Seven ways to avoid humiliation when presenting ideas – by Across the Pond’s Jim de Zoete

It's all in the presentation. Making it personal, using titles, minding your language and presenting your own work are some of the tips that Across the Pond's executive creative director offers to avoid a presentation horror story.

Presenting Pitches

By Jim de Zoete, Executive creative director, Across the Pond

We spend our lives as creatives honing our ideas, but how we present them is just as important. Over the years I’ve learned some lessons. Mostly the hard way. Here’s a few of them.

Their wide eyes are staring at me expectantly. Forty, 50, maybe even 60 people are packed into one of those big boardrooms, all white walls and glass panels. They’re gathered round an absurdly long table.

I must have presented the idea at least 30 times just to get to this point, but this is the big one.

It’s for Nissan’s sponsorship of the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics and in front of me are the client, their social team, their media agency, their sponsorship agency, their talent agency and possibly even a few car dealers.

“What we’re going to do is ask the athletes to incorporate Nissan into their events,” I begin.

“When they’re running round the track corner could they pretend to steer round it like they’re in a car?” A beat. “Would it be ok if we put airbags in their row boats just on the off-chance they crash?”

Silence. Until finally someone asks: “But what if they don’t want to do it?”

And that’s when I realised that my presentation had totally failed. I forgot to point out it was a joke. We weren’t expecting the athletes to actually do it. We were going to film them being asked, capture their (hopefully) gobsmacked reactions and that would be the campaign.

But the moment had gone. I looked like a right chump and no amount of explaining and backtracking would get that instant hit of landing an idea back.

There you have it: my ultimate presentation horror story. To avoid this humiliation, however, you could do worse than consider the following seven fundamentals:

Make it personal

Well, I hope so – especially as in this column I share an excruciating personal experience. If you can make it personal, people want to listen. It’s human nature. Sharing something personal creates empathy and telling a story creates a bond. It’s hard to keep your arms crossed if someone is talking from a personal perspective.

Titles are your headlines

Titles matter. You know that moment when a client at the end of a presentation says: “The one where the girl does the thing with the thing, can we talk about that?” And everyone goes: “Oh yeah, you mean idea two, or hang on do you mean the second execution of idea three?” This is an idea killer. Naming anything with a great title makes it instantly more memorable.

Make your intentions clear

It might feel fun to create a verbal and visual trail to a punchline, but the thing is, people are busy and need to make a quick and qualified decision. Make your intentions crystal clear. Tell them what your idea is, then show them the idea, then, tell them what the idea was. The point is to lodge your idea in their mind.

Ditch the drawn-out deck

Decks are meant to be an aid to communication. Not a thing in and of themselves. Use as few slides as possible, and only ones that add something to what you’re saying. If they are saying what you are saying, then what’s the point? You are more interesting than a deck.

Mind your language

It’s not clever to use jargon. Jargon gets in the way of simple and quick communication. My personal bugbear is referring to ideas as “routes” or “territories”. They’re really not. And all this does is give people in the room permission to let their minds wander.

Use that final slide

Your last slide is likely to be the longest of all your slides, as you summarise. So use it well. Reinforce your ideas. I like to show one image and a title for each idea. Then you can avoid that awful scooting back up the deck to try to find a relevant slide when you’re discussing. This way everyone’s focus in on the ideas and nothing else.

Present your own work

This is hard for a lot of creatives. And I totally get it. But I also think that no one cares as much as you do about your idea and that matters when you present. The people in the room can feel it. Passion is contagious. If you can possibly manage it, don’t let someone else do your presentation for you. Only you know why every single beat is written the way it is, and what the intention of every single moment is.

I hope these tips are useful. I’d love to hear yours too.

Good luck. Remember you are more interesting than a deck. And if you’re going to present a joke, definitely tell them it’s a joke first.