FOCUS PRESENTATION TRAINING: The art of achieving perfect pitch

RESEARCH: Learning as much detail as possible about the potential client will create a feeling of respect CHEMISTRY: Developing a rapport with clients is more important than using visual aids TECHNIQUES: Spark and Torch, role rehearsal and analysis and acting techniques can all improve pitches

RESEARCH: Learning as much detail as possible about the potential client

will create a feeling of respect CHEMISTRY: Developing a rapport with

clients is more important than using visual aids

TECHNIQUES: Spark and Torch, role rehearsal and analysis and acting

techniques can all improve pitches

A successful pitch can hinge on chemistry between the two parties

as much as substance, but training specialists can ensure that PR

practitioners at least present themselves in the best light. Wendy Smith


Feelgood factors may be back on the agenda but with an air of parsimony

hanging over from the recession, it is still tough for PR consultancies

to pull in new business. Client companies are leaner, meaner and far

more discerning. The retainers of the 1980s have been replaced by ad hoc

projects and PR practitioners find themselves facing an increasing

number of their peers in competitive pitches.

As result, more pressure is put on the pitch presentation. Time out of

the office is expensive. Pitching for new business is time spent without

earning fees. So what can be done to ensure a decent success rate from

the client presentation to justify those costs and grow the business?

It is commonly accepted that even in the hi-tech 1990s no matter how

flash the audio visuals, and how well cut the suit at that final

presentation, if the chemistry is missing from the first hand shake, so

is the business.

The sensible may turn to the training professional to hone their

presentation skills and pre-empt the chemistry crisis. But can anything

really be done about such intangibles as dislike-at-first-sight?

Presentation training professionals claim that even such an ephemeral

factor as client /agency chemistry can indeed be worked to your

advantage. And many claim that they have never been busier passing on

their techniques.

Roland Rudd managing director of Roland Rudd Consultants boasts a range

of top ten agencies as clients including Hill and Knowlton, Lowe Bell

Good Relations as well as Lynne Franks PR. Rudd feels that PR agencies

have been forced to into a major shift in attitude during the 1990s.

‘They [PR consultancies] were difficult to train in the 1980s,’ recalls

Rudd. ‘They were so sure of themselves and felt their clients needed

them so much, and they treated clients rather badly. However when the

business collapsed, then they started to care.’

On the whole Rudd is fairly generous with his praise of PR

practitioners’ communication skills - although not all trainers agree

with him. Rudd sees his role as brushing up, rather than initiating,

core skills. ‘I’m not concerned with the visual aids and what they do

with them - anyone can learn that. The most important thing is to

develop a rapport and chemistry with clients.’

The main thrust of Rudd’s training programme is that whatever you do in

a presentation, you must do it naturally: ‘The PR person is usually

presenting to several clients - each with different kinds of personality

- and you have to come across naturally and give each person something


However well planned, the unnatural presentation performance is likely

to come across as robotic and the presenter will be unlikely to create a

connection with the listener.

Of course, not everybody can rival Clinton in coolness, or has the

natural gravitas of Kohl. But these minor defects can apparently be

worked on. Rudd insists that all of his work is about reassuring people.

If they feel comfortable with themselves, they will make the audience

feel comfortable. What you have to remember to do is to play to people’s

strengths and the weaknesses will disappear,’ he says. ‘There should be

an element of pleasing yourself within a presentation situation. If you

hate standing up for a presentation - them sit down. If you want to wear

your favourite red dress, then do. You don’t have to be a total

traditionalist. It is the uniqueness of the individual that people

really want to see.’

If there is an art to presentations, then science also matters. Former

naval officer David Lancaster, director of The Presentation Techniques

Company, takes a scientific approach. He has adapted detailed research

carried out during his Navy days to civvie street. Lancaster claims that

his company has the ability to draw on knowledge about message design,

theatrical techniques and the psychological aspects of training.

Where most presenters go wrong, says Lancaster, is in only putting over

what they want to say: ‘They are far too egocentric. The basic tenet is

not to worry about you, but to worry about the audience. When they are

happy you can enjoy the presentation.’

Part of worrying about your audience is learning all about them

beforehand, says John Blaskey, managing director of Pinewood Associates.

Blask-ey feels that very few companies do enough background research on

the client and on what is really required before the presentation. He

says that you stand a far greater chance of the client instantly liking

you if he or she feels that you really know and understand them.

‘You need to know everything from the MD’s hobbies, what charities they

support and what the dress code is, to how the company runs,’ says

Blaskey. ‘Then you can go in and match their look, tone, pace and

accent. You need to know what turns them on.’

Location for the pitch is also a key issue. ‘Always try to get the

client to your offices. Failing that, get them on neutral ground,’

advises Blaskey. ‘If you do the presentation on the client’s premises,

the decks are already stacked against you.’

As for that critical component of personal chemistry, the key to

getting it right is saying and seeing the situation from the client’s

point of view rather than your own, says Khalid Aziz, chairman of The

Aziz Corporation. ‘It may be okay to be natural but that same

naturalness has to be appropriate to the occasion,’ says Aziz. ‘We all

wear different masks but the mask that is worn in the wine bar may not

be suitable for the presentation.’

Aziz advises PR practitioners not to tell the client how wonderful you

are, but to concentrate on what benefits you can bring to them: ‘The

starting point of any preparation for a pitch is to think through what

the client wants to hear from us, and how what we say can add value.’

Gone are the days of the flashing smile and pre-prepared script, says

Miles Johnson of The Presentation Company. ‘Conveying integrity is the

single most important thing when pitching to clients,’ Johnson

maintains. His unofficial motto is ‘Mouth shut - ears open’. He believes

that if you are a good listener then you may be able to come up with

something on the spot to win them over.

Being businesslike when pitching to clients who are old enough to be

your father also demands a special approach, argues Cristina Stuart, a

former BBC World Service broadcaster who is managing director of

SpeakEasy. Stuart, who has worked with a number of PR consultancies,

including Biss Lancaster and ICAS, says: ‘Some of the men will see young

PR execs as whipper snappers so it is important that they appear more


So how do you develop a gravitas which normally comes with age and

experience? ‘We look at the way they talk, they laugh, the clothes they

are wearing,’ says Stuart. ‘Very often when they see themselves on

video, they see and hear for themselves that the voice is wrong and the

clothes too trendy. All this can be changed relatively quickly.’

But, as Stuart stresses, there is more to a presentation than getting

your speech right. You need to know how to pace the actual presentation

and how to put across those ideas; you also need to know when you are

going too fast and when to shut up. ‘You have to be able to sychronise

your presentation so there needs to be a roleplay beforehand,’ she says.

‘You have to build time in for everybody for rehearse.’ But the PR

industry is particularly bad at dry runs, she has observed, often

leaving it to prepare for the presentation in the back of the taxi.

Clearly the ultra-competitive nature of the PR business is not going to

change. Presentations will continue to be a strain, with a lot riding on

their success. But the training professionals insist that there is

plenty that can be done to make sure that the balance is tipped in your

favour when pitching for business - at least until the next round.

Spark and Torch: The chemistry of business relationships

To some, Spark and Torch might sound like an unimaginative brand of

fireworks. But to the cognoscenti who have experienced Haynes

Consulting’s Relationship Marketing training programme, these two words

are the key to business salvation.

The way forward is through a stratified, long-term new business

development process. Every public relations person wants a chance to

get on the all-important pitch list, but how do you reach the parts that

other PR people don’t reach?

Richard Haynes, MD of the Warwick-based consultancy, reckons that most

companies don’t have any sort of system for new business development at

all: ‘The no-system approach is the most common. Public relations

practitioners are no worse than anyone else. They just chase anything

that moves in the hope to catch it as a new client.’

A slight improvement on this non-approach, he reckons, must be the

committee approach. ‘But this is highly time-consuming when you just get

six or seven people sitting around explaining why they haven’t done

something,’ says Haynes.

He views the telesales approach as equally flawed - all promise and no

delivery: ‘You might get the appointment fixer to get someone to agree

to see the consultancy, but there is invariably a high level of

cancellations and a low level of conversions.’

Enter the Spark and Torch system, originated in the United States by

Stuart Saunders. Haynes saw Saunders speak at a PR Week conference and

had a Pauline conversion to the technique. Saunders was looking for a

British partner and Haynes wanted to be that partner.

The Spark and Torch system is not, he will tell you, for the consultancy

unwilling to invest in its future - and looking for instant results.

The process is about opening and maintaining a long-term dialogue with

each prospect, so that when they are thinking of changing their

consultancy you are at the forefront of their mind.

The Spark is the non-fee-earning employee, solely responsible for

building and controlling a database of potential clients up until that

first meeting has been secured. This is when the prospect is handed over

to the Torch, who will be at the coalface of the action within the

consultancy and who will supply the prospect with the solution to their


As we all know, clients tend to go with the people they like and trust.

So, with this in mind, the Relationship Marketing programme has a

‘personality profiling’ module built in. This teaches delegates to

understand the chemistry of business relationships.

Spark and Torch course training can cost from as little as pounds 300

per person on an open day to several thousand pounds for the in-house

course. Is this investment of time and money justifiable? Adam Roscoe,

managing director of Greenwood Tighe PR, recently sent his senior staff

on the training course. ‘Of course it’s a big outlay but we justify it

in the view that new business is key to growth,’ he says.

‘If you are a consultancy committed to growing, then you should put your

money where your mouth is.’

Kingstree: Steering Edelman to success

When the opportunity arose to take part in a competitive pitch to

Volkswagen earlier this year, Edelman PR was not going to take any

chances. The consultancy had no intention of resting on its laurels and

hoping for the best on the day, and invited presentation company

Kingstree in to assess its proposals and presentation technique.

‘When we called Kingstree two or three days before the pitch, we were in

a shambles.’ recalls Edelman’s managing director Abel Hadden. ‘We hadn’t

finished writing the presentation and we weren’t even sure about the

route we were taking.’

Kingstree made the Edelman team role-play their presentation, listened

to what they thought they were saying and told them what they were

actually saying. Kingstree analysed the techniques of their delivery -

and generally put the Edelman team through their paces.

‘Kingstree might not know about PR but they do understand the audience’s

perspective,’ says Hadden. He admits this pre-pitch hand-holding is not

the kind of luxury you might employ at every pitch - but the Volkswagen

case was rather extraordinary. ‘We might be good at getting new business

but we still can have our off days,’ he explains.

The move obviously paid off. ‘The client got back to us that day to tell

us we had won the business,’ says Hadden. ‘Kingstree told us to take a

more personalised approach to the presentation and they were right.

Doing the rehearsal early really focused our minds, otherwise we would

still have been writing it on the way to the pitch.’

Edelman PR beat a number of other agencies to a six-month regional PR

programme to support VW’s affordability’ message. Kingstree’s chairman

Lee Bowman observes: ‘They needed us to straighten them out. Their

strengths weren’t coming through. Although they had great ideas, they

were cluttering them up. We gave them confidence.’

Edelman isn’t the only organisation to employ Kingstree’s pre-pitch

advisory service. Bowman claims that 80 per cent of his firm’s business

is advising on real pitches; the rest is training. ‘Our success rate

with some of our clients is as high as 70 per cent. But we don’t like to

come in right at the last minute. We like to be there as soon as that

initial request to tender has been made, to maximise the chances.’

The Henshall Centre: Treating all the world as a stage

Well-established in the field of presentation training. The Henshall

Centre has recently broadened its approach by embracing skills borrowed

from the theatre. The centre has taken on a Shakespearean actor to teach

on its advanced presentation course. ‘This is not about teaching people

to play Hamlet at their presentations,’ explains Keith Henshall, ‘but

simply to play themselves.’

The working actor with the responsibility to put some presence and

performance into the business presentation is Paul Hargreaves.

Hargreaves says that he had often thought that his basic skills as an

actor would be useful in the business arena, but he also believed that

it would be far too arrogant an act to go into training without

investing in some recognised training himself.

‘I was comfortable about presenting the ideas to an audience but not

altogether sure about measuring the value of what I was doing,’ recalls

Hargreaves. His investment in his own training taught him how to deliver

and evaluate - and confirmed his original belief that he had something

to offer.

Despite the fact that he is referred to as The Henshall Centre’s

Shakespearean trainer, Hargreaves’ training has little to do with

imitating the great Bard. It has more to do teaching the presenter word

power. ‘I don’t want to change people’s voices or muck about with their

vowel sounds,’ says Hargreaves. ‘That would be a horrendous thing to do.

I want to free them up to explore language so their presentation won’t

be forced.’

Hargreaves observes that when the presenter is forcing an idea, this in

turn forces the voice and the body; tension creeps in and interferes

with the sound of delivery. This is where the actor’s skills come into

play. Hargreaves teaches delivery technique. Actors, he says, are

practitioners of language. Actors give what he calls ‘verbal energy’ to

words and bring out the imagery inherent in words. He believes that

presenters can learn the techniques to improve their delivery and draw

the listener into their message.

As well as delivery, Hargreaves also addresses the choice of words.

‘Words are powerful and are capable of changing a situation. If your

sentences are too long, you can get lost in them. I help the presenter

simplify the language,’ he says. ‘Any exchange needs to appear to be

effortless. It is my role to pass on the techniques that perfect



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