Brilliant ideas are useless if you can’t sell them.

Image sourced from Flickr by GmanViz

Being able to clearly and succinctly present your ideas, and then defend them from compromise or outright extinction by a roomful of risk-averse clients, is a true art form. Yet not nearly enough young creatives put the time and effort into studying and perfecting their presentation skills. Libby Brockhoff, founder of Odysseus Arms, puts the importance of it in proper perspective: “A great idea is only 20% of the process. The other 80% is about convincing the client.” 

Winning the presentation battle starts before you ever get into a presentation room. You need to think through how to dramatically set up the idea, and effectively tie it back to the strategy, as well as the client’s business objectives. Next, you have to anticipate any fears or questions they’ll have. Because let’s face it, it’s rare that a little fear doesn’t creep into the spines of most clients whenever daring designs or concepts are presented. A quick, confident retort is critical to squashing those fears lest they grow louder and stronger. 

Actually, you’ll significantly improve your odds if you can put yourself into the shoes of the people you’re presenting to. Empathize with their concerns. Remember, they’re looking for reassurance that this unexpected design or concept will resonate with their target audience. They also need “ammo” to sell the work up the chain of command to their bosses. The more you can help them, the more receptive they’ll be to bold ideas. 

Of course, the “what” and the “why” of the presentation are only part of the challenge. You also need to practice how you present. For that I’ll draw upon the brilliant advice of Kerry Feurerman and his invaluable book, The Five Deadly Sins of Presenting Creative Work. What are those sins? Blurting, Ad Whispering, Wanderlust, Telepathy, and Impalement.

  • Blurting is jumping into the sell of the work before establishing trust with the client and the reasoning behind the idea.
  • Ad Whispering is a lack of proper volume, stage presence, and timing that leads to a weak reveal of the work.
  • Wanderlust comes from a lack of focus and preparation that can cause clients to lose interest in the presentation (see above).
  • Telepathy involves leaving out crucial information and failing to connect the dots for clients. If they struggle to “get” the idea, they’ll worry that customers will too.
  • Impalement results from being defensive about client comments, rather than diplomatically defending the work. This is where negotiating skills and “creative judo” come in handy.

For a deeper dive into all of these sins and how to prevent them, get Kerry’s book. Study it. Memorize it. Live it. Keep your great ideas from dying an untimely death. 

As George Burns famously said, “A person can have the greatest idea in the world. But if that person can’t convince enough other people, it doesn’t matter.”

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