Most Pitches Are Ass-Backwards


Here’s how most teams pitch business.  After the initial greetings and the mandatory “We’re excited to be here” they start from the left of the diagram and work towards the right.


“Let me tell you about my company (tells company story). Let me tell you about the people I brought with me today (introduces everyone with bios). Let me tell you how we work (describes process). What our mission statement is (reads statement). What drives us (gets teary eyed). What makes our clients so successful (drops names). Here is the agenda for this meeting (reviews every detail).  OK. Let’s get started.”

The problem is that the pitch team used the most valuable real estate of the pitch, the opening, to talk about themselves and hardly anything about the prospect. Always remember this in a pitch:

The prospect could care less about your company, your team and your mission statement. The prospect only cares about the prospect.

Then, to make matters worse, the pitch team wants to discuss the WHY—WHY the prospect should hire them.

The prospect, assuming she is still awake, is much more interested in the WHAT of the pitch: WHAT are you going to do to fix my problems? WHAT will you do to make me look better in my boss’s eyes? WHAT strategy will you use against my hated competitors? WHAT will you do to make me more successful?

Here’s a better plan


The first thing out of the pitch leader’s mouth after Good Morning should be WHAT the team will do for the prospect. This may include saying things like:

“We think the biggest challenge you have to succeed is X.  We say that based on this research. WHAT we aim to do is focus ruthlessly on X. Here is HOW we will overcome X.  We’ll do these three things. Here is WHO we brought with us today because they are experts at combating X. Our company has a long track record in this area, as well. OK. Let’s get started.”

This opening is totally tailored to the prospect and her needs. Nothing else. It’s all about the benefits you are bringing to the party.  And, you will own the client’s attention.

I can hear the cries now. “We didn’t get to tell them why they should hire us.” If you did a good job it will be apparent, but the time to do that is in the close.  Give a summary of the pitch and tell them why you are best suited for handling the business. Then ask for the account.”

Send me a basket of fruit as a thank you when you win.


The Foolishness of the Elevator Speech


For years, marketing people, management consultants and networking experts held forth on what the perfect elevator speech should say.  You know the elevator speech. It got its name on the premise that if you meet someone in an elevator and they ask you what you do, you are able to give a powerful blurb about yourself in the time it takes to reach the ground floor.

Many consultants pushed people to be “creative” with their elevator speech and at the same time had them load it up with benefits to the listener. That’s a lot of information in one or two initial sentences.

Most elevator speeches go something like this, “Hi, my name is Ray Brown and I help my clients find inner peace by underwriting for them the best damn business insurance program in the country.” Or… “Hi, I’m Susie Brown and I’m called the Duchess of Devotion because my personal mission is to help each employee get 100% of the benefits they earned and deserve.”

Most elevator speeches are used at networking functions.  I meet someone and make the mistake of saying, “Hi, what do you do?” then they unleash this fabricated salvo of words at me that sounds like they lifted a segment from a Tony Robbins seminar. It’s never conversational and always thrown at you as if it were a hand grenade.  “Hi, I’m Bill Smith and I help my clients protect the ROI on their investments by executing a 9 step program that looks under every rock for traps.”

A Better Elevator Speech

Here’s the problem with all these elevator speeches. They are canned, they are not in people-speak and they are awkward. It’s someone talking at you, not with you.   Here’s a better format:

“Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Bill Smith.”

“Hi Bill. My name is Jack Rossin.”

Then we might chat about why we are at the networking function, and often from something he says I’ll ask “Oh, what do you do Bill?”  And Bill says something like “I’m an accountant.”  And I ask “Big firm, small?” After Bill answers I might ask if there is an area he specializes in, how his business is these days, etc. If he works for individuals I might ask how all these do-it yourself tax programs have helped or hurt his business. I’m demonstrating that I’m actively listening to what he just said, not waiting for my turn to speak.

Then he’s probably going to ask me what I do and I say “I’m a presentation trainer. I help people become more confident with business communications.”  He’ll then ask me a few questions about my business.  The closest I ever get to “selling” is when I tell about the coolest part of my business — watching how awful presenters become OK presenters after a few hours work. (Please note.  I’m honest. I’ve never had a bad presenter become a great presenter overnight, but I’ve seen all of them move in the right direction.)

Then he might offer me his business card, I do the same, we shake hands and move on. I may make a note on his card to follow up if I think there is business or referrals there.

Get rid of your canned elevator speech. Live in the moment. Answer the questions asked without too much rambling, ask more questions of the other guy then he or she asked of you. Be interested and interesting. Have a real conversation. Smile. Listen. Have fun, exchange cards.  If something comes of it, great. If not, keep working the room. You gotta throw a lot of pasta against the wall before something sticks.


My Incredible 8 Week Journey


In the past 8 weeks, I have been on a whirlwind adventure.
I’ve been all over the globe. I was in North Carolina and met people whose families settled there in the 1700’s. I ate incredible foods in Rome (my guide led us to fabulous places where the pasta was made by hand and redefined your understanding of delicious). I rode the #66 bus around Boston and Brookline.

I was in China. North China is much different than southern China. Different foods, different dialects and languages. In the north they eat lots of red meat, in the south more fish and plant based meals. I walked the Great Wall of China and it is truly great. I was in a racing skull in Seattle stuck in a pea soap fog. I stopped in London, Scotland and even had a tour of Vietnam with Dr. Seuss. In India I saw Frogs in the Well, I learned the difference between the year of the Dragon and the year of the Rabbit. I had freshly butchered lamb in Nairobi, I watched how the Chinese government plans not only families but childbirth. I was in New Orleans right after Katrina and saw a profound level of lawlessness and hopelessness.
Along the way I learned the proper etiquette and technique to bow in Japan. I have an even greater appreciation for the value of cats and dogs and mentors in our lives. I’ve seen life and death and illness and was not spared any of it.
And, I met people who have strong convictions. People who want to change the world and make it better. They convinced me to eat less meat, taught me about mindful eating, mindful reading and how to be more mindful of our planet and its oceans and environment. I saw the devastating effect poverty has on generations of Americans and how it effects their learning, their health, and their emotional state.
I celebrated April Fool’s Day all around the world. I’ve celebrated with a bunch of Scots their first Thanksgiving in the US and watched as they tried to make a turkey and then carve it. For dessert I learned how to make an apple pie. It was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
I experienced all of these things and much more teaching a presentation training class for 12 Harvard School of Public Health students. Many of these students were quite accomplished with MDs and PhDs, and all of them want to improve health care to make the world better. They came together in this class from all around the world and they brought with them to the podium their family history, cultures, customs and intelligence. Regardless of the subject, they spoke with great passion creating vivid scenes for all of us to be a part of.
It was one of the most rewarding adventures I have ever been on.


M&Ms and The Power of Positive Thinking


Early in my career I was fortunate enough to work at Arnold Advertising. It was a large agency but not the behemoth that it is now. The creative director back then was Lenny Karsakov. At that time he was in his late 60s.
Lenny was a fabulous, kind, wonderful person. He loved everyone and everyone adored him. He got the best out of his art directors and writers by showering them with love. He never used the whip or threats to get better work. People wanted to please him.
Most afternoons Lenny would come back from lunch after stopping to buy a giant bag of M&Ms. He’d grab a large, silver Hatch Bowl (A Hatch Bowl is awarded to creative people for excellent creative work. The higher the award, the larger the bowl. Lenny’s office was scattered with bowls of all sizes.)  He’d place the office phone into the bowl, hit “page” so that the whole office could hear and then slowly pour in the M&Ms. The clangs of the M&Ms hitting the silver bowl was a loud calling card to the rest of the agency. People from every corner on the floor would run to Lenny’s office for an afternoon M&M snack.

One day Lenny was diagnosed with cancer. None of us could accept or believe that such a wonderful person could be so stricken, but it was for real and it was serious. After a few months he could no longer come into the office. Then, one day late in the afternoon Arnold called the whole agency together. He said that the prognosis for Lenny had turned dark and that the doctors now estimated that Lenny had days to live. Arnold was preparing us for what would be crushing news, possibly in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Meanwhile, at the hospital Lenny was chatting with his nurse. He asked her where his neighbor in the next room had gone. The nurse explained that he went home. That as sick as he was he refused to acknowledge his illness and instead struck a very optimistic tone, and because of that he got better. Lenny, now aware of his own mortality listened closely and decided that he too had a lot more life to live, regardless of what the doctors said.

Two days later Lenny walked out of the hospital and shared his life with all of us for a number of years more. On the day he left the hospital his equally wonderful wife Eunice had a caricature of Lenny created in chopped liver and sent it to the ad agency to say he was back in business.

I am forever amazed at the strength of positive thinking. In my classes and workshops when people say they fear speaking in front of an audience, my job is to instill in them the confidence that they will be great; and then they are. I’m thinking of giving everyone M&Ms.

Thanks Lenny.


How Golf Made Me a Strong Presenter (and a better person).

About 15 years ago I fell in love with golf.  I devoted time, money, waking thoughts, and a lot more.  In return, I received huge amounts of frustration, a sore back and tan legs with ghost-like white ankles and feet.  Nevertheless, I can’t untangle myself from this relationship; we’ve gone too far.

There are actually a whole bunch of things I like about playing golf that have been significant.  I love the social aspect of it.  My Saturday morning group has been together for years and they feel more like family than family.  I find the competitive nature of the play just right.  I’m playing against the 3 guys in my group as well as my own previous low scores. Golf is a great excuse for being outdoors in beautiful settings which change with the seasons.

Golf also provides the ammunition for me and a million other people to compare the game to life.  One such awareness that I made has truly changed my life and my business.

I drew a little diagram to illustrate my point.


new golf 001

For many years I would find myself in this predicament.  The golf ball was in the fairway and I was marching towards the green.  You can see from the diagram the direction I needed to hit the ball.  In the lower right hand corner of the diagram is a pond. Ponds have a magnetic pull on golf balls, because so many of my shots land in the water.

But, if I hit the ball even vaguely straight, there is no danger that the ball will go in the pond.  The water is too far to the right.  I’d have to work really hard to get that ball in the pond. Yet, I would stand over the ball at address and keep thinking to myself, “This ball is going to go in the pond. I just know this ball is headed for the pond. I might as well walk it over and throw the damn ball in the pond.”

I would then hit the ball towards the flag, in the direction of the arrow and for reasons that defy physics, the ball would slice severely (goes right) and land in the aforementioned water hazard. After years of doing this with some regularity, I had an epiphany.  I realized that I was willing the ball into the pond.  I don’t know technically what I did to cause the severe slice that changed the trajectory of the ball to swing that far right, but I created it all in my head.

My epiphany was that whatever force I used to think the ball into the pond, I can use to think the ball towards the green.  Maybe even onto the green.

And, it worked.

I started hitting the ball straight even when the pond was right next to me. I conquered my fear of ponds and play a lot better golf now.

What does this have to do with business or life?  I started to appreciate the incredible power of negative thoughts and how they become self fulfilling prophecies. I started to understand that when you think bad things will happen to you, they often do because you have unconsciously aided and abetted them. Once I started thinking positively about what could happen, my game improved, my business improved and my life improved.

When I’m working with people on presentation training, I’ll often hear them tell me that they are not born speakers, that they are miserable presenters, and, that they are completely intimidated in front of groups.

I now know that they say these things with great assurance because they cause it to happen every time.

If you think you are going to do a poor job in a presentation, you will. Guaranteed.

If you think the audience won’t appreciate what you have to say. Ditto. You are right again.

But, let’s now think positive. Let’s believe that you have a great presentation about a subject the audience wants to hear. You must believe they will appreciate the message and value the talk.  If you believe that is the case, you are already on your way to being an infinitely better presenter.

Many people fear speaking in public.  I’ve seen a relationship between people who believe they will bomb in their next presentation, and their high level of anxiety.  Conversely, when people believe they will hit the ball straight and true, they are much less nervous.

You must believe.  The biggest obstacle to being a strong presenter is right between your ears.



7 Little Changes That Will Make a Huge Difference in Your Next Presentation


7 Little Changes That Will Make a Huge Difference in Your Next Presentation

  1. eye contact
  2. use of hands
  3. volume
  4. posture
  5. smile
  6. focus
  7. pause

One of the things that gives me immense pleasure is working with someone on their presentation and having them incorporate one of these 7 little changes into their repertoire.  It instantly enhances the presentation.  Then, I slowly add one or two more of these techniques to the recipe and they are really cooking.

There are two reasons why these little changes work.  For every one of these techniques, research has demonstrated that audience response is positive.  These are techniques used by confident people. This is particularly important because the more the audience judges you as confident, the more likely they are to agree with whatever it is you are espousing.

These techniques also allow you to fake it.  Fake confidence, that is.  As long as the audience reads these techniques as signs that you are confident, it is less important whether you really are.  But, then a miraculous thing happens, and this is the other reason why these little changes work. You not only fool the audience into thinking you are confident, you fool yourself.  And, over time you believe you are confident and competent. That feeling only makes you stronger as a presenter.  Amy Cuddy said, “Don’t fake it ’til you make it. Fake it ’til you become it.”  She is a Harvard professor who researches body language.

Here are 7 easy presentation tricks:

#1 Eye Contact communicates to the audience that you are honest and believe in what you are saying.  Watch when someone, often children, are not being square with you. They’ll look down at the ground or off to the side, anywhere but in your eyes.  When making a presentation, make eye contact with everyone at the table.  It will seem awkward to do at first, but once mastered, you will be an infinitely better presenter.

#2  Hands. Using hands and arms to express yourself is something the helps the audience understand your point better.  It also makes them believe you know what you are talking about.  If you are presenting at a podium, go out of your way to show your hands. If you are presenting seated at a table, make sure your arms are on the table and gesture frequently with your hands. Hands actually help your voice be less monotone and more interesting.  Try it. Try speaking without moving your hands.  You will have a less energetic delivery.

#3 Volume.  Like hands, volume gives you more energy.  You’ll find that when you speak in a bigger voice (not shouting) that your posture improves and your hands and arms are more animated.  Remember a story I told recently where I pushed a shy woman to speak in an uncharacteristically big voice and she said it unleashed the Super Woman in her.

#4 Posture is an easy way to say you are in control and confident.  Whether it is the posture when seated at a table or standing in front of the room, posture says you aren’t afraid of anyone. Bad posture, on the other hand, gives you that “deer in the headlights” look.  Bad posture also inhibits volume and enunciation.

#5 Smile.  Now, we’re really talking easy techniques to win over the audience.  People who smile are confident about what they are saying, people who don’t aren’t.  When you smile and make eye contact, the other person will smile back.  You want the audience to like you.  Smile and they are much more apt to do so.  Smiling has a profound effect on your voice. It gives it modulation and makes it more interesting.

#6 Focus.  You are so much better building your presentation around one idea instead of several.  It also helps to make the presentation more concise and, hopefully, shorter. As we all learned from TED Talks, 18 minutes is the longest a presentation should go, so keep it to a single point and you’ll also stay within that most effective time frame.

#7 Pause. We often think that when it is our turn to speak we need to speak wall to wall; from the time we stand up until the time we sit down.  It turns out that pauses sprinkled into your presentation are extremely helpful to the audience in getting the message.  When you say something really important, pause after you say it and the audience will remember it longer.  Theatrical pauses can surprise the audience and really get them smiling. If you get a bit lost in your presentation and need to regroup a short pause will be helpful.  It will seem like the pause takes forever, but the audience will hardly note.  And, if you are starting to lose the attention of the audience, just pause, and they will look up to see what’s going on.

These are seven techniques you can do immediately.  Use them with other strong presentation techniques, such as storytelling and front-loading information into the presentation.


Great Q&A Sessions Win Business


Every presentation and pitch ends with a Q&A session.  It is an incredibly important part of the overall presentation and it should not be left to chance.

There are two elements of the Q&A that make it so important:

It breaks the format of the pitch.  Your presentation has gone along a certain path with you and your team talking and the prospect listening.  Now it is a free for all.  That change in format will cause the prospect to pay more attention now.  He or she is no longer lulled into the predictable rhythm of your presentation.  I haven’t seem research on it, but I suspect that overall, prospect attention is very high during Q&A, surpassed only when you opened the presentation.

Attention drops during the middle section of most presentations, which is why you’ll often hear questions from prospects on things you discussed in the pitch but that they didn’t hear.  All the more reason to really focus. By the way, when a prospects asks a question about something you covered in your presentation, there’s no need to remind everyone that you already covered it.  Simply, answer the question.

Secondly, identify the most important people in the pitch from your side and make sure they answer more than their fare share of questions. Those people should also be sitting in the most prominent part of the room so prospects can connect with them.

Here are a  bunch of guidelines for making your Q&A powerful:

-The Q&A can demonstrate individual strengths and weaknesses.  When a prospect asks a specific question of a specific presenter, they may be signaling discomfort with that person and want to test it out.  This is good if the person answers correctly. Bad if the question is sidestepped.

-How you answer is as important as what you answer. One of the more common complaints I hear from prospects is that someone on the prospect team asked a question which someone on the presenting team answered while looking directly at the head person on the prospect’s side, not the person who asked the question.  When this happens pack up and go home. That kind of behavior is seen as that offensive by prospects.  Direct your answer first to the person who asked the question, but if there is more to say, look at others on the team, as well.

-Be sensitive to piling on and have a cue to your team to stop them when it starts happening. Piling on means that your side is asked a question and someone answers, then every other person on your team feels the need to add some additional information.  When I owned an ad agency we had 4 equal partners.  When a client asked a question they would get 4 answers (hopefully similar).

-Control your CEO.  Some CEOs insist on answering some or part of every question.  They should only answer a question if no one else is able or if the answer is so incoherent that it must have more meat put on the bone.  Otherwise, stay quiet.

-Use the Q&A to answer something important that came up in the pitch and was not resolved.  Perhaps during the pitch itself someone asked a question which was not well answered. Start the Q&A period off by saying that “I’ve been thinking about something you asked during the main presentation and want to explain our thinking…”

-Smile when asked a question but don’t jump too fast to answer.  If you don’t follow the gist of the question, by all means ask for more information so that you can answer fully.

-Try to avoid starting each answer off with “that’s a good question”, “I’m glad you asked” etc.  You’re not there to rate the quality of their questions, you are there to provide answers.

-You, or someone on your team should be looking at the person who asked the question and try to read in their facial gestures if they understood the answer.  If not, ask them for more input.

-I have found from personal experience that one of the best answers to a question is “I don’t know.  But I’ll find out and get back to you this afternoon.”

-If you have someone shy on your team who would be reluctant to volunteer an answer, direct the question to them.  It is important that everyone field one or two questions during this time.

-If you are doing Q&A by yourself, and you are standing in front of a group, walk a few steps towards the person asking the question as you begin to answer.

-If you are at a conference room table and someone at the far end of the table asks a question, go out of your way to make eye contact, including standing up if need be.  Whenever possible don’t just turn your head towards the person asking the question, but actually square-up your entire body towards that person.

-Finally, never ever end your presentation with the Q&A.  Always thank everyone for their good questions and make a formal close to your pitch, with some call to action at the end. The best way to set this up is to say something like “I have a few things I’d like to say in closing, but before that let’s take a Q&A session.”

Any more questions?



The CEO’s Role in a Presentation


Most CEOs I know are pretty good speakers. They present well and explain effectively.  But, when they work in a team with their staff on a pitch, CEOs sometimes turn into a presentation problem.

It starts in rehearsal.  The CEO doesn’t have the patience to hear each person’s section and immediately jumps in and tries to fix it.  The CEO barks “say it this way”, “use these words” “don’t do that”.  Worse, I’ve seen the CEO spend most of his/her time in a rehearsal on their phone reading e-mails and occasionally looking up to slam someone about something. This not only  strips everyone else of confidence but all are now badly sensitized and fearful that they will say the wrong thing in the actual pitch and feel the wrath of CEO.

Think about the damage a meddling CEO can do. The prospect hires most companies because of a chemistry connection with the people. Most prospects know they’re not getting the CEO on their account.  But, if the pitch team are so traumatized by the CEO, they can’t be themselves.

Or, the CEO acknowledges how important it is for the team to present, because the prospect is hiring the team.  Important sections of the pitch are assigned to appropriate team members.  This sort of works OK in the rehearsals, but once in front of a living, breathing prospect, the CEO takes over and starts to deliver some of the other sections in his opening.  Or, when a team member is presenting, the CEO adds information…after every presenter.

All bets are off in the actual presentation.  If there’s even a whiff of a poor reception from the prospect, the CEO jumps in to save the day and tries to handle the entire pitch.

When it comes to Q&A time, a key time that prospects use to gauge how well your team thinks on its feet and how deeply they really know what they are talking about, the CEO becomes the answer man.  The CEO piles on in Q&A.  No matter who on the team answers a question and how well it is answered, the CEO feels that he/she must add additional information to the answer. Some CEO’s simply want to control the Q&A and answer most of the questions.

One of the more common things I see is that the CEO rehearses his/her part and then goes completely off-script in the pitch, which starts a chain reaction; sort of like the lead train going off the tracks and pulling all of the other cars with it.

So, what is the role for the CEO?

-Build confidence in the team.  Encourage.  If things need to be changed, do it gently.  Allow people to speak in their own words.  Don’t micromanage the pitch. Pat everyone on the back every step of the way. Criticize off line and one-on-one, if necessary.

-The proper opening for a CEO should be to identify what the key message is for the clients and then explain that the team assembled is here because they know how to best deliver on the solution the prospect needs.  The CEO needs to make an opening and then get out of the way.

-Close.  The CEO should remind the prospect that the buck stops with him/her and if there are any problems, feel free to call directly.

In a pitch, the prospect should look upon the CEO as the security blanket that assures that good people will work earnestly on the account, full resources will always be applied, and that there is always a sympathetic ear close by for the client if things go awry.




PowerPoint Rules of the Road


I helped a very important client establish some rules for their presentations. Most PowerPoint presentations suffer from “too”. Too much information. Too many graphics, too much type, too many slides, too little white space, fonts too small.  These rules below help to alleviate this problem.


What do you want the audience to remember afterwards? Most people can only remember 3 things. What are the 3 critical things you want the audience to recall?

The most important of the 3 things to remember is the takeaway.  What is your presentation’s takeaway?  Express it as a benefit for the audience. Build it into the open and close.

Slide #2 is very important because it communicates the takeaway you want to convey.

The title on a PowerPoint slide is the very top line. It’s often used as a description of that page, such as  “Agenda” “Our Team”  or  “Summary”.  Try to make that heading more active.  For example, instead of “Agenda”, perhaps it might read “How we will reach the goal”.

Keep It Simple

Keep both the design and message simple.

Try to use one slide for every two minutes of your presentation.  A 40 minute presentation has 20 slides. The fewer slides you have, the more you can connect with the audience.

Don’t attempt to put every word and every thought you want to cover on the slides.  The PowerPoint is to help you underscore the big, important points.

One slide per message.


Use two and never more than 3 styles in total.

Fonts should be at least 30 points.

Fonts that work well and are appropriate for your category are: Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri and Courier.


Try to avoid clip art, and never use more than one visual per slide.

If you insist on clip art, don’t make it front and center.  Place it in roughly the same spot on each slide.  I prefer the lower right hand corner, so it doesn’t fight with the type. And, I like the visual to be small but appropriately sized, not big and horsey.

Conversely, if you have an important graph, chart, map, etc. that goes front, center and large, so everyone can read it.

You don’t need an image on every page.  Only use images that help convey the message. For example, when Steve Jobs introduced the new thing laptop, the photo he used to communicate its thinness was the laptop being slid into a manila envelope. That said thin better than even a shot of the laptop alone, because it gave the comparison.


Stick to your corporate palette.

Final Thoughts

Plan your presentation on paper first, then move it to PowerPoint looking to reduce sentences and concepts to simpler ideas.

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule is good advice. Use no more than 10 slides, speak for 20 minutes and use 30 point font or larger.

You are the star of your presentation, not the slides.  You are the excitement of the pitch, not the PowerPoint.  You are the pizzazz.



Starting a Presentation on a Negative Note


One of the myths about making presentations is that you should never start negative.  I take some umbrage with that notion, but need to add a few caveats.

If you have to deliver bad news within your presentation, the strongest place to do it is in the opening.  For example, let’s say you are in construction and a client asked you to present a plan to build a project for them under certain specs and budget parameters.  The problem is that their budget was not realistic.  You can either  do half of what they want within budget; or, do the entire job with sub-par materials and construction to meet their goal.   A poor scenario either way. So, something has to give. 

The place to raise that negative issue is right in the beginning of the presentation.  It would be unfair and unwise to present a construction plan that far exceeds the budget and not reveal that issue until the end of the meeting. The client will have her hopes shattered at that point. Whereas, indicating the issue in the beginning changes the nature of the meeting to a discussion about which areas are best to compromise on and which areas are must-haves. It’s something that requires both sides to bat it around. That’s an incredibly valuable discussion.

Here’s how that might sound: “Judy, today we want to present our thinking for your new addition.  But we ran into an issue soon after we started the process.  Given all of the things you asked for, we can’t meet your budget request without doing inferior work,  which neither of us wants.  Instead, we put a budget together that achieves your goals under our most efficient scheme, but it’s still 22% more than budget.  We want to walk you through that entire plan, and then together discuss what is important and which areas we can cut.”

Tackling that thorny issue right up front makes a demonstration to the client about your honesty and value. You’re not playing games. You are on her side trying to work out the issues in the best possible way.  You will be seen as more valuable to the team when you do this.

There is a danger starting with a negative issue, however.  Human beings often assume a certain posture and tone when they talk about difficult issues or bad news.  We smile less.  We are less animated. Our body language is hunched over, not the strong posture one should have.  Even the voice becomes more monotone and softer. Further, there is the danger that a down persona will carry over into the rest of the presentation, in which you have more upbeat information.

Here is my recommendation.  Instead, of looking at this scenario as a negative (you are presenting disappointing news to the client), look at it as a positive (you are doing your job bringing value to the client on a thorny issue).  And, because you are doing your job, you should have strong posture, animated hands and arms and no sad-dog look on your face.  You should be proud that you have identified a problem that can be addressed now, rather later on when it becomes very costly to both sides to fix.

The client will see you as a strong, problem solver that she can rely on.

Ps: Years ago when I was an account executive at an advertising agency, we gained a new retail account.  It was a major win.  After a number of meetings and development, we still hadn’t nailed the new campaign.  At some point, the client called me and asked why he hasn’t been shown the new work after all this time.  I was tempted to make an excuse, but instead I gave him the bad news. “We’ve developed about 5 campaigns, and each one is worse than the next, so I didn’t want to show anything to you.  I believe we have figured it all out and hope to have something for you next week.”

He was not only satisfied with that answer, but wrote to the President of the ad agency telling him that my honestly sealed our relationship.  He had complete faith in me and the work we were going to show.

Pss: We did a terrific campaign.  The first two weeks it ran business jumped and research indicated we were right on target to meet our awareness goals.  Unfortunately, the wife of the owner didn’t care for the campaign and insisted we trash it. What makes advertising such a hard business is that it is based on individuals tastes, not research or testing.