The Pitch is as Important as the Proposal

Brandon Eley

We spend a lot of time thinking about the way we word our proposals and what we include in them. We spend many hours determining how long we estimate it will take to complete a project, budgeting for every little expense and change. We obsess over the design of the proposal, as if it were a client project itself.

But in over 12 years in this industry one thing I’ve found is that interactive agencies and designers almost never spend as much time on their presentation as they do on the proposal. Could that be costing you contracts?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from public speaking the last couple of years it’s that rehearsal is essential to giving a successful presentation. In all my years of presenting proposals to potential clients, I don’t remember rehearsing one presentation before I started public speaking.

There are a lot of other tips and tricks I’ve learned from public speaking, too. Below are some things we can learn about the art of the pitch from public speakers.

Planning Your Pitch

This is important: your proposal is not your pitch. I used to spend a lot of time working on a proposal, and literally just went into the client meeting and “winged it.” In some proposals this is fine, too. If you’re just going over what was already verbally agreed upon, there is little value in a big impressive presentation. But when you are pitching a new client on why they should choose you over your competitors, you need to do more than read from a paper proposal to win over your prospects.

You should certainly consider the information in your proposal, as much of that material may need to be included in your presentation. But your presentation should be about more than just reading your proposal, much like a public speaker shouldn’t just read from his or her slides.

Think about the key messages you want to convey in your presentation. What is it you want the potential client to remember about you, your company, and your proposal? Is it your experience in their market niche? Your expertise in a particular technology segment such as mobile or application development? Is it your creative strengths and awards you’ve won? You should come up with two or three messages you want your potential client to remember about you first.

Brainstorm Before You Design

Before you open up your page layout or word processing software, you need to plan your proposal first. When I began giving presentations, I just opened up Keynote (or PowerPoint) and went to work. I’d make some slides, rearrange them, tweak the designs, then make some more. Before I knew it I’d spent hours working on the design of the presentation and ended up with content I didn’t even use because the direction of the presentation changed.

When you’re planning your proposal, first brainstorm what you need to include and what it will say. I really like using mind maps to brainstorm, but you could use  index cards or just list ideas on a piece of paper. The key is to think about everything you could possibly want to include in the proposal. Write down anything at all that comes to mind, don’t try to second guess yourself as to whether it’s a good idea. Just write it down.

Once you’ve taken 15-30 minutes to brainstorm ideas, you should have dozens (if not a hundred or more) ideas of what to include in the proposal. Once you start writing, you’d be surprised how many things come to mind. Now take the list or mind map and start organizing the ideas into an order. This is where index cards work nicely. Even though I like to start brainstorming using a mind map, I often move to index cards to start organizing my thoughts. I write each main idea on a separate card, and order the main ideas on a wall, left to right. I start adding sub-topics under each main topic. You can rearrange or add and remove as necessary.

Through this type of brainstorming session you will often make significant changes to the structure and layout of your proposal (or presentation) before ever even thinking about the design or copy you would write for the individual sections. This can save a lot of time overall, and you’ll think of several great ideas you would never have thought of otherwise.

Tell a Story

The most effective public speakers don’t get up in front of a large audience and lecture for an hour like a college professor. They tell stories that captivate their audience instead of putting them to sleep with bullet points and graphs.

Instead of showing graphs and bullets about your company, or just showing slides of your portfolio that your potential client could see on your website, tell a story about how you increased a client’s revenues by 50% by redesigning their product page or how you analyzed a client’s analytics to find visitor trends, and redesigned navigation that resulted in double the traffic to internal pages. Show examples on your slides, of course, but tell the story and engage your potential clients.

Tell Them Three Times

Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and finally tell them what you just told them.

You want your client to remember two or three key things from your presentation. Tell them at the beginning of the presentation what you’re going to cover. Then go into the details of your presentation. Finally, summarize what you just told them and wrap up your presentation by reminding them of the key points.

How Do You Present Proposals?

I’m interested in knowing any tips you have for presenting proposals to clients. If you have any tips for how to deliver effective proposal presentations, let us know below in the comments section.