The best of the books I read #3:
The art of the Pitch by Peter Coughter

I love pitches. All that freedom to dig deep and do some unrestricted creating, with a big prize for the winner looming at the end. What’s not to love? Well, not winning because the other agency presented better. Not because of the work, or rates, but because of the way you offered up your brain child to your potentially new best friends. That’s where “The art of the pitch” comes in. This book by Coughter is full of undeniable truths, dos and don’ts that seem obvious but that I personally have happily ignored to my own detriment.

Main takeaway

It’s not about the creative work. The purpose of presenting is connecting, more specifically to establish a relationship of trust with your client. All else is secondary. People won’t remember the work, but they will remember how they felt about the work, and mostly how they felt about you. They need to trust you. A good presentation is a conversation on a subject both parties care enough about to have come prepared, so they know what they’re talking about and have a point of view.

“Alex Bogusky argues that he doesn’t sell the work, rather that he has a ‘conversation’ with the client, and together they decide that the work is right.”

How to build trust

You need to relate. So first, find out as much as you can about the people you’ll be presenting to. About who they are and what they care about, personally. Not to tell them what they want to hear, but to tell them what they need to hear, in a way that resonates with them. To tell them in a way that isn’t boring. Use a theme if necessary. Essentially, your presentation is an ad for you and your ads, tailored to a very specific target group — the one in the room. So target them and make them feel engaged and understood.

“Even when you are supposed to be talking about yourself, you should be talking about the client.”

Your worst move is to turn into a presenter robot. We present to connect, to build trust. That means you get to be you, but well prepared, with a point of view on the subject. Because you do need to care, and you need to come across like you have thoughts on the subject. Be thoughtful, in your own way. No need to be perfect, but care. Show your true colors and be an authentic, caring, trustworthy partner.

Because emotion sells. Getting the audience and the team in a shared emotion makes all the difference. Show you know the feelings driving their brand, or their problem or solution. Maybe they need a friend, or a coach, or to be reassured. Maybe you need to show you share the love for a subject related to the business. Facts and knowledge may impress, but emotions persuade. We connect by sharing the common human experience. Commit to the emotion, don’t be afraid to go to a place where you feel touched. You won’t be judged for being emotional, but will be judged on whether or not you care about the subject. So if you can do so in a sincere way, try to commit to creating a shared moment. By now we all know being open and sharing emotions may feel vulnerable, but comes across as confident and caring.

Confidence, Clarity, Conviction

Alright, we’re all set to connect. However, connecting when stressed is not easy.


On Powerpoint

If the presentation is about you connecting to the client, why divert their attention to a screen? Have the confidence to only use visual aides as support, not as a crutch, or even worse, as speaker notes. They can read perfectly well themselves, thank you very much. Use a minimal number of slides and feel free to use black slides when you can make a point just by speaking. The focus needs to be on what is happening between you and the people around the table. Not on the screen. There is a place for facts, explanations and multiple creative executions — it’s in the leave-behind. The visual deck should be there to underline what you’re saying and frame it. Not uphold it.

Some simple ways to look confident

- Make eye contact, with everyone in the room

-Move around the room with purpose. Have a remote control for your slides.

- Don’t use filler words like ‘so…’ or ‘probably’ or ‘hmmmm..’, or your local language equivalent. You know the filler words you use. Take all of those out and all of a sudden you will sound thoughtful. In command. Confident.

- Instead, use powerful language. Tell personal stories — if they are relevant.

- Mistakes make you human, and more relatable. So you may get lucky and make some. Run with them.


Frame the work

Great work doesn’t sell itself. Don’t risk being misunderstood because they are in a different frame of mind. You can help them come along by selling the idea before the execution. Take them down a path of clear truths, or by excluding other options. Narrow it down till the only suitable idea is the one you are about to show. Articulate the idea first. Then show the work.

Provide white space to think

We all know why we need white space in design, so why don’t we have any in our presentations? Create white space through ruthless exclusion — if something is not helping us connect and communicate our big ideas, it’s out. Give the client some room to feel something about what you say. Create space to think. Invite them to think along by asking questions: "Think along here, how would you feel about…?" And don’t feel like you need to take all the time alotted to you. The best gift you can give most people is time. So if you were give 2 hours but are finished half an hour early, give them that time back. They’ll love you for it.


Be you and have a point of view. Say where you are coming from, show you know who you are and why that is of importance to the client. Your pedigree and convictions may not gel with the client’s, but you still stand a better chance than by being ‘whoever the client wants you to be’. If they feel like you can shapeshift into whatever they ask for, you're not building trust.

The proces of organising the presentation

First, establish the goals. Gather the points you want to make. Put them on post its, move them around till it makes sense. Then write a logical presentation story. Summarize it and bring it down to 3–4 lines. These are your focal points. Everything that doesn’t support these points must go.

Then write a voice over for the presentation — which different presenters can make their own. Cast your presenters. Make them rehearse and learn the entire presentation. They need to know the thinking, ideas and work, not memorize them. Rehearse till it feels natural. Awkward, but necessary. It shows you care, and increases your chances to win dramatically.

Checklist: ACTION (acronyms come together in obvious names?)


Have every presentation and presenter start clean and strong with something that grabs their attention. Not with ‘So, … Rather with something personal and surprising that sets up or taps into the theme of the presentation.


Once you’ve gathered what you want to present, make sure you can summarize it in 3 to 4 lines. Those are your main points, everything else that doesn’t sells these points should be eliminated.


Create a red thread for your presentation. Like magic, or home, or grow, or date, nostalgia, family, sports, movies, whatever fits both your audience and ideas. To me, this is one of the more questionable advices. It depends on whether your presentation is in danger of being boring.


Do you have all the information? Great, create a leave-behind. Only use the information that is vital to make your point in your presentation. The presentation is there to sell you first, to gain trust. The work and supporting evidence is secondary, and should be comfortably perused in their own time.

Open to Listen

Make sure to be present in the room. Ask questions. Address uneasy vibes. Pay attention, so you can connect.

Next steps.

Agree on the next steps, the ones you’ve discussed internally beforehand.


For too long I have been of the school of thought that good work will prevail. Not so much anymore. Coughter is very convincing about how the human connection colours much of the outcome of the pitch. Also, this doesn’t just apply to pitches. It matters for existing clients as well. Show you care by preparing, relating and rehearsing. Make ads for your ads by targeting your clients in the presentation. It makes sense: you have put in so much effort to create the work, why risk rejection and deliver a sloppy pitch presentation?