Present Like You Give a Damn

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March 22nd, 2013
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Full disclosure: I haven’t been doing this long.

Not nearly as long as the incredibly smart folks we’ve featured so far on Junior Strategy. But I’ve heard the stories. I’ve heard about the long nights in smoke filled offices as art directors and copywriters and production people worked tirelessly to sketch their ideas in pen and pencil, set all of their type by hand, letter by letter, and carefully mount all of it on pieces of black foam core. Sometimes only to have a creative director cut an idea to pieces and demand it be redone hours before a big presentation. Boards were slid into huge portfolio cases and hauled across town. There were no 60” monitors or PowerPoint presentations. There weren’t 25 slides full of research and data, explaining why this idea was the silver bullet. In those meetings, everything came down to a few pieces of black foam core and a handful of people. Not only did the work have to be great, so did the people presenting it. The human factor and the art of presenting those ideas played an equal role in triumphant success or miserable failure.

Technology has done wonderful things for this industry. Depending on who you talk to, some might even tell you that, thanks to technology, we as a collective industry, are doing some of the most creative work that’s ever been done. But while it’s helped, it’s also hindered. Over the years I’ve paid close attention in presentations. I’ve observed body language, intonation, and overall technique. And what I’ve noticed isn’t a lack of talent, but rather, a lack of effort. I’ve seen too many presentations go down without a single person getting up from their chair. Technology has become a crutch; an excuse to take the human out of the equation and, “Let the work speak for itself.” I think we’re selling ourselves short.

Two years ago at a PSFK conference in San Francisco, Eric Ryan, founder of Method Soap and former account planner, talked about, “the transfer of emotion” and its importance in selling your ideas. Scientifically, the transfer of emotion refers to, “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.” Anyone who’s ever spent any time around a group of little kids has probably seen the transfer of emotion in action. One kid cries, they all cry. One kid starts laughing, so do the rest of them. Emotion is contagious. Don’t forget that.

Eric’s speech had an impact on me, not as a strategist, but as a presenter. Whether you’re a strategist, a copywriter, an art director or an account manager, there’s a strong chance that at some point in the near future you’ll find yourself seated at a table full of people, eagerly waiting to hear what revolutionary ideas you’ve come up with. So get out of your chair, stand tall, make eye contact, move around and speak up. This is your opportunity to transfer that emotion; to make them feel what you feel. Channel Steve Jobs or Don Draper or Barack Obama. Do what you have to do to make sure your work doesn’t end up in your computer’s trash folder. There’s a good chance that you’ll only get one shot.

Sometimes I worry that the art of the client presentation is going the way of smoking in the office and foam core (not that I’d like to bring either of those back). If the young people in the industry don’t start taking pride in the way they present their ideas, how can we be sure that we’re doing our best work? How can we be sure that our best ideas are the ones that our clients want to execute? I challenge any junior strategist to consider your presentation technique, and look for ways to improve. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to speak in front of others, solicit feedback and try new techniques. Remember, when you feel something, the better the chances that they’ll feel something.

I’ll leave you with a story that Eric Ryan told during that PSFK conference:

Eric and the people at Method Soap realized pretty quickly that selling was really about the transfer of emotion. So recently, when the people at Target were scheduled to come to the Method office for a meeting, Eric and his partner, Adam greeted them in the elevator, dressed as furries, with the Rocky soundtrack on full blast. When the doors opened, they were pushed into the Method office where they were each handed a Ping-Pong paddle. The game was Ping-Pong and the deal was this: if the Target folks won, Method would name a product after them. If Method won, they’d get the prime shelf placement they’d been seeking with Target for months. Needless to say, you shouldn’t have any problem spotting Method next time you’re browsing the soap aisle at your nearest Target.

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Kelly Rupp is Planner strategist type who loves skiing, design, furniture, beer, menswear, high-quality published goods, Rob Delaney and getting things in the mail (except credit card offers). Currently strategizing for Liquid in San Jose, California.

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Photo credits: Empty theater.

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