Your presentation bombed. Now what?

Your presentation bombed. You’re standing in the smouldering ruins. Here’s what you see:

• Your idea is dead.
• Weeks of work, down the tubes.
• Your team can’t even look at you.
• You’re blaming the clients, those ignorant fools.
• There’s a sickening dread welling up inside that you’re missing something.
• And that something could cost your job.

I know this feeling because I’ve lived it. As national creative director at a global ad agency, I pitched and won millions of dollars’ worth of business – and pitched and lost millions more. I vaguely remember the celebrations. The failures still burn in my mind.

(Not-so-fun fact: I actually led a 9 month pitch process for Mini when the car brand launched. It was gruelling. In the end, when it was down to us and another agency, we lost because we completely misread the definition of ‘win’ in the mind of the key client. I’m jumping ahead here, but having your clients write your pitch is core to success!) 

Enough self-flagellation. Let’s get down to learning from our mistakes.

Nothing’s more painful than watching yourself pitch. But pain is gain.

My CEO enrolled our entire senior staff in a pitch school. As soon as we arrived, the coach snapped open his video camera and recorded us delivering our last pitch. Our homework was to watch ourselves in action that night.

marc stoiber brand strategy

I was horrified.

Watching myself, all I could see was showmanship covering up for lack of insight and strategy. I was smooth, but utterly unconvincing.

The next day, I returned, chastened.

Humility opened me up to learning. What I discovered not only made me a better presenter, but lowered my anxiety levels, built my team’s spirit, and helped me get past my pitchman ego.

Your presentation bombed? Time to re-define teamwork.

Many of us still believe the cliché of the tortured artist. The novelist banging out his work by candlelight, empty whiskey bottle and overflowing trashcan by his side. In business, that image is slightly modified – it’s the company chieftain, cancelling the weekend to labour tirelessly for the game-changing presentation Monday morning.

These perceptions, unfortunately, lead many of us down an utterly counterproductive path.

In reality, the best presentations:

• Are written by the clients (without them realizing it),
• Are crafted by a team working together thought by thought,
• Are run through peer review after peer review to separate the great from the good, and the ego from the presenter,
• Are rehearsed relentlessly, until they become second nature.

What does pitching like this do for you?

• It turns your pitch into a conversation – where your audience leans forward and finishes your sentences.
• It builds ownership of ideas – everyone on the team, and in the audience, feel the idea is their idea. And you don’t kill your own idea.
• It lets you sleep the weekend before your pitch, instead of working through the night like a tortured artist.
• Most important, it helps you win more pitches.

If that sounds more pleasant than your current presenting / pitching reality, you’re right.

Insider secret: plant a mole

I’m going to illustrate one element of this process – getting your client to write your presentation for you – with a true story.

Some clients will tell you what they want to see in a pitch. Some won’t. If a client won’t reveal what they really want beyond answering the brief (this is common, especially for high stakes, highly regulated pitches), planting a mole in the room for every pre-presentation meeting is a good fallback.

In our case, the mole was our IT guy. We brought him along to ensure our tech didn’t break down. The rest of the time he’d be sitting at the back of the room, behind the client.

From this catbird seat, he could observe the client’s body language in response to our conversation, questions and ideas.

Following each meeting, we’d do a thorough debrief with him. He’d let us know the client’s subliminal response to every idea, every question. Bad body language? Lose the idea. Good body language? Amplify the idea.

It worked.

The 3 Minute Pitch

I’ve taken a career’s worth of pitch and presentation learnings and rolled them into a methodology. I call it the 3 Minute Pitch.

Want to read about it? You can get the free book here.

Want to learn it? You can take the course built on my 3 Minute Pitch workshop series here.

Want to talk to me about it? You can book a time here.

The 3 Minute Pitch covers how to turn pitching and presenting into a team sport; how to enlist your clients as pitch creators without them knowing it; how to do effective peer review. And more.

I’d invite you to check it out. And not just if your presentation bombed.

If this story was helpful, please pass it along to someone who might be able to benefit from it. 

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