I’ve been pretty lucky in my career to have always been on the executive side of the conference table when it comes to business pitches and presentations. Through the assorted jobs I’ve had, I have seen presenters make the same mistakes over and over and over, regardless of whether it’s in front of a fortune 500 company in a 30 story skyscraper or in front of a fortune 10,000 company in a one story brick building.
So today I thought I would list 12 things (off the top of my head) that I would like every presenter to know about before their next pitch…
* Have a plan B. This, by far, is the biggest problem. What happens if the presentation you burned to DVD gets broken or lost along the way? Or if the special effect filled DVD you have won’t play in the client’s old-as-dirt DVD player? What happens if your $12,000 projector blows a $20 bulb and there’s no replacement store within miles? Have a plan B! Put a copy of the original presentation on a memory stick and save another copy of it in PDF and JPEG format. Have a printout ready for at least half of the attendees (and before the presentation, ask the secretary where the copier is located for emergency purposes). Have a online backup copy saved as a draft in your gmail.com account. And check to see if you have a spare bulb for the projector. Like the old saying goes, plan for the worst, but expect the best.
* Find out what resources are available at the client site before arriving. Take a moment to talk with the tech guy or the secretary of the location you’re going to be presenting in. Just because your company has the newest Blu-Ray DVD HDMI combo players and 10 bazillion lumen projectors in every single room doesn’t mean your client’s conference room will. If you need a projector or laptop, be sure to ask for them a few days before arriving. And get detailed information from the tech people on whether or not their laptop will be able to open your specific file and if the projector is actually visible across the room. Yes, it looks much better for you if if you bring your own laptop and projector for the pitch, but most big businesses (and hotels) are pretty accommodating nowadays. Just make certain what tools you will have to use in the location you are going to be presenting in.
* Don’t present from a laptop screen to a crowd of more than 2. This is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen. When a presenter will ask a room full of executives to crowd around their 19 inch (or smaller!) laptop to view their presentation. It’s very uncomfortable and not everyone is going to be able to see the presentation. If you don’t have a projector, put it on a DVD to show on a TV. Or bring handouts. A laptop screen should only be used by the presenter, not the presentees.
* Pitch only to the client you’re visiting right now. I’ve seen this one dozens of times. A laptop is connected to a projector and the laptop’s screen is up on the wall for everyone to see. The problem is that the presenter is still looking for the presentation file to open, and as they’re going through their laptop, everyone in the room will see if a competitor’s name is on a document or folder as the presenter is searching for the file to open. And as soon as the presenter leaves, that’s the first thing everyone talks about. Not the pitch or the material…. just that the presenter is fraternizing with the “enemy”. So before you connect your laptop to the projector, have the presentation up and in full screen mode. Or better yet, keep your folders separate and use your own project number names so you won’t accidentally reveal who else you’re pitching to.
* Rehearse your pitch. Now let me preface this by saying being nervous in a pitch is one thing. As a matter of fact, most companies I worked for thought a nervous presenter was fairly trivial. I’m talking about having no clue what’s about what’s up on the screen. I’m talking about when the transition from one speaker to another, there’s a quick flurry of whispered discussion about who’s doing what. And I’ve even seen live presentations where the presenters themselves will outright argue with each other in front of us. If you can’t get it together for the big show when you’re asking for a paycheck, how will you possibly do any better if we do decide to hire you or do decide to take your product? Rehearse your pitch. Rehearse it with your team members. Get over whatever problems you’re having with each other after the pitch. And be confident in what you’re presenting.
* Put in “real” placeholders. A lot of upper level executives have zero imagination. Zero. As in none. So if you say “well in this area will be a logo that pops” or “your commercial will look like that Doritos one with the lizard”, nobody is going to remember anything but the rough and ugly diagram of what was actually on the screen. This is an in-house presentation, so don’t worry about copywright laws. You say there’s going to be a commercial like the Doritos one with the lizard? Put up that clip of Godzilla munching on Doritos! Grab some media from YouTube or from your own DVDs. Put in real live audio. Anything! Don’t leave a space where you hope your client’s imagination is as good as your own. Show a baseline of what you intend to do and give a visual example. And be sure you can follow up on it. Don’t put up the Godzilla Doritos ad if your company can barely do stop-motion animation. Show examples! And speaking of media…
* Showing poor quality video. There’s really no excuse for this one. If you are using the same video ripped from a copy of a copy of a VHS tape from 1988, that tells everyone at the table a lot about your standards and work ethic. Get a clear and quality copy of any video you plan on presenting, or don’t even bother showing it.
* Copyright your pitch. I’ve worked for some grade-a scumbags before, and these people looooved to steal ideas from presenters. I don’t mean using the occasional quote from a presentation. I mean taking a presenter’s powerpoint, re-branding it with their own company name, and then pitching the re-re-brand to their own prospective clients. Was it wrong? Yes. Was it illegal? Nope! Because the presenters didn’t have any copyright on their work. If it’s a big new idea you have, and you’re relying on that big new idea to make money, head to the online copyright website and make it your own before showing anyone else your idea. And stamp the copyright logo on the bottom of your pitch and any printouts, too.
* Test your VPN connection. More and more presentations are utilizing a company’s VPN network to access video and confidential documents as part of the presentation. That’s fine, but in my experience, about three quarters of the VPN presenters I have seen have either never tested the VPN outside their office or have no clue on how to connect to a VPN in the first place. Either way, it boils down to everyone in the meeting having to wait while the presenter tries to find a tech guy at their company who can walk them through the VPN connection. If you’re going to use a VPN as part of your presentation, test it out before coming in. Make sure you know how to connect to your VPN from a fresh bootup of your laptop. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a tech guy at your company on standby 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after your scheduled presentation in case something goes wrong.
* Plan for a full and complete catastrophe. One of the best presentations I remember seeing was one that everything went horrifically wrong for the presenters. Their projector would not focus, their laptop was stuck on a BIOS screen, and their paper printouts were doused in coffee from their flight over. None of that mattered. Because this team didn’t just have a plan B, they had a plan for a full catastrophe. One person in the team kept us entertained by specifically asking about us, talking with us about news they heard concerning our area, and generally conversing with us in a pleasant, stress free and non-business based manner. While that one person was engaging us, the other two members of the presentation team went and made new copies of the pitch and got the technical pieces up and running. When those two were done, they came up and told everyone they were ready to go. It was a smooth and fluid presentation, and even though we didn’t take their product, we did give them eight local business references for them to follow up on. If you’re presenting in a team, have a charismatic team leader who will take charge if things go horrifically bad, and have other members of the team on very specific repair duty in case things go really wrong (IE: You fix the computer. You make copies. You staple the printouts).
* Keep your email short and professional. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen managers roll their eyes at an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org. Or something silly like email@example.com. If you can, get your own domain name and email address. Bob@bigbusinessmarketing.com looks much more professional than anything ending in an aol.com or yahoo.com or even a gmail.com account. But if you can’t get your own domain yet, just keep it short. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com makes it easier to email you, and sometimes, a quick email is what will get you the business.
* Lunch the office. This sounds silly, but it is very effective! Don’t just take the executives out for lunch after your presentation. Ask the boss’ secretary if they want to go to lunch with you all (which I’ve consistently heard is a very smart thing to do). Ask the CFO and the check writers if they would like a free lunch. Expand the net a little further and you’ll get much more positive buzz about your company after you’ve left. And don’t worry about taking everyone to a fancy executive-level restaurant. Ask the workers what their favorite local restaurant is or where they usually go for lunch nearby. Mostly every non-executive will eat at a place that has $5-$10 lunch, so you’ll be better off taking everyone there anyhow. A BBQ place or a nice deli comes to mind. And the extra socialization after the meeting will tell you, the presenter, a lot more about the company you’re pitching to. Just be certain you stay professional and in full information-gathering mode. You’re there to learn more about them, too.