How do you get better at pitching? Like everything important in life, there’s no one thing in particular. Preparation is vital, as is a relaxed, authoritative presentation style. Chemistry matters – along with an ability to intuit what the client is looking even before they have it figured out.

I’ve been advising a client on a video project and last week sat in on the shortlisted agencies’ final presentations. It was a massive eye opener for me, given that for the past several years I’ve been on the other side of the powerpoint clicker. Here’s what we all need to do better.

1) Pitching is listening

The first session began with a reminder that the agency had just 15 minutes to present. We assured them we’d read the documentation they’d sent in advance so they should steer away from company background and focus on their ideas for the project.

What happened? They spent the first ten minutes explaining how many people worked in their office, a summary of the awards they’d won and why the founder set up shop all those years ago.

They had just begun talking about their project management process when the procurement officer in the room held up a finger and announced they had one minute left to wrap up. We heard nothing about their great ideas for the client’s video.

The sad thing is that of all the agencies we saw, they were the best prepared. They’d even created dummy content – showing how they’d handle drone and interview set ups – and there was no time to watch it. Ouch.

Do…think on your feet.

Goalposts move or, more likely, you hadn’t taken proper note of the pitch instructions. If you’re told you have 15 minutes and you’d prepared for 45, don’t sulk. Instead, ask the client where they’d like you to focus their attention.

Likewise, when someone indicates it’s time to wrap up don’t glare and carry on regardless. Smile and reassure them that you’re almost done. Pause a second if necessary and conclude with the most important point you haven’t yet made. Then, if it isn’t you, hand over to the team member that was going to close off the presentation.

Don’t…tell them what they know already.

If you’ve sent a document in advance, don’t blithely regurgitate it slide-by-slide, word-for-word. Instead, ask whether a) they had any questions on it or b) would like you to summarise its key points. On the assumption they’re not a) idiots or b) lazy make sure you’ve prepared new information that complements what you’ve already sent.

2) Invest in the opportunity

In the stressful lead up to a pitch it’s easy to forget that what you’re preparing for is a transaction. Quid pro quo: something for something. The winning bid is the one that demonstrates the greatest value in exchange for the client’s hard earned cash.

How is that value measured? In a number of ways, of course. Most agencies rely on intangibles like chemistry; creativity; energy; passion. Many supplement this with tangible data such as relevant experience, testimonials and case studies. Several add a layer of professionalism and dedication: beautiful design work and an eye for detail.

Too few, however, put their hand in their pockets and ante up with some old fashioned cashola of their own. One of the shortlisted agencies handed each of us a nice hardback notebook and USB stick – both branded, of course. It raised an eyebrow in a positive sense. A nice touch, and no doubt it got them off to a positive start.

Do…leave behind something to say ‘thanks for considering us’.

Pens, stress balls, office toys, fidget spinners – all fine. Remember that your leave-behind has to represent your brand identity. If you’re making a big deal about your creative chops you’ll need something original. If you’re saying you’re bigger and better than the competition then make sure your leave-behind reflects that.

Do…make it project specific.

Generic gifts are, as I said above, ‘fine’. They’re also ‘nice’. Is that how you want to be remembered? No, you want to be fan-frikking-tastic. The best they saw. For that, you need to invest in the project.

One of the agencies told us that they got so carried away thinking about our video that they got in the car and went and did some filming. Then they sat in the edit suite and cut a mock sequence to show us the idea they’d had.

Now that’s impressive.

3) Get the tech right

There’s one thing that unites all agency pitchers regardless of size, experience and confidence: tech fails.

An unwritten rule of pitches is that the agency team must spend the first five minutes hunched over a laptop, brows furrowed and in whispered conversation about display settings. This concludes with the lead pitcher clapping his hands and reassuring us that we will all be quite comfortable huddling around his Macbook Pro.

Ha-ha: the tech never works. Ha-ha: it happens to the best of us. What if it’s not funny, though? Surely we can do better?

Do…bring adaptors.

Ask ahead of time how the client wants to run the show. If they ask you to present from your own laptop, make sure you bring every adaptor under the sun…but definitely VGA and HDMI. Don’t expect the client to provide the right connector – it’s your bloody computer.

Do…arrive early.

If you can, get into the room before the client arrives and start setting up ahead of time. If you cant’, see if you can connect to the guest wifi before you go in. Load up any youtube pages or other websites on your browser and test them before you go in.

Do…be flexible.

If the presentation is to be made from a central PC, send the file in advance and check before you arrive that it arrived and works okay. If you’re bringing it with you, make sure it’s accessible from as many programmes as possible: Powerpoint, Keynote and any PDF reader.

4) Write a killer speech…then learn it.

This shouldn’t need saying…but an articulate, well written script reassures the client that they’re in safe hands. Regardless of what type of creative project is up for grabs, good copywriting will be essential somewhere along the line – so why not demonstrate your credentials during the presentation?

Oratory is a lost art – so find it and set yourselves apart from the others. Most agencies tend to dump a load of bulletpoints into a slide deck and go from there. Show you care by starting with an idea and building out from there.

Do…use note cards to present

Once you’ve written a few thousand words of elegant prose, break it down into constituent parts and write them onto index cards (reading from A4 looks a bit naff).

5) Bring the key people

One agency was rejected because they left behind a couple of the people that had been advertised as important players in the project. In the tender response they had made a big deal about the Head of Strategy who would lead the client through the discovery process and write the video script.

She didn’t come – was apparently hard at work on a shoot. Really? They couldn’t have scheduled around this presentation? Possibly not, but either way it hurt their case to suggest that one of the key principles was too busy to bother with us.

Similarly, most agencies wheel out the MD, biz dev boss and maybe an account director for client pitches. That’s fine – winning new business is how they’re measured after all, and no doubt their experience will be impressive. However, half the time they’re delivering someone else’s presentation.

They’re almost certainly not going to be the ones picking up the phone to pitch journos (PR), shooting and cutting (video) or writing copy (SEO/content). Clients want to meet the people who are actually going to make a success of the project, not claim credit for it.

6) Smash the small talk

Walking into and exiting the pitch room successfully is one of pitching’s hardest skills to master. Some client teams will go all-in to welcome the new entrants while others will stare at their phones ignoring the outstretched hands before them. You never don’t know what you’re going to get.

Do…fill that dead space.

A good joke or clever line can go a long way to fill those awkward silences. It can take 60 seconds or more to set up or pack up a bag of laptop equipment and mood boards – and only five seconds to see ‘Bye, thanks, you’ll be hearing from us,’ etc. Make sure you have something in your locker to make people feel at ease without outstaying your welcome.