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Power up your pitches

Masterclass trainer and creative director Tom Evans on how building a narrative into your pitch can result in a more persuasive presentation

Illustration by Julia Wytrazek

A successful pitch hinges on your ability to present a persuasive argument in favour of your idea. Whether you’re presenting internally or taking creative work to a client, it’s not just about the strength of the concept but how you deliver it. We spoke to Tom Evans, co-founder of strategy and communications company Behaviour and leader of D&AD’S ‘Creative Pitching and Presentation Skills’ online masterclass about the key to structuring and presenting a pitch that’s hard to turn down. 

Pitching presents various challenges, especially if you’re anxious about public speaking. “People feel nervous, like they're going to lose their flow and dry up,” Evans says. This has various practical solutions: eye contact, slowing down your speech, and faking the confidence until it’s felt. But arguably there’s a deeper issue to overcome. How are you telling your story? Why are you convincing people to care? 

“As creative people, what we all tend to do is work up to the brink of the moment of the presentation on the idea, throw something up on the wall, and then hope the words will come, and quite often they don't,” Evans explains.

Give the story time to develop

When it comes to pitching, preparation really is your friend. “You have to make time to do the idea justice in terms of the storytelling,” Evans says, suggesting you stop working on the idea well ahead of the meeting to give yourself time to structure it. “Then you can zoom out and spin a good yarn about the story, focusing on the struggle of how you got there, so that your audience is salivating for the solution or the answer.” 

As much as we love the idea of a Don Draper style flash of inspiration, the reality is that doing your homework pays off. “I used to think that some people just stood up and started talking,” Evans says, recounting his youthful frustration when he found he couldn’t do the same. “But actually, I realised that the people that look like they are just ad-libbing have a plan for what they're going to say. They're experienced in telling those stories.” 

Of course, the idea must work in the first place. “There isn't a sales technique, or some sort of magic powerpoint template that you can use, that means you'll sell the idea. It's just an authentic belief. It's something that you believe to be good, which… is something that you can't fix in the presentation. You have to put the work in before.”

Show your working

What kind of story are you telling? “Focus on the struggle rather than the solution,” Evans advises. “We tend to focus on the answer: ‘This is the brief, I've done this, I've done that, here's how long it’s going to take, what it's going to cost.’ That's the solution. And that makes for a weak story. But focusing on the struggle - i.e. the cutting room floor, the mistakes, the cul de sacs, the red herrings and wild goose chases that you went on, the happy accidents, the human endeavour that went into this, the epiphany that you had culminating in the answer  that is the story.” 

 Like any good tale, it needs a beginning, a middle, and an ending. “Have a structure. It doesn't really matter what it is. Have an arc, have a journey, have a sequence of steps, gates, whatever you want to call it. I'm not prescriptive.” Evans also advises breaking your narrative down into chunks that you can get feedback on as you go. “Disclose the story in chapters,” he says.

Be authentic in your storytelling

Ultimately, every story is different. “The idea [in the masterclass] is that you're getting people to give the presentation that only they could give. And so the chapters, the subjects, the sequence of the elements is entirely personal,” Evans says. Authenticity will also make you a better storyteller. “Everybody is comfortable having a conversation with their friends or telling a story or just having a chat. As soon as it's like monologue time. It's like, ‘oh, God’, you know, people freeze. But they feel liberated when they're given the permission to do it the way they want to do it, and just be themselves rather than act.” 

Playing to your personal strengths and putting yourself at ease will pay off both in making your idea sound convincing, and in how you perform as a public speaker. “If you're confident enough to reveal the true version of yourself, then that is an amazing, authentic, engaging presentation,” Evans says. “And you won't be nervous because you'll just be being you.” However, it’s fine for these things to take time. “It takes practice and experience to get comfortable with the situation.” 

What's Evan's top takeaway for landing successful pitches? “Have a higher purpose or a point of view about the industry, your role within society, and your relationship with your work. That's a really critical thing.” 

Tom Evans’ D&AD Masterclass on Creative Pitching and Presentational Skills gives you the tools to deliver your presentations with confidence, persuasion and personality. Using specially developed resources, dialogues, and reflection exercises, this online workshop aims to help you tailor your pitches and presentations for maximum effect and overcome any hurdles getting in your way. More information and sign-ups here. You can also explore do at your own pace courses here, as well as upcoming in-person and online teaching here.

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