StePerf 09-03-050


Perfect Pitch

The art of selling ideas and winning new business


Jon Steel

John Wiley & Sons, 2007, 262 pp., ISBN 0-471-78976-3



Jon Steel is an advertising professional and co-creator of the famous "got milk?" ad campaign.  He is the author of Truth, Lies, and Advertising.  Perfect Pitch is about how to make presentations that get new advertising business, or, more generally, about the art of influencing people by storytelling.  Steel draws on the O.J. Simpson trial, the 'got milk?' and Porsche advertising campaigns, and London's bid for 2012 Olympics to provide fascinating insights for making good presentations.


A good presentation is like a new dress: it doesn't draw too much attention to itself.  A brilliant speaker may still fail to make a clear point.  Praise for being a great presenter or making a great presentation is not enough.  (7) 


The presentation is not a single event but a process extending from the offer to present until a decision is made.  At Point A you don't have their business.  The destination is Point B where you do.  It's not enough to inform.  You must persuade to action.  (9) 


The best communicators and the best persuaders are the best because they are good listeners.  (10) 


Presentation crimes:

n     Fail to find out what the audience really wants, or needs, to hear.

n     Lecture instead of communicating

n     Lack a clear flow in the presentation


You must discipline yourself to see and hear everything you do and say from the point of view of each member of your audience.  Your every word and action will pass through the filter of their experience, expectations, prejudices, hopes and fears.  It's how they receive it and process it that counts. (13-14)


Make your audience willing accomplices in your presentation.  "When baiting the mousetrap with cheese, always be sure to leave room for the mouse." (17, quoting Saki)


Steel tells the fascinating failure of the prosecutor, Marcia Clark, in the O.J. Simpson trial as an illustration of many of the presentation errors he describes. 


Those who ignore the effects of social, economic, and cultural forces invariably fail. (25)  You ignore the feelings of the audience at your peril.  (28)


It is not enough to persuade.  Even passionately held beliefs are no sure indicator of behavior.  (30)  Even minor decisions are influenced by emotional factors and the cultural context.  (32) 


Respect the audience. (33)  When you bore an audience in a new business presentation, you lose the business. (37) 


The best presenters involve the audience on a basic human level.  They engage them.  They bring their own experiences to the communication.  They keep it simple.  And they include the beauty of surprise. 


The secret of eloquence lies in believing passionately in what you're talking about. (42)


"In any presentation, having the members of the audience like you enough to want to listen to what you have to say is essential." (47)  We respond on the basis of warmth, humor, ease of conversation, shared interests, and a feeling that they like us.  And we tend to make these judgments very, very quickly. (48) 


Use personal stories.  Demonstrating the relevance of the situation to your life and experience invites the audience to do the same.  With a personal anecdote you can bring their memories and emotions to your aid. (49)


The more separate points you make the less your audience will take in.  "If I throw one ball to you, it's quite likely that you will catch it.  Now if I throw you two simultaneously…." (52)


"To be a good presenter, a good source of ideas, and a good writer, you have to be a collector: a collector of general knowledge about life…." (79)  Store away all that good information.


1.  Gather raw materials.  Collect stuff.  List key points on Post-It notes. 

2.  Look for meaning.  Look for connections.  Stick the post-it notes on a board.  (You can keep rearranging them until you get a pattern.)

3.  Drop it.  Go for a walk or take a nap.  Let it incubate in your subconscious.   

4.  Adapt and Distill.  Keep on working over your idea until it is right.  You must have a key unifying idea that ties it all together, a single sentence that it is all about. 

5.  Write the Presentation.  Write it out as a story.  Then add the illustrations to bring it to life.  Reading it out loud is a powerful test of the quality of writing.


Your productivity will improve if you get rid of the BlackBerry and other intrusive devices. (103 ff)  "The more connected we are, the less intelligent we become."  (105)  'Always on' technology means that we are distracted when we should be concentrating.  To be alert, creative and productive, don't take your work home, take vacation without work, make space for thinking, and allow yourself to see life and the world around you.


"Never before has so much status been invested in being seen by others to be so much in demand." (106)


PowerPoint, as it is usually used, "represents intellectual lethargy on the part of the presenter, and generally induces something similar in its audience." (124)  Show the audience what will help support the case.  (139) 


"In an age where people at adjoining desks e-mail each other and leave messages at midnight instead of speaking, we have to break bad habits and create teams who will sit together, eat together, drink coffee together, take walks together, and go to lunchtime baseball games together."  "Ideas get uncovered more quickly when people dig together.  And the ideas get better much more quickly when they are shared and debated by a small group of people who like and respect each other." (157) 


"Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again." (172) "Practice doesn't kill spontaneity.  On the contrary, the familiarity and confidence it brings free a presenter to be more spontaneous." (172-3)



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