Almost universally, agency pitch teams hate to rehearse. Ironically, they prefer to step into a high-stakes, high-pressure situation in the presence of a potential client than work out the kinks in front of their colleagues first. Can you imagine Steve Jobs not rehearsing before making one of his famous Macworld keynote speeches?
I did a quick scan of the faces in the group and my stomach dropped when I saw more than a few blank stares. Panic set in. What was I doing wrong?
One of the many advantages of rehearsing is the freedom it gives you to read the room – instead of reading your notes (or worse yet, reading off your slides) – and change course if you feel the attention of your audience slipping away.
This point hit home recently under different, but relevant, circumstances. I’ve started volunteering as a docent at an historic home and plantation on Eastern Long Island called Sylvester Manor Educational Farm. Docents lead tours around the home and grounds and we’re all given talking points to follow with historic details and anecdotes. After a few practice runs and half a dozen or so tours, I found I didn’t need the script so much and I was able to insert my own personality into the presentation. The tour became less about reciting facts and more about connecting to the audience through storytelling.
And connecting with the audience is really the point in any presentation, right?
The other day as I was leading a tour and getting into my flow, I did a quick scan of the faces in the group and my stomach dropped when I saw more than a few blank stares. Panic set in. What was I doing wrong? More than disinterested, they seemed overwhelmed. How could I recapture their attention?
Knowing my material so well let me do a quick assessment and change course. In this case, I concluded that this wasn’t a group of history geeks so I backed away from some of the historical details and shifted more to a narrative about the family who’d lived in the home and their lifestyle across the generations. Because I was a master of the content, not its prisoner, I was able to rope the audience back in and save the tour from the clutches of desperation (mine) and boredom (theirs).
I’ve heard too many times from agency pitch teams that rehearsing “too much” means risking spontaneity and “freshness.” I simply can’t disagree more. The better you know your script, the easier it is to riff off of it, playing to the audience and their interests. This recent experience only reinforced my conviction.
Look, it’s worth a try. On your next pitch, put your proverbial pencils down a day early (maybe that will even have an added benefit of limiting you to only the number of slides you can actually present in the time allotted), get yourselves into a conference room and run through that deck until you are a well-oiled machine.
Your audience will thank you.