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We Will Replace Presentations with Conversations

We will break free of our addiction to the big reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. When we pitch, we are in part satisfying our craving for this adrenaline rush, and we understand that until we break ourselves of this addiction we will never be free of the pitch. Presentation, like pitch, is a word that we will leave behind as we seek conversation and collaboration in their place.

~ wwp ~

We in the creative professions are addicted to the presentation. We crave the sweaty palms, the increased heart rate and the heightened perceptions that come from standing at the precipice, addressing expectant faces and not knowing whether our reveal will elicit the approval and adulation we crave or the uncomfortable silence of failure. It is this not knowing—the soon to be hero or goat sensation—that propels us. We love presenting so much that we are willing to do it for free. This is the dirty little secret of our profession.

We will never be free of the pitch if we do not overcome our addiction to the presentation. Henceforth, we must work to eliminate the big reveal. To wean ourselves of our addiction we must take the first step of changing our behaviour with our existing clients. Once we have accomplished this, the second step—changing the way we behave with prospective clients in the buying cycle—becomes possible. We will explore how to take these two steps, but first let us examine the hidden costs of pitching.

Practitioner or Performer?

Even when we pitch and win, we lose. We devalue what should be our most valuable offering and set up the wrong dynamics between the client and us.

We must move away from the place where the client sits with arms crossed in the role of judge, and we take to the stage with song and dance in the role of auditioning talent. While both parties find the showmanship of our craft titillating, the practitioner’s is a stronger place than that of the performer. It is this practitioner’s position from which we must strive to operate. Practitioners do not present. Stars do not audition.

Preserving the Surprise

A successful presentation requires surprise. It depends on a big reveal in the form of a key diagnostic finding, a dramatic strategic recommendation or a novel creative concept that is at odds with expectations or set against a backdrop of uncertainty. Preserving the surprise requires us to keep the client at arm’s length and let our knowledge pool up behind a dam that will only be opened at the presentation. While we protest against the client’s selection process that keeps us at bay and asks us to begin to solve his problem without proper collaboration or compensation, we often acquiesce, in part, because his process allows us to meet our need to present. In this manner, we allow—or even deliberately create—an environment that leads to a higher likelihood of failure in order to preserve the dynamics of the presentation.

At a time when we should be conversing, we are instead cloistered away preparing for the one-way conversation called the presentation. We behave this way in our engagements with existing clients, so when prospective clients ask us to bridge massive communication gaps by presenting to them instead of talking with them, it is only natural for us to agree.

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