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How Sharp is Your Axe?

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abraham_lincolnAbraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Reading that tells us that preparing for the ‘big moment’ is two thirds of the battle. So many people focus only on the moment without sharpening their axe. Look at this in terms of presenting to a potential client. If you go into the presentation room the day of the meeting and you have not done your homework you have already lost your chance of winning. If this were a test you would only be able to get a 33% as a top score if you nailed it. Looking at it in this manner you start to realize that homework is what is most important.

The homework starts with background research. Background research is key in developing the idea behind a great advertising campaign. Great ideas are hard enough to develop on their own, but without background research? Forget it. Your point will not translate well and the idea will be lost in a sea of other bad ideas. So what do you do? Start sharpening that axe. Find out everything you can about the demographic you are trying to reach. Learn how the market has reacted to new product launches. Delve into books of key industry-specific decision makers. Find out who went to prom with your competitor’s CEO. Do whatever you have to do. Take that full two-thirds of the time to make that axe so sharp that you could shave with it. Then, and only then, are you ready to fully develop the idea.

Once your homework is done and you have your idea formed, it’s time to prepare for the pitch. Preparing the pitch is almost more important than developing the idea. Lot of great ideas are lost in poor presentation. In The Art of The Pitch by Peter Coughter, he says “Don’t focus on the deck, focus on the story.” Think about how many times you have presented something. What is the first thing you do? You open a PowerPoint and start filling it out. You make sure you have enough material for a full hour presentation. This is exactly what the Coughter says should be the last thing that happens. Create your notes first and then make a stunning presentation after. You should not think of it like you are trying to fill up the time. Tell your story. Get your point across. Then give them time back. Just because a presentation is long does not make it good.

How does a presentation become stunning and how does this pertain to doing your homework? Easy; it needs to be well-rehearsed. Do not rely on practicing what you are going to say on the drive over or, dare I say, not practice at all. Your final homework before a presenting an idea is practicing and even presenting it to a few colleagues or friends first. If you are worried about leaking the idea, videotape yourself and watch it back. Whatever you do, practice. You will change things. You will make it flow better. You will win more often.

After the homework you are effectively positioned for the pitch. This can be applied not only to a pitch but to many other things in life, such as making home improvements, a change of jobs, or even a softball game. In each way, for the best results you must practice, learn, grow, and have your homework done before you dive into it head first. If Lincoln did it 150 years ago you can too. Redirecting focus on you, I ask, “How sharp is your axe?”

Article originally published on the Talent Zoo blog Beyond Madison Avenue at: http://www.talentzoo.com/beyond-madison-ave/blog_news.php?articleID=16783

5 Tricks for Effective Conference Calls

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conference-callA conference call is scheduled to discuss your brand or business. The times comes, you take a seat, dial the number, and stare while speaking at the phone. This is the course of most conference calls, but it does not have to be.

In today’s day and age, sitting down and having a discussion in person is not always an option. With teleconferencing services, WebEx, Skype, and a multitude of other choices, it is far less a priority to have an in-person meeting. Some calls may be more informal than others, but each call should be treated with the same level of detail. Here are five tricks that come from past experiences with a little help from Peter Coughter’s The Art of the Pitch.

  1. You do not have to sit down. It is okay to stand and move around. If this is a new business presentation you should still do the same things as you would do if they were sitting in front of you. However, by moving around it does not mean getting distracted by doing something else.
  2. Have at least one other colleague in the room. When someone else is there, you can look at them and focus this call as if you are having a discussion. This will not only help make the call more comfortable, but it will make it more personal. When you are looking at the phone it is hard to gauge the reactions of the other side unless they specifically say how they are feeling. This other colleague should be able to help provide you with that feedback instantaneously.
  3. Do not mute the phone to talk to others in the room. There is one exception. Only when you truly must discuss something very quickly before mentioning it to a client can you do this. Otherwise, refrain. In my experience the mute button is used by others to question the client or make unnecessary remarks. When you mute the phone in these cases, you miss things. Stay attentive throughout the entire call. Then, have a discussion afterwards to go over next steps.
  4. Dress to impress. For the phone, seriously? Yes. It is important because when you look good and smell good, you feel good. When you feel good, you present even better. When you present better, you win. While your jeans from college might be the most comfy pants in the world, they are not meant for these situations. “Work clothes” do not have to be boring or uncomfortable. Find what works best for you, find a good tailor, and find your way towards that corner office.
  5. Smile. It can be heard in your voice. Next time there is a conference call, record it. Listen back to it for presentation value. How do you and your colleagues sound? You may be surprised by what you hear. Think about where you can inject your smile. When you are presenting over the phone, the pitch and tone of your voice matter more than anything.

Each trick is less of a trick and more of challenge. It is a challenge to rethink the way we as professionals make a conference call. If you have not noticed, the challenges bring along one underlying goal: Treat it like you were there in person. If you would not do it with your client in the room, you should not do it while on the phone with them. What is your biggest hurdle with conference calls?

Article originally published on the Talent Zoo blog Beneath the Brand at: http://www.talentzoo.com/beneath-the-brand/blog_news.php?articleID=16555