Presentation Shock and Awe

6 04 2011

Ever sat through a truly awesome presentation? Seen one on TED?

 

Hardkins & Partners were determined to show the client all 114 of their slides in the allotted 45 min presentation slot

What about during a law firm pitch?

 

As a reader of this blog, you’ve probably had some experience of pitches. Been on the receiving end? Starred in one? Orchestrated one? Been shoved in one at the last minute as a “subject matter expert” or simply to make up the numbers?

In today’s post I’ll share an interesting technique that might liven up your pitch experience, but first let me tell you why I think it might be useful.

In my experience both as a buyer of legal services and during my time consulting with law firms, I saw a surprising variety of approaches to pitches to win work. Some presentation formats were prescribed by the potential purchaser, but more often than not the law firm were often left to their own devices. The results (in my experience) ranged from expectation-bustingly good to a straight up car crash.

The good firms had really thought things through, probably got some insight from people at (or at least who know) the prospect, and maybe had used a pitch consultant.

Those that hadn’t turned up, usually mob handed to cover ever possible question the client may ask (ostensibly to “show commitment”) and armed with a battalion of powerpoint slides to pummel the prospect into submission.

Here’s a slide showing where all our offices are in the world.

Here’s a slide with some client logos.

Here’s a slide with some directory quotes (which I’ll read out loud to you).

You get the impression.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of overly complex (particularly text heavy) powerpoint slides.

Who is?

Yet why (oh why!) do a large number of sophisticated, multi-million pound law firms still use them as the back bone of a pitch?

But wait.

Not all powerpoint is bad.

Far from it.

Powerpoint can be beautiful.

My bible in this area is Beyond Bullets by Cliff Atkinson, but Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen design (both by Reynolds) are also inspirational and can fundamentally change the way you use the tool to communicate.

But today I want to talk about an approach called Pecha Kucha. This is a presentation methodology that emerged from the Japanese design industry in 2003. The format is breathtakingly simple. Twenty slides (I Like to select powerful visuals for my slides, and I don’t think this approach requires anything different), each with a time limit of twenty seconds before it auto advances.

20×20.

Six minutes and fourty seconds.

Beautiful.

It forces the speaker to be concise, ideally entertaining, and to know his or her material. Critically, it encourages flawless delivery, which must be the aim for an important pitch, right?

Always keen to “eat my own dog food” I tried this earlier this week, with a small audience of around 25 people comprising lawyers (from in-house and private practice backgrounds), sales professionals, editors, conference organisers, training specialists and marketeers.

Here’s how I did it.

I started by identifying the key messages I wanted to deliver, and then ordering them among the 20 slides so I told a coherent story. I then pulled out three key points for each message and bullet pointed them. At this point I searched for images to bring them for life, and once complete I had the basics of my structure. I then did an approximate run through (without the auto-timing on), and then used the flow to write the text for each slide. Five lines of text seemed about right.

Next I set the auto-timing part (much harder than it should be on Powerpoint 2007, thank you very much Microsoft!) and did a timed run through to tailor the text.

Finalise text, repeat. Practice.

It took me around 3 run throughs to learn the material (given the work I’d already put in to building it, which undoubtedly primed my memory). The delivery was fine (but not, by my standards perfect – always good to learn what I can do better), and most importantly the feedback universally positive.

Now it’s definitely not going to be appropriate for all situations, audiences or presenters, but why not add it to your armoury?

How about using it as a tool to see if you can summarise what your law firm is all about in 20×20? What if you got several different successful salespeople to do it and see how similar (or different) the messages were?

If you used it in a pitch situation, how could you use the time you’ve saved to create more value from the meeting for the prospective client? (Suggestion: ask more questions, create a real dialogue).

Could you get five different lawyers to sum up the recent activity in their practice areas in 6min 40 and present to each other as a form of “show and tell”. Great way to update teams without sending them to sleep!

It’s a deceptively simple technique, but one that to my mind has a great number of powerful applications.

Why not give it a go?

I’d love to hear how you get on.

 


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7 responses

6 04 2011
Jim Boeckman

Lawyers are definitely big-time powerpoint abusers – when your stock in trade is words, it’s hard to fight the tendency to load up every slide with as many as possible. PKN is a great illustration of a better path. I’m not certain whether it’s viable for law firm pitches in its purest form, since I’ve never been involved in one – as an audience, presenter or observer – that wasn’t interrupted on at least every other slide (too much moot court energy in the room). But every law firm ppt presentation I’ve seen would benefit from having the discipline to use fewer (usually many fewer) words and more visuals.

I’ve also consulted with law department leaders to help them put what they want to talk about into stoplight charts and other visuals that will resonate better with their Boards and C-suite colleagues, rather than a powerpoint that’s basically just a memo in landscape.

7 04 2011
Intelligent Challenge

Great quote Jim – I’d not thought about the love of words as one of the reasons lawyers cling to text heavy slides, but it certainly makes sense. “Memo on a slide” is a great way to explain what’s going wrong too.

7 04 2011
Mike Ames

I couldn’t agree more. This applies to other professional services firms too – not preparation, too much PowerPoint and hardly any passion.

A really good piece.

7 04 2011
Intelligent Challenge

Thanks Mike

8 04 2011
Lee Taylor

Great piece thanks. Completely agree and it is all too tempting to go overkill on the PowerPoint slides.

Having worked with lawyers preparing marketing strategy and pitch presentations I think the good ol’ flip chart is a completely under used and under estimated visual aid. Particularly when encouraging intereactivity with the audience.

We’ve had lawyers up there drawing venn diagrams whilst interacting with the audience and, in a way, allowing the audience to draw the diagram WITH the lawyers to prove the point of client / lawyer connections and partnerships.

Keep it simple, keep it clear, keep it relevant.

8 04 2011
Intelligent Challenge

Couldn’t agree more, I’m a huge fan of the flip chart. The book Gamestorming has some great applications too.

1 06 2011
The epic failure of the world’s best presenter

[…] but continued on a central theme. All the others involved powerpoint (which as a tool can be very useful, but is often grossly misused IMHO) , and typically the presentations were built using a standard […]

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