Category Archives: Pit(ch)falls

Pit(ch)fall 4. Too many words, too few pictures.

We all know the old adage ” a picture is worth a thousand words” and yet when it comes to preparing presentations it’s too often a case of words, words, words with the occasional visual as an afterthought. They  can either take the form of endless points crowded on one chart or an endless number of uninspiring charts with a few ‘bullet’ points.

Both approaches can be pretty soulless. They are sometimes the result of laziness where a narrative document has been condensed into powerpoint format. Or, they act as a security blanket for the nervous or unprepared presenter. Some may read the charts word for word, (with the audience almost certainly reading ahead). Others, even tougher to follow,  go off chart to be ‘interesting’  and lose the audience altogether.

A handful of imaginative visuals, with a few words, can turn dullsville into communication.

Two arresting front covers this week sparked off this observation. The Spectator has a cartoon-style illustration of Boris Johnson careering along on his bike, with passenger  David Cameron hanging on for dear life. The words, scarcely needed, “full speed ahead to number 10”. But who will get there first?

The other is a classic Private Eye. A picture of Cherie Blair, flanked by Richard and Judy, all three with the trademark Cherie grin and the speech bubble “I stabbed Gordon in the book”. Brilliant.

Pit(ch)fall 3. Casting based on input not impact.

Most pitches call for a response to a brief in the form of a written proposal, followed by a presententation to the key decision takers. Typically, the proposal is developed by the appropriate experts and specialists  working night and day to deliver a great result.

So far so good. The common error, however,  when it comes to deciding who will present  in the final  shoot out, is to assume these same people should, and/or deserve  to present . Not so.

What matters is not the input of these people but what the audience ‘takes out’, what is their emotional response, on the day, to the presenters as individuals and as a team.  The casting decision must be lead by   understanding of the audience dynamics and the  need to be ruthless in casting the team that will perform best on the day.

Some ‘rules’.  Don’t outnumber the client by more than one;  your leader must be seen to lead; the team  should be  a balance of interesting, contrasting individuals rather than  a collection of experts.  You are seeking the reaction that ‘ we would enjoy, and be stimulated, working with these people and they clearly get on with each other’.

 The London 2012 Bid team cast for impact when they included  thirty youngsters in place of VIPs;   ex-prison officer Ray Lewis is interesting  casting by Boris that suggests he will  not be afraid to surround himself with personalities.  Could Obama, if he wins, select Clinton as running mate? That would be interesting casting.







Pit(ch)fall 2. Putting substance over style.

Most pitches are, by definition, competitive and most will call for a response to a brief.  To compete we must, and do, rise to the challenge set focussing our efforts on developing substantial proposals- strategic, technical, creative- that we believe will be better than those of our competitors.

They may be ‘better’  but  judging on ‘technical’ merit will be almost impossible unless you come up with an unbelievably better or cheaper solution. Given that your competition will have been chosen because they have similiar track records this is pretty unlikely. In practice, the people on the receiving end will attempt to evaluate on  rational grounds  but will usually end up with two or three  candidates  where their  judgment, however later justified, is based on style.

Despite knowing this, and we do, learning from our first nervous interview, we still spend disproportionate amount of  the available time, effort and resource, on the substance of our pitch, often at the expense of style. Typically grinding out a, hopefully improved, solution right up to the last minute, before thinking about what really matters, how the pitch will resonate. how it will be received.

The solution to this pit(ch)fall is simple. Recognise it.

Recent and current examples include Paris, whose 2012 bid was substantially the best but ‘le style’ , arrogant and lacking empathy, lost it for them.  Gordon Brown, undeniably a man of substance but weakened by his style.  Ken and Boris,  both with individual flair but one the fresher and hungrier. and boiling up in USA,  Obama the one with style but losing it and Clinton, the one with substance, but finishing with style.







Pit(ch)falls: 1.Rehearsal resistance.

In the world of theatre rehearsal is fundamental to delivering  a great performance.  On first night and every other night. And, of course, the rehearsals are assessed and directed for audience impact by a director, not one of the paticipating actors.

Pitching in business also calls for performance, usually for one ‘first’  night not a run, but success on that one night could transform your business.  Everyone pays lip service to rehearsal being a good thing but in practice most resist it. The stated  excuses are usually predictable:

‘ we are waiting for one last bit of material/information’

‘ so and so is tied up in client meeting’

‘ the document needs some revisions’

‘rehearsals waste my  nervous energy’

‘CEO (avoiding it) says go ahead without him/her’

And so on with the result that if and when it happens one desultory rehearsal takes place late, on the evening before, when everyone is tired and there is no time to  make any significant  changes.

Any other well worn excuses?