"People won’t remember most of what we say—but they will remember what they think and feel about what we say."
Early in the book, Peter Coughter cites the often-quoted 1960 study from UCLA that says 55% of the way we communicate is visual, 38% is tone of voice and only seven percent is the words we use. This is not to say that your words don’t matter, but that they don’t exist in a vacuum. Often times, presenters spend the majority of their preparation time crafting a speech and practicing the words, to simply “wing it” in terms of visuals, tone, movement, body language and more. To make an impact, it takes more than words, and Coughter has dedicated the entire book to showing you exactly how this can be done.
The Art of the Pitch walks through the many factors that impact the effectiveness of a presentation, offering actionable and easy to remember tips for creating a deeper connection with your audience and, ultimately, closing the deal. Each tip is illustrated with a story, either one of Coughter’s own from his years in advertising or one from a recognizable name in the industry who has walked a similar path. The book serves as a guide to creating dynamic and day-winning presentations that feel authentic, informed and inspired.
It’s GOOD to be a Know-It-All
"The surest defense against nerves is this — know your stuff."
Coughter dedicates a good amount of time to the difference between memorizing your content and knowing it. As he mentions early (and often), memorizing a script won’t get you far when the inevitable happens; a change of pace, a technical glitch, an interruption, or a savvy client who asks a question that shifts the conversation. Being able to shift seamlessly from any topic, slide, or approach to another is a sign of confidence that only comes from truly knowing your material.
More than knowing your own stuff, Coughter says, you should know everyone’s. This is not only an insurance plan against someone missing a flight, falling ill or blanking on his or her own portion of the presentation, but it helps even when everyone is present. Being generalists who can answer all types of questions, versus passing the presentation baton to one another depending on the topic, will make you look like a more prepared, intelligent and cohesive team.
Prepare to Take ACTION
"The next time you’re putting together a presentation, sit down with the entire team and figure out what it is that you’re trying to say. What’s the big idea you want to leave with the audience? Then build your show from that idea backwards to the beginning."
Too many times, presenters build their presentation before formulating the big idea — rearranging slides and editing disparate information until some semblance of a cohesive idea emerges on the screen. This is not how great presentations are built, Coughter says. Instead, consciously start by formulating the big idea, and then use this catchy acronym — ACTION — to plan out a great presentation that conveys it:
- Attention: Begin each presentation with a device that captures everyone’s attention, from a bold claim, profound quote or dramatic image, to the more elaborate theme music of films and smoke machines of stage performances.
- Capsule: Start with two or three sentences that best sum up the presentation. This “index card” version of your longer presentation offers a snapshot of the most important takeaway.
- Theme: This is the guiding principle of the presentation, the mood, feeling or driving force that all pertinent points must fit under to keep it cohesive.
- Information: Find details that support your key statements, whether it’s data, imagery, examples, stories or something else.
- Open To Listen: Ensure your presentation has room for “punctuation” pauses and places for you to ask questions, gauge your audience and listen for important feedback.
- Next Steps: Keep your goal in mind and be sure your presentation sets up the next steps you have in mind, whether it’s a follow-up meeting, a sale or something else.
Never Phone It In
"Too many phone conferences are treated like a random chat with a buddy."
Just because a presentation must happen over the phone doesn’t mean it’s less of a presentation. Coughter provides actionable tips for preventing your conference calls from becoming fodder for “Every Meeting Ever” viral videos or office jokes, ensuring everyone is present, prepared and held accountable.
Control as many variables as possible, providing an agenda upfront and using available technology to personally control the pace of visuals. Retain attention and accountability by calling on people by name — early and often — to keep them engaged. Be realistic about how much you can reasonably get through on the call, and keep your visuals and message simple and clear.
And, though nobody can see you, you should act as if they could have. Rehearse with the same vigor, stand at attention while presenting, dress the part and present with passion and body language that will read through the phone lines.
Coughter closes the book with a chapter called “You Never Know” where he and some industry colleagues recall countless times that things didn’t work out as planned, for the better: a chance encounter turned into a major business deal, an unexpected and risky tactic won everyone over, a technical glitch saved the day.
The key, he reiterates, is to know your core message and the ideas that support it so you can be prepared to turn any situation, no matter how bad it might seem, into an opportunity to present your best self. When you’re prepared, every presentation can be a winning one.
What was your “You Never Know” moment, where a presentation didn’t go as planned but panned out better than expected?