunity to set the stage for a
collaborative and successful partnership.

Some of you already know this. You know that you

have to be different. You create compelling comps
and weave in a story. Its a step in the right direction,
but you put together epic pitches that should take
two hours and make you look desperate. You are
trying too hard. Again, the client put out the RFP and
you already answered every question in your proposal.
At this point you should not be retelling that story.

They have their answers. Instead, why not choose a

couple of key points that you can get creative with
and expand upon with them in the room? What I am
saying is that you do not have to tell the whole story!
Show them just enough so that they get it, they
see the potential. Leave them wanting more.

If you are an agency, you are in the service business.

Its your job to deliver high quality work within time
and budget. Its your job to manage expectations. Its
your job to wow them and remind them why they
chose you in the first place. Ninety-nine percent of
your relationship with a client is based on your
abilityto work together. Do you actually like each
other? This is a personal relationship which could last
for many years. Oftentimes the initial pitch meeting is
the first time you are meeting each other face to
face. Think of it as a first date. You dont want to

come off as egotistical and talk only about yourself.

You need to ask questions, be witty, smart, likeable. If
you take away one thing from this book, remember
that a pitch is not a meeting; its a performance. It
really is your time to set yourself apart from the pack.
To be different, creative, fun, engaging and most
importantly to focus on THEM, not on yourself.



Youre A Creative. Right?

Even if you are not an Art Director or Designer,
chances are good that you fancy yourself a creative
thinker an idea person, a game changer on the
bleeding edge. According to, creative
results from originality of thought, expression; the
imaginative. Thats all of us in marketing and
advertising, right? Can I assume that, like me, you and
your teams work tirelessly to impress your clients
with your cool ideas? Your designs? Your
wordsmithing? Then may I ask why so many of us
drop the ball when it comes to our presentations?
Why is that our presentations lack any imagination or
creativity? Why do they have to be so terrible?

As a digital agency executive for the past 15 years, I

have participated in and witnessed hundreds, if not


thousands, of pitches, presentations and speeches.

Now, as a consultant and paid speaker, I travel all over
the country visiting with agencies and clients, as well
as attending different conferences and trade shows.

I was once in the speakers lounge at an event, chitchatting with fellow presenters and was blown away
by what I was hearing

I havent even looked at my slides yet.

I hope they sent the right deck.
I just finished my slides this morning.

Really? This morning? You finished your slides this

morning? How can you think you are going to give a
kickass presentation if you dont even know your
material? Do you think Louis C.K. makes up his jokes
on the spot? No chance. Im sure he ad-libs, but most

of it is written. Do you think Dr. Martin Luther King,

Jr. winged the I Have A Dream speech? Nope. And
Steve Jobs? He spent countless hours preparing his
iconic presentations and even more hours practicing.
Most of you are saying, Yeah, yeahwe know. But if
you know, then why do you still do it? Why do you
wait until the last minute to prepare your
presentations? I knowyoure too busy. Thats not
good enough anymore. I wont accept that as an
excuse. If you have the opportunity to present be it
a pitch or a client presentation then you owe it to
yourself and your clients to prepare and know what
you are talking about. Because if you dont, the
audience will sense it and then you are in trouble.
Weve all seen the bad presentation. The slides have
no brand consistency; theyre ugly, distracting and
use cheesy animations. The audio is too low or too
loud. There is no Internet connection. And the icing on

the cake? The presenter is disinterested and not

really into it; in fact, it is clear the person at the
center of everyones attention doesnt care.
Is that how you want to come across? I didnt think

As I have already said a number of times, a

presentation is not a meeting; its a performance. I
dont care if the audience is made up of 10 people or
1,000.. When you present, it is your job to engage
the audience and inspire them with your knowledge
and expertise. You are there to educate, to convince
to wow.

Dig Deep and Find Your Style

Truth be told, not everyone is a great presenter.

Some are just better than others. Is it natural ability?


Could be. Some people are simply born to entertain

and engage audiences. Can becoming a great
presenter be learned? Yes. But I do think that all
great presenters have a solid base of innate talent
that enables them to win over their audiences and
deliver time and time again. But what is it? What do
they have? What could they possibly possess that
makes them that much better? Is it a skill? Not really.
Is it experience? It helps, but thats not it. Its so
simple, that it comes down to one single word:

Every great performer, be they an orator, presenter,
comic, singer, actor or dancer, has a unique style.
Some are funny; some are serious. Some use unique
hand gestures, while others use language. Some use
their voices, while others use their whole bodies.


Whatever defines their style and whether it is

something they were born with, believe me when I tell
you that they worked hard at it, honing it, creating it,
and making it their own.

For the sake of an example, I will use myself.I played

bass and was the lead singer in a rock trio throughout
the 1980s. No, I am not Sting or Geddy Lee, but I
aspired to be them. In fact, I spent as much time
practicing as I did watching MTV and reading all books
and magazines about my rock heroes. I wanted to
create a persona, a style of my own. I took a dash of
Flea mixed it with a little Sting, a whole bunch of John
Entwistle and created my own style. It influenced how
I approached playing my instrument as much as how I
conducted myself on stage. I was the funny, dancing,
happy, slapping bass player in the city of Boston.


I borrowed from so many performers that the list

would be a Whos Who. Yet among all of my
influences, a certain gentleman, the great Pete
Townshend, has inspired me for the past 30 years.
Pete has said many things about performing, but one
thing he said way back in 1964 has stuck with me for
the past three decades:



And hes right. I am, if I do say so myself, a pretty

good bassist. I spent countless hours learning new
techniques and ways to play. But no matter how hard
and complex my playing, more often than not, the
audience simply didnt care about triplets and
arpeggios. It was only when I ran around on stage,
acted crazy and jumped all over the place that they
took notice. I witnessed this hundreds of times and
the results were always the same. I could have played
like crap, but because I was entertaining, people would
come up to me after a show and say, You are an
amazing bass player!

I no longer play in bands, yet I have taken this

practice and made it part of my speaking and
presentations. No matter how great my data is or my
slides or even the story I am telling, sometimes it
doesnt compare to my movements or my jokes.

Sometimes the audience simply doesnt care about

what I care about. They expect to be engaged and
entertained and,fortunately, my style enables that to
happen. I am comfortable on stage and able to adapt
to my audience. And, believe me, this has come from
being on stage for thousands of hours for the past 30
years. I put a lot of work into creating my own
personal style.

Whether you get up in front of a client for a pitch or

large audiences to present, you have to remember
that you are performing. You are on stage. It is your
responsibility to engage, entertain, educate and
inspire. Standing behind a podium and reading slides is
not going to do it. If you are new to presenting, be
patient because it will take time to find your unique
style. It could be as subtle as a particular type of

clothing or more over the top by how you use the

stage and move around. I urge you to try new things.
Maybe humor is your thing. Maybe you need a cool
hand gesture (look at Bill Clinton and the Clinton
Thumb); or maybe a voice inflection (listen to Jerry
Seinfeld as he raises his voice a notch just before a
punch line). Whatever it may be, I urge you to take
the time to create your style. Watch videos on
YouTube of your favorite entertainers, comics and
rock stars. Spend some time on the TED site and
watch a bunch of TED Talks. Absorb not only their
knowledge, but also their style. Allow yourself to be
influenced, but not dominated. The goal is to be
unique, not a copycat. Own it and make it yours.

As John Salisbury said hundreds of years ago, some of

the greatest and smartest people in the world stand
on the shoulders of giants.

Dont Focus On The Win

I know that getting the gig is important. Its why you
are pitching in the first place. You need this; you want
this; I get it. But if you concentrate on the win, you
lose focus on the task at hand. Rather than worrying
about scope, schedule and budget, place your center
of attention on creating an inspiring, educational and
engaging experience that will convince the client that
you are the agency they want.

They already know you can do the job; your proposal

proved that. One of the reasons they brought you in
to pitch is to a good look at you and get a feel for
who you are. Remember, chances are good that they
have already made up their mind who they want to
work with before the initial pitch.


Ninety percent of any successful agency/client

relationship comes down to chemistry and how you
work together. The in-person pitch is most likely the
first time both teams are meeting each other. It will
be a huge turnoff if you come in rigid and stiff and
focus on money and scope. All of those details should
be in the proposal. Rather, tell a story, make them
feel good about themselves. Make it fun and enjoyable
and that will set the stage for a successful long-term


photo by lyzadanger


Remember that clients are expecting to be bored

because this is just another meeting to them. You
have 60 minutes to WOW them, to make them put
down their iPhones and take notice. My best advice focus on one idea. Dont tell the whole story. Too
often, the agencies talk too much about too many
things. Their pitches are all over the map. Choose
your best idea and create a story around it. Approach
this like a one-act play. That said:

1. Audience participation is key. Dont wait for the

Q&A in the last 15 minutes to get the client
involved. Ask them questions, get clarification.
Clients like to talk, too. When a conversation
begins, new ideas come up and the next thing
you know, you are in a brainstorm. Its almost as
if you got the gig!


2. Be prepared to go off-script. And, most

importantly, designate who on your team will
field curve balls thrown by the client. You dont
want to come across as bumbling.

3. Garr Reynolds suggests that you keep the lights

on. Why? Because when the room is dark, the
audience will focus on the slides and not you.
Plus, it will make them sleepy.

Because the pitch is not a meeting, but a

performance, you need to focus on feeling rather than
detail. A week after you leave, the client will not
remember every detail from the pitch; what they will
remember is how you made them feel.


Ensemble Pitching

So much of what I talk about this book applies to the

individual. More times than not, though, you will not
be presenting alone in a pitch meeting. In fact, you
will most likely be presenting with a team. I call this
Ensemble Pitching and I equate it to performing like a
Jazz Ensemble. There are moments to take a solo, as
well, and times when you should simply hang back and
be quiet. This takes patience, practice and, most
importantly, the ability to listen.



What Duke saying is that you have to listen to what

your bandmates are playing: the notes, the phrasing,
the emotion. Every solo is a story it has a beginning,
middle and end. You have to be able to read the cues
and understand the difference between taking a
breath and an ending. It is an intimate experience
between the band that -- when pulled off smoothly -the audience simply enjoys the music not knowing
what is actually happening between the musicians on
stage. Like jazz musicians,you have to be able to
read each other when you present in a group. You
have to know when it is your turn to solo and when
you should just sit back and listen. Much like jazz
musicians, you need to be able to improvise. Most
people think that improvisation simply means to make
it up on the spot. While that may be true, the fact
remains that a jazz solo or improvisation is based on a
set chord structure, not unlike a script. While your

presentation will have slides and a script, you have to

be prepared when one of your teammates goes offscript and begins to jam.



I once had the unique experience of pitching with a

business partner of 14 years. And before we were
business partners, we played in two bands together.
We each knew how the other played and how we
spoke. I could tell when he was finishing up and when
he needed help with a tough client question. We were
able to play off each other flawlessly and it worked
most of the time. Rare is the pitch team that is
perfectly synced, though.

. You could be Ensemble

Pitching with people you recently met or co-workers

you dont really know. Now, you dont have to go out
and start a band together, but there are a few things
you can do to learn more about each others styles
and presentation skills.

1. Spend Time Together: Have lunch, get coffeeor

chat by the water cooler. Ask questions about
the weekend, favorite movies and restaurants.

Do they like sushi? Gauge the way they answer

questions. Throw in a curveball question and see
what kind of reaction you get.

2. Take Calls Together: Invite your Ensemble Pitch

team members to conference calls and sit in on
theirs. You dont need to participate in their calls
and they do not need to participate in yours.
This is a chance for you to hear them in action.
Listen to how they take questions, how they
react, the way they begin and end the call and
take notice if they use humor or if they are good
at small talk. Again, you want to learn more
about their style.

3. Band Practice: If you have an upcoming pitch,

then of course you are going to practice. Even
without an impending pitch, you can still

practice. Go into a conference room with the

team and make up a pitch. Make it fun, funny,
and have a good time. Pretend you are selling
lollipops to a bunch of kids. Anything. There is
no audience, so you can make mistakes. The
purpose is to begin to work together. See who is
better at opening, at closing, at making jokes.
Get a feel for each others timing, timber,
inflections, and hand movements. You will soon
tell when your pitch partner is wrapping up a
point, giving you the opening to take a solo.
Keep doing this. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book
Outliers, wrote that the Beatles practiced
10,000 hours in Germany before they took over
the world in 1964. Or, as my piano teacher, used
to say, Practice makes PERMANENT!


The objective is to figure each other out, to be able

to end each others sentences, to be smooth with
transitions, to jam. Go out there and get your jazz on!


Two Of My Little Secrets

Everyone has tips and tricks when it comes to

pitching and presenting. One of my favorites is when
Mike Brady told Jan (yes, The Brady Bunch) to picture
the audience wearing only underwear when she had to
be on stage. My best two pieces of advice are not
tricks so much as they are suggestions on how to
make the pitch meeting work to your advantage and
help you win.

And they are two things that are deep rooted in my

heritage as Jewish man.


Kibitz is Yiddish for someone who is quick to offer an
opinion; or someone who likes to make conversation.

Dont be so formal and wait for the meeting to

begin. Get there early, set up and walk around the
room and kibitz with the clients as they file in. I find
that you learn more about their wishes, wants and
needs during the small talk before the actual pitch
begins. Sometimes critical client team members shut
down during the pitch because the bosses are in the
room. Get to them before that happens. You may gain
insight and can call attention to it during the pitch.

I was once invited to pitch to a large university in the

Boston area. I am chronically early to almost every
meeting. So I got to the conference room 30 minutes
ahead of schedule. I set up my laptop, checked my

slides and sat down to wait. Fifteen minutes passed

and people started coming into the room. We started
chatting about the weather, the city and eventually
we got around to the school and their online
marketing issues. I heard complaints,
disappointments, finger pointing. The room was now
filled with about 20 staff members. Everyone was
talking about the problems at hand. I was learning so
much! At the top of the hour, the director walked in
and everyone clammed up. It was amazing to witness.
The good thing is that I had heard everything before
he entered, so I used it all in the presentation as key
talking points.

Another Yiddish word, nosh, means to snack. So my
advice seriously -- is to bring something to nosh on.
Everyone loves free food. Plus, if you are creative,

(for instance, cookies with the client logo on them)

the nosh can act as an icebreaker. Chocolate is a
favorite offering of mine. Not only does everyone like
candy, chocolate is euphoric and everyone will leave
the meeting feeling good. Plus, a little sugar in the
morning or after lunch is always a good thing to wake
them up and keep them alert!


Top 10 Things To Do Before You Present

I want to leave you with a checklist that you can refer

to when you pitch. If you are using your own laptop,
be sure to do the following before you begin the
Clear your cache to prevent unwanted URLs from
automatically popping up! You know what I

Close Outlook! How many times do we need to

know that you received an email?

Close your Instant Message program. I dont need

to know if you are available for lunch.

Sign out of Facebook and Twitter


Check the volume of your speakers

Close any programs, such as Word or Excel, that

you do not need

Move the presentation to the DESKTOP so that

clients arent waiting for you to sift through your
files and directories. And clean up your Desktop
while youre at it.

Go to the bathroom. Do what you need to do

AND make sure you have no food in your teeth.

Have a glass of water ready.

Take a deep breath and have fun. Its show time!


One More Thing

As the co-creator of the TEDx Speaker Boot Camp, I
have had the opportunity to coach many TEDx
presenters. It is my opinion that a TEDx Talk is much
different than the presentations I am talking about in
this book. I have created a video in which I clearly
define the differences and offer my 2 cents on how
you can become a TED Talker.
You can see the video on