The 90-second pitch

90 second pitch “That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all.

I am ready now.”  

Woodrow Wilson 1918

I received an email asking if I would do our marketing department a favour – they asked me to say a few words at our largest trade show, held annually in Chicago Illinois.  I expected that I would do a best practise story with colleagues, BUT it got really interesting when the VP of Marketing sent follow-up messages about the group rehearsal (a rehearsal?) and the 90-second pitch concept.

I was to represent ‘my’ product line at the company pre-congress meeting to hundreds of sales and marketing colleagues from around the world.  The material I was asked to cover in the “90-second pitch” could easily take 30 minutes in a typical presentation, but the goal of this pre-congress program was to have multiple product lines “pitch” what was latest and greatest.  There were 8 product lines represented, and we each had 90-seconds.

As President Wilson stated, and many speakers before and after him know, it takes a LOT of time to condense content down to its core message.  For this opportunity it took two days for me to boil down my material to meet the 90-second target. It was one of my biggest presentation challenges so far. In the end it went well and I got some great comments from my colleagues in the days after the pitch.

Rehearsing numerous times was one of the keys to being able to get my message across in the 90-seconds (I think was closer to 120). And yes I did rehearse with a stop watch.

The message of my pitch was that our customers are not really interested in our marketing clichés, our leading edge, state of the art, paradigm shifting, best of breed, revolutionary technologies.  They were interested in how our technologies get them the results they are looking for.

So to get the best results from a presentation try boiling down your pitch, your idea, into 90-seconds. It will take awhile but it focuses you on what’s important. And you can leave out the marketing clichés – the leading edge, state of the art, paradigm shifting, best of breed, revolutionary things and talk about the important message you want your audience to leave the room with.

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring


Presenting during the unplanned – a national day of mourning

dutch flag at half mast

On July 23rd 2014 at 4:00 p.m. the remains of victims of the Malaysian  Airline Flight 17 disaster began arriving in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.  It is suspected that the flight was shot down by a surface to air missile while flying over the Ukraine. The majority of the victims were from the Netherlands, many from the Eindhoven area.  At that time, that day, I was in the middle of giving a presentation design workshop in Eindhoven.

The day of the workshop I got a ride with Leon (the host and organizer) to the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven (the High Tech Campus is sometimes called the Silicon Valley of Europe).  He had a meeting room arranged for us in one of the buildings on the campus.  On the way over he told me about the national minute of silence that would take place in the middle of my workshop.  We discussed a couple options of how to handle this, knowing that input and the feeling of the audience was critical. We knew we would have to be flexible, even cancel if necessary although that was not a desirable option – I had travelled a long way to present the workshop.

Just to make the situation more complex, following the minute of silence the arrival of the planes carrying the remains was being televised and live streamed from the military airfield in Eindhoven only a few kilometers away. The King of the Netherlands and his wife, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and other officials would be there to meet the aircraft.  This was a big event for the people of Eindhoven, and the Netherlands. Of course we would stop for the moment of silence, but what then?

Leon discussed the situation with the audience before he introduced me; we were going to do whatever they thought was best.  They decided that they wanted the workshop to continue, but they also wanted to view the planes landing and be part of this national day of mourning – their first since Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands died in 1962.  As I went through my material Leon watched the clock to make sure we could cut over to the live streaming of the planes landing.  Nearing the mid-point I knew it was getting close so I stopped at a place that I thought would be a positive point to pick up – in the event that we continued.  We switched over to the live stream and the audience sat in silence while the events of the day unfolded. We observed the minute of silence at the appropriate time and then quietly watched the news coverage from the airfield.  The images were very moving.  After about 30 minutes we asked the audience if they would like to continue with the workshop, or watch the news coverage. The majority agreed to continue the workshop although some people left due to prior commitments.

I restarted the workshop with a positive presentation story; I call it “Rita’s Story”. In 2010 my friend and colleague Rita asked me to consult with her on a presentation, she wanted to maximize its impact. She was requesting a members’ dues increase in her professional association. This increase would support similar professional associations and educational efforts in developing countries, as well as aid those who have experienced a natural disaster.  In the end, members voted “yes” to Rita’s request.  I was at the presentation and I believe (due to the reaction of her audience) that a single slide I made, with one word and a single image on it, moved them in her favour. The point of the story is that sometimes even one great image can create impact in a presentation.

“Rita’s Story” was a positive restart to the workshop, and we continued on.  From audience comments it was a successful event. Somehow we made it work on a very dark day.

There are no presentation design references for how to deal with presenting during a national disaster. My advice to presenters in this type of difficult situation is to acknowledge the situation, be sensitive to and focussed on the needs of the audience, ask them for direction, and include them in the decisions. They want the experience to be successful and will help you take them there.

Hopefully no one will ever need that advice.

Joe Pops

Mind the Gap

the gap
Those first few moments of your presentation are critical. Gaps/delays between speakers, or a gap between your introduction and the start of your presentation can result in the audience’s attention wandering.

I was at a conference recently in which there was a delay between the speaker introduction and the beginning of the presentation … for every lecture!  Following the introduction, the presenter had to wait for the first slide, or find their own presentation on the computer desktop and open the PowerPoint file. It was like the curtain going up and having no one on stage.

One thing that a speaker can do in this situation is to make sure the presentation is open before they are introduced. Or they can just start without that first slide, they can say “While they’re getting everything going…”  If you have a well designed opening it should be possible to start without that first slide (which is usually just the title slide anyway).  Of course you could get creative; maybe you can use the gap in your opening.  “Obviously not everything is as simple as we would like it; it reminds me of the time…”  There is also the danger that they cannot get the slides going …then onto plan B, using your backup notes.

So “Mind the Gap”, or should I say “Manage the Gap”. It can affect those first critical moments when you need to grab the audience’s attention and bring them into your world.

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring