Perhaps the most important aspect that will determine climbing the ladder to a top position at a PR agency is how you perform during a presentation. A good presentation can be the key to gaining new business.
Unless you’re starting your own business, presentations will be staged by senior management execs who have starred in past productions. But the supporting cast often will include at least one “promising” lower level account exec. This will often be the first time that senior management will see you perform. Messing up can label you as “not management material.”
The presentation director will determine how long you should present and what your part will be. Experienced presenters will critique your presentation skills during rehearsals and provide suggestions on how to improve. Listen to them.
So, here are some tips that should help you give a Tony Award presentation performance:
Before the Presentation:
- Study the background material as if your career depended on it.
- Do your own research about the prospective client. You might be asked a question from the audience.
During the creative session preceding the rehearsal:
- When suggesting ideas, keep the client’s objectives in mind.
- Keep the client’s budget in mind.
- Suggest practical ideas that are doable.
- Don’t show off by suggesting a “fantastic” idea that is so far above the client’s budget that it is undoable.
- Build upon the ideas of others.
- Suggest ideas from other accounts that can be tailored to meet the presentation objectives.
At the rehearsal and after:
- When it’s your turn to perform, keep it short and snappy.
- Don’t try to copy the rehearsal style of others; be yourself.
- After your turn take copious notes from management about your presentation.
- During the after rehearsal discussions do mention any suggestions that you think can make your part or the entire presentation better.
- Use proper English. Avoid slang and street talk; don’t try to show how smart you are by using words that require a dictionary.
At the presentation:
- Dress professionally. See how your top management dresses daily and follow their lead.
- Depending on the reception of the audience during my presentations, I always ad lib a quick joke or two. But the jokes always have to be pertinent. If you can’t think fast on your feet rehearse your jokes along with the rest of the presentation.
- Present to the entire audience. You never know which individual will ultimately direct the account.
- Be prepared to answer any questions directed to you but don’t be afraid to say, “I think MJ is better suited to answer that question.”
- Use examples that relate to your prospective client.
- If your presentation manager allows you to engage the audience during your presentation by asking a question, do so. But make certain it’s a question that will not elicit an answer that derails your presentation.
- If you’re using statistics during your presentation make certain that they are the latest and correct ones.
- Conclude your time on stage with a short recap of the most important points of your presentation.
Perhaps the most important way for an agency to grow is to win new business after a presentation. Unfortunately, even the best account managers will not go high up the agency ladder unless they are good new business presenters. That’s because the road to senior management positions depends on your ability to help the agency grow. But remember: messing up during a presentation can be detrimental to your career. Don’t push for a chance to present unless you’re sure that you can be a convincing advocate.
And if you are given an opportunity to present, remember the golden rule: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Arthur Solomon was a senior vice president/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller and remains a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications. He consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.