08 November 2006
Justine Bothwick
Justine Bothwick

In a competitive climate it's not just creativity and credentials that matter, but how you communicate them to prospective clients. Justine Bothwick spoke to four consultancies about presentation techniques, and found that there's more to the pitch than PowerPoint.

Tim Elliot - creative director at Jack Morton Worldwide
We've gone through the phase of getting into laptops and projectors. At first we were all for it but now I would much rather use mixed media. Where appropriate I'd use something fed from a laptop, but more importantly it's about keeping contact with the people you are talking to, and with a laptop you tend to just sit back and keep clicking through. Now, whenever possible, I will do some live stuff there and then. So if I see a white flip chart I leap at it. Designers can spend so much time and money preparing slick presentation materials and we forget that the easiest way to communicate is just to doodle something, and people get it.

The interactivity that we employ in our events is often large scale and uses a lot of theatrical or technological techniques, and it's quite hard to scale that down to a meeting between half a dozen people. We bring it to life through a mix of visualisation - felt tips, Photoshop and 2D images - and set models, which are often internally lit, and CAD fly throughs.

When you are pitching you are also trying to sell a relationship, and we sometimes use quite interesting techniques just to strike up a feeling of teamwork between us and the client. On one occasion, we were past the credentials hurdle - the prospective client knew we could deliver and do the job - but they didn't know if they could work with us. We could have stood up and gone through PowerPoint presentations until we were blue in the face, but it wouldn't make us bond. So they flew in from Europe, and after an initial discussion and chat, we drafted in some 'musical help', as it were. We went through this really creative process and a huge learning curve until we were all playing in a samba band together! It was a scary moment - it could have all gone wrong - but we came out the other end laughing and joking. We had created something together and we had proved to them, that day, that we could work together as a team.

Michelle Booth - business development director, Deepend
In terms of technology we tend to use Director, so it will still be a click through presentation, but we can add interactivity. Usually the first thing that we do is show a kind of advert, or brand experience, for Deepend that shows the scope of what we do as an agency. Along with that is an interactive CD showreel, which the client can explore.

There is also an element of theatre to pitching: for example, before the British Airways pitch we sent them three bananas in three different boxes, labelled 'not to be opened before the pitch'. One was squashed in, one was quite well wrapped, and the other was packaged in bubble wrap and in a perfect condition. The point was to get across the difference for passengers between economy, business class and first class - it's a bit of fun and it gets people talking.

Nick Moon - director of strategic consulting at Futurebrand
At Futurebrand we seek to create experiences, with a variety of different methods. We create the look, the feel, the whole environment of that brand. A brand is multi-dimensional so we present all the things that a brand embraces, be it a retail outlet or the interior of an aircraft, and make the client a customer of their brand. If you as a client were a manufacturer of domestic appliances, for example, then we might invite you in for breakfast, sit you down at the kitchen table and make you toast from your toaster and tea from your kettle - creating the whole environment that your brand exists in.

Then we might also do something more formal. We might be presenting to marketing people, designers, financial people - so we have to get the right balance: to wow some, but also show that we have good logic and thought processes in place too.

What we wouldn't do is sit you down and do a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint is dead. The age-old thing of spinning through long and boring presentations is not what we do. There are other similar or newer technologies around. The more that technology allows us to do new things, then there is a tendency for people to latch on to the latest thing and milk it to death. Correct use of technology can be motivational, but we don't just use it and nothing else.

Clients who are actively involved feel a sense of belonging early on. There is a certain risk: people might not want to get so involved, they might be put off. To minimise the risks we often give a taster to the client early on. We rehearse hard beforehand, but we have to be prepared to have fall backs if things don't go as planned.

Our presentations are given by designers, project managers and consultants. We invest a lot of money in training on presentation skills and proposal writing skills. We also give lots of creative internal presentations. It all helps to develop an open, creative and confident style. After all, it's a bit like being on stage.

Nick Swallow - communications manager at Furneaux Stewart
In general we are not looking for the next, more advanced presentation technology. We go the other way. If you look at an A2 flipchart or presenter, what you have is a picture area far bigger than any screen - and it's flat screen technology! It's portable and you don't have to beg your clients for an extra ten minutes while you set it all up. The resolution is gorgeous, you can get impact, colour and clarity, and it also means that you can keep eye contact as you talk to people.

We take clients through the thinking using mood boards and sketches straight from the drawing board, so that you can talk about the design journey in a very 'come with us' way, rather than the slickness of something that is on screen or video. Sometimes people get entranced by the idea of using technology before they think in terms of the human interaction with their client.

About this article
The above article was first published in New Design magazine Issue 5 (July/August 2001), and is reprinted with permission.

About New Design
New Design is the new product and industrial design magazine from the UK that explores the key internal and external design issues facing designers and management today, from new technologies and materials to consumer and environmental trends. It also looks at the role design can play at the heart of business operations in areas such as manufacturing, branding and product development, with interviews and case studies providing ideas and inspiration for management, innovation and best practice.