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Article 6 min read

Be more persuasive by presenting like a creative

By Suzanne Barnecut

Last updated March 11, 2024

Any creative person knows that a brilliant idea is only as a good as the presentation that goes along with it. Creatives—in branding, advertising, content creation, and so forth—have to quickly and concisely sell their concepts to the executives who can greenlight them. But if the project is ever going to see the light of day, it’s imperative that the concept isn’t taken out of context or left open to interpretation.

That’s why the presentation is key. Michael Griffith has been in front of clients for more than 25 years, and at SXSW, he shared some persuasive presentation tips for “sucking less” while presenting creative. The cool thing? You don’t actually have to be a creative to benefit from giving a more effective, persuasive presentation.

Why Don Draper had it easy

The truth is, many of us dread presenting. Or we create our slide deck at the last minute and don’t make time to rehearse. Most of us are not like Don Draper, who could show up to a client meeting unprepared, after an all-night bender, and knock his pitch out of the park.

Most of us are not like Don Draper, who could show up to a client meeting unprepared, after an all-night bender, and knock his pitch out of the park.

But Draper’s creative genius wasn’t the only thing he had going for him. At the point where Mad Men left us, the multichannel media ecosystem was just in its infancy. Today, the room you’re presenting to will be filled with digitally-minded people prepared to poke holes through your project. Will it translate across channels, platforms, and devices? Is it even viable, given complex information architectures, systems restraints, legal requirements, and business rules? You’ll need to have answered those questions before you can even begin.

Build relationships with your stakeholders

A great presentation always begins with doing your homework. “Before you ever present, start building a relationship with the decision-makers,” Griffith advised. His team at Bottle Rocket Apps does this through a ‘day of discovery’, where they walk clients through a mood board to get a read on what the client likes or doesn’t like. If this doesn’t sound feasible—time, budget, resources—don’t fret. Instead, request a half hour exploratory teleconference or video interview with key stakeholders in your project. Come prepared with questions. Ultimately, trust is the basis of any good relationship and it’s easier to convince someone to trust your judgment and ideas if you’ve made an effort to understand what matters to them.

As part of relationship-building, it may be tempting to send your presentation over a day or two early to get feedback. According to Griffith, this is the worst thing you can do. The key to your presentation’s success is the ability to give it yourself. You also need to deliver it directly to the decision-makers—not to their direct reports.

What to do when it’s showtime

Presentations don’t have to be boring. Whenever possible, present in person and prepare the room with water and any supplies you might need. Also, set up early and test the technology. Nothing’s worse than spending the first 15 minutes sorting out screen sharing and wi-fi woes.

These, and the rest of Griffith’s tips, go a long way toward creating a great experience for your audience.

  1. Create a bridge: Begin by showing some of the work that led to the idea you’re presenting. This might include a mission statement, wireframes, comps or a demo. It’s helpful to remind stakeholders about any pre-work they’ve already approved.

  2. Show your idea in context: Visual storytelling is as important as the words you choose. If your product is a mobile app, then show it on a real phone. If it’s an image on a billboard, mock that up. Help everyone to visualize your idea the way you do.

  3. Presenting more than one option? Give them names. Think of your ideas like your babies. Presenting “Option 1” and “Option 2” won’t do you any favors. A name, by contrast, is an opportunity to help build your story and emphasize what the option represents. But to keep from inundating your audience, present only your best 2-4 ideas (just pick your favorite children, no big deal) and plan to clearly state any differences between similar choices.

  4. Build a story, but not a drama: Keep things simple and straightforward. It’s enough to walk the room through your concept and, when presenting the idea you like best, to say so. Honesty also builds trust, and it’s completely fine to say, “Now I am going to show you the option we call “Relationships are complicated”, and this is the one we recommend. Here’s why.”

  5. Ignore misteaks: That’s right. When you look up and see a typo in your slide, keep going. Just don’t ignore a big mistake. It’s better to admit what went wrong and to explain how you’ll fix the issue. If your presentation needs a slight adjustment, make the change and send it back out later that same day so that no one is left lingering on an error.

  6. Make the decision simple: Think of your presentation as a guidebook to a final destination. If your audience feels overwhelmed, they’ll focus on the idea that best matches their priorities. To help, wrap things up by putting everything you’ve presented into a summary slide, review the main talking points, and reiterate your recommendation.

  7. End early: The longer your presentation, the more likely you’ll present something that someone wants to change or poke a hole through. But if you give everyone ten minutes back, they’ll leave feeling pleased.

It’s too soon to celebrate

Directly after your presentation is the best time to solicit and receive feedback. If your presentation was effective, your audience will feel enthused, on board, and clear about your goals and next steps. But even a presentation that’s memorable for all the right reasons might be met by a few detractors. Here’s what you can do:

  • Set your ego aside: Your audience wants to be heard, so listen. If the room is mysteriously quiet, then draw out constructive feedback by asking specific questions. For example: “What do you think of the ‘Relationships Are Complicated’ option? Is it on brand? What about the messaging?”

  • Push for a decision: It’s best to get a decision or an approval while you’re in the room, in person. If a key decision-maker says they’ll think it over, ask for a timeframe. Then, Griffith says, if they need 24-hours, give them a call in 12.

  • Align the team: Do a debrief after the presentation. If you’re not the one presenting, review feedback and provide coaching while the moment is fresh. Don’t let your team spin their wheels on any negativity. Most of the time, Griffith shared, clients are unhappy over only one aspect of what was presented, not the whole idea or presentation.

  • Leave your old ideas alone: If the meeting doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, it can be tempting to resurrect an idea left on the drafting table. Let those ideas die, Griffith said. Trust that there was a reason you didn’t present those ideas in the first place.

Go in confident. Go in strong. Go in humble. A well-vetted idea, when communicated with your audience in mind, can make the decision to say ‘yes’ seem like a no-brainer. And the best part? You’ll walk out feeling just like our favorite creative, Don Draper—minus the hangover.

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