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The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business

The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business

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by P. Coughter

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Through an engaging and humorous narrative, Peter Coughter presents the tools he designed to help advertising and marketing professionals develop persuasive presentations that deliver business. Readers will learn how to develop skills to create the perfect presentation.


Through an engaging and humorous narrative, Peter Coughter presents the tools he designed to help advertising and marketing professionals develop persuasive presentations that deliver business. Readers will learn how to develop skills to create the perfect presentation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Peter's Seminar Presentation Skills Workshops:

'Peter has been a tremendous asset in coaching our guys on every aspect of Presentation. He's helped build up their experience, and most importantly, their confidence.' - Tony Granger, Global Chief Creative Officer, Y&R

'We have had over 100 of our senior and mid-level people go through Coughter's workshops. The results have been impressive. Rarely do we now prepare for a presentation without someone saying, 'Have we Coughter'd it?' That is the best endorsement of all in terms of the impact he has had with our company.' - Peter G. Krivkovich, President & CEO, Cramer-Krasselt

'Peter is a teacher, leader and a Zen master.' -John Adams, Chairman The Martin Agency

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Palgrave Macmillan US
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The Art of the Pitch

Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business

By Peter Coughter

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2012 Peter Coughter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-39372-1



presentation | noun

1. The proffering or giving of something to someone, esp. as part of a formal ceremony: the presentation of certificates to new members | the trophy presentations.

a. the manner or style in which something is given, offered, or displayed: the presentation of foods is designed to stimulate your appetite.

What is a presentation? We can see how the dictionary defines the word above. I like "the proffering or giving of something to someone ..."—like a gift. That's a cool way to think about a presentation. And I particularly like the next part, "the manner or style in which something is given, offered, or displayed: the presentation of foods is designed to stimulate your appetite." That's what we want people to feel, isn't it? Stimulated. So we want to offer people a gift. Something that will stimulate their appetites for more.

We could say that our ideas are the gift, but I prefer to think of it in another way—we are the gift. We are giving ourselves to our audience. We're giving them the product of our thoughts, efforts, and personality.

We're giving them who we are. We're telling them our truth. That's our gift to them.

Most people don't think about presenting, or giving a presentation, in that way. But that's the way we should think about it—after all, we "give" a presentation, don't we?

Most people think about giving a presentation as a chore. As something difficult that they'd really rather not have to do, something to be avoided at all costs. In fact, part of why people think about presenting the wrong way is that they equate presenting with the dreaded "public speaking." I say dreaded, because in every poll ever taken of Americans' greatest fears, Number One is public speaking. Ahead of death. Every time.

But a presentation isn't "public speaking." It isn't getting up on the steps of the Forum and delivering a stentorian address. It isn't a debate. It isn't making a speech. It's a conversation. Only you're doing most of the talking. The trick is to understand that you are simply talking with your audience, sharing your thoughts. You're not arguing. You're not selling. You're having a conversation. You're giving them a gift.


It's all a presentation. I mean this. Sitting down with your boss for a little "chat" is a presentation. Going out for beers with your colleagues is a presentation. Obviously, an interview is a presentation, but so is meeting your boyfriend's family.

In each case, people are judging you. They're sizing you up. There may be a lot more on the line in one situation than there is in another, but they're still all presentations. People are forming opinions of you, opinions that are hard to change.

Often these opinions are formed when you least expect it.

For the first eleven years of its existence, the VCU Brandcenter was located downtown in a building with a fair amount of foot traffic passing by every day.

I would often stand outside and chat with a gentleman who worked upstairs from us for the Department of Transportation. He was a terrific guy and a lot of fun to talk with. One day he said to me, "This new crop of students seems a lot better than last year's." I was somewhat surprised to hear him say that, and even though it seemed he had no way of forming that opinion since he had never set foot in one of our classrooms, I asked why he thought that. "Because they don't block the sidewalk the way the kids did last year. If anyone is walking along, they get out of the way. They're courteous," he replied.

Someone is always evaluating you. Everything is a presentation.

Regardless of the situation or the stakes, I suggest that you think about presenting as an opportunity. An opportunity to share your thoughts with your audience—to give them the gift of you. Whether it's one person across a table in a cubicle or a ballroom full of automobile dealers in Las Vegas. It's an opportunity to share yourself with them.

In most business settings, presentations are team affairs. And that requires a different approach—there's a group of you, after all, and the group is going to have to come together to first agree on exactly what it is that they want the audience to take away and, secondly, how they're going to accomplish that. Each person on the team will be required to contribute to the total team argument. Each person should be "cast" for the particular skill or style that she brings to the team. And while the team has to carry the day, each individual speaker will have to pull her weight if the team is to prevail. This is accomplished principally through the process of rehearsal. We'll talk a lot more about this in a subsequent chapter, but we still shouldn't change our mindset of delivering a gift to the audience. It's just being presented by the team and not one individual. When you think about it that way, you're on the path to giving a great presentation.


Why is it so important to be a great presenter? What's the big deal?

Why should I spend so much time and effort trying to do this when I'm good enough right now?

Because good enough isn't good enough. Because good enough will leave you in the middle of the pack. It will not get you to the head of the pack. It won't get you noticed, promoted, and compensated.

There, I said it, compensated.

There are lots of obvious reasons to want to get better at presenting, but one thing that almost no one mentions whenever I ask them why we're working on presenting, is this—money.

The first time I ever went to Crispin Porter + Bogusky, they hadn't yet opened a Boulder, Colorado, office. Everyone was still in Coconut Grove in Florida. It was a little after 9:00 A.M., and I was starting my workshop by asking the group, "Why are we working on becoming better presenters?"

Jeff Steinhour, then one of the agency partners and the head of Content Management (think Account Management), now president of the agency, was sitting in the room with 12 folks from the agency. It was my first workshop there, and he wanted to see what he had gotten his agency and his people into.

I asked the group, "Why are we doing this? Why are we spending two days trying to put on better presentations?"

I got a series of answers, all of them "right," but none of them the one I was looking for. So I went to the front of the room and I drew a giant dollar sign on my flip chart. I was a little bit afraid of appearing to be overly mercenary with an agency known for its creative commitment, but I drew it anyway.

At which point, Steinhour stood up and yelled, "Fucking A!"

Here's how it works.

If we sell the idea the first time, that work has a much better chance of being great. I don't care if you're in advertising, architecture, or investment banking. If you're dependent upon a client approving your ideas, the first one you show them is the one that has a chance to be great. It's the idea that has a chance to increase business and win awards, which, I believe, is good for everyone concerned.

But if we don't sell it the first time, if we have to go back and redo it, that costs the agency real money. Given today's tight budgets and tough compensation agreements, it's highly likely that the client won't be paying for the "redo."

Furthermore, if we sell the work the first time—the work that the agency believes is the right solution to the client's business problem—it is very likely that the work will, in fact, work, and the client will reap the rewards. More money.

And finally, if we sell the work, we become winners. We're the one the agency wants out there selling more work. To more clients. And in new business pitches. And guess what? We make more money.

It is a fact of agency life that, with very few exceptions, the highest paid people in the agency are the best presenters. Think of your shop. It's true, isn't it?

You've got to get as good as you can possibly get at presenting. Your career depends upon it. John Adams, the CEO of The Martin Agency, one of the industry's finest leaders and a fantastic presenter himself, once said to me, "I think the single most important skill anyone can have at this agency is the ability to present."

Every summer, the Brandcenter sends students who have completed their first year of study to agencies all over the world for internships. The students learn up close from some of the industry's brightest. When I ask them about their experiences, it is remarkable how many times I hear the following: "You know I worked with so and so this summer, and he's supposed to be a great creative director, but I didn't think he was really that creative." "I see," I say, "but what was he really good at?" "He was an amazing presenter," they answer.


Arguably the biggest complaint I hear from creatives at agencies all over the country is, "I can't get anything produced." How do you think you get to be a famous creative director? You get your work produced. And the only way you get it produced is by convincing the client that it's the right answer to their problem.

Here's a useful way to think about convincing the client that your ideas are right: Do an ad for your ads. It just doesn't matter how good the idea is unless you can persuade the person on the other side of the table to feel the same way. Whether that's your executive creative director, the client, a new business prospect, or whoever. You've got to help them get it. Whether you're a writer, art director, planner, technologist, or an account person, it doesn't matter, you're a creative person in a creative industry. You and your team have spent as much time as you could get working on your idea. Yet most agencies talk about how to present their work in the car on the way to the meeting. It's true. I've been told exactly that countless times. But there's a better way. Take some time and figure out how to sell it. Apply the same creativity and energy that went into creating the work to selling the work. Do an ad for your ads. Give your idea a chance to live. It's your baby. You've put your heart and soul into it. You can't walk into a jump ball situation and leave the outcome up to whether or not the person on the other side of the table likes your idea. I don't care if she likes your idea. I just want her to understand that it's the right idea—and that we know what it takes to achieve the goals of the brand. You've got to take control of the situation and convince her of that. So take at least a fraction of the time you spent inventing the work and create a way to sell the work. Put that creativity to work in the name of creativity. And do an ad for your ads.


Okay, now we know why it's important to become a great presenter, but how do we do it?

Let's think about the characteristics of a great presenter and the presentations she gives.

1. It's a conversation, only you're doing most of the talking.

A lot of people have a hard time with this idea. I see it almost every time I work with folks at an agency. They cling to the notion that they need to be "different" than they are in "real life," because this, after all, is work. And they want to appear "professional." What they end up accomplishing is being boring. When I sit and review presentations in one-on-one meetings with the individuals from the workshops, they are often appalled at just how boring they are. And boring is the worst thing a presenter can be. It is the mortal sin of presenting. If you are boring, you are wasting your audience's time, and they will hate you for it. Forget about being "professional," and start being yourself. Your authentic self. It shouldn't feel like an address on the steps of the Capitol or a speech at a political convention. Nor should it sound like a lecture. It should sound the way you sound when you're sitting across the table from a friend in a restaurant.

We've all been there. Sitting in a meeting, praying for it to end while the speaker drones on about something that is apparently important to him, but of no interest to us. It might have been okay if he wasn't so stiff, so stilted, so "professional." Caught up in his own world. Lecturing us.

Don't be that guy. I can't say this strongly enough. Just talk with us. The best presenters know this, and that's how they present.

Now it goes without saying that we will turn up our volume and intensity depending on the subject and the setting. If we're talking with 5,000 auto dealers in Vegas, it's got to be a little bigger than when we're discussing the media plan with two people across a table. But it's still a conversation. Just put it into the proper proportions.

2. Be yourself.

Great presenters do not read their slides. I will talk about this at greater length later, but let me state it now as well, because it can't be said enough.

Great presenters remember that we're all just human. We're going to make some mistakes. There will be some slipups. It's okay. In fact, really good presenters acknowledge their mistakes and charm the audience by being so honest and—human.

In fact, since we're trying for a conversational style, there probably SHOULD be some mistakes. I once worked with a terrific presenter who deliberately built in a certain amount of fumbling with his words and his props—just to make himself seem like a "regular" guy. His name was Ace. His audiences loved him.

I've also worked with presenters who were too slick, too good, too polished, too sure of themselves. They came off as something less than sincere. This is also a killer. What audiences want is authenticity. They don't want a game show host.

What audiences really want, what they will really respond to is—You. I've said it earlier, but I'll say it again. Be yourself.

The best presenters know that there is no one right way to do this. There is only one Alex Bogusky, one Sally Hogshead, one Jeff Goodby. But there's also only one of you. Find your own style and exploit it. Work it. Develop it. Find YOUR voice. Don't try to sound like anyone else.

A cool way to think of it is this: You'd better be yourself— everyone else is taken.

3. Tell stories.

It's become a bit of a cliché, but that's probably because it's true—great presenters tell stories. We all love stories. Stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories that grab our attention right away and hold it all the way to the end. No one wants to sit through yet another boring regurgitation of everything you know about a particular subject. No one wants to watch and listen as you read from the deck. But everyone loves a story. It's arguably the oldest form of entertainment known to humankind. Since man first had language as a means of communication, we've gathered by the fire to hear the stories of the day, the tales of lives both commonplace and spectacular. Today, when we meet our friends in a restaurant, we all take turns sharing our stories and we all have a great time as a result. We need to remember this when it comes time to present to our client or new business prospect. Make it a story. Make it fun. Make it human. Make it conversational. Make it personal. Make it matter.

Get yourself and how you feel about the subject into your presentations. This is what audiences can relate to and, therefore, relate to you. That's the beginning of getting them to say yes.

So think of every presentation as a story and concentrate on creating a real attention-getting opening and a powerful close. Take them by the hand and walk them through your story to the end. That's where you get what you came for.

4. Know Your Stuff.

Great presenters know their stuff. They haven't memorized it. They just know it. They know it so well that they can go anywhere once the presentation starts and know exactly where they are. They can wander off on a digression if it seems like a good idea, or if they need to backtrack in order to be sure the audience understands. Nothing will solve as many problems as knowing your stuff.


Excerpted from The Art of the Pitch by Peter Coughter. Copyright © 2012 Peter Coughter. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Peter Coughter is a Professor at the prestigious VCU Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University and President of Coughter & Company whichconsults with leading advertising agencies around the world.His clients include: Crispin Porter + Bogusky, DDB, Cramer-Krasselt, Dentsu, GSD&M, Goodby Silverstein, JWT, Leo Burnett, Publicis, Y&R McKinney and many others. Peter was a Founder and President of Siddall, Matus & Coughter, one of the Southeast’s most respected agencies. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
ricej3 12 months ago
The book “The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business” written by Peter Coughter was a book written from a marketing executive perspective focusing on its main point that a good product is not enough to win. Once reading the book, it is clear Coughter’s audience are presenters. While the book offers advice for marketing in general, the tips he provides are aimed at the presentation side of marketing more so than the analytical and statistical side. The biggest take away from the book, for me, was that your “presentation” isn’t even a presentation; it’s a conversation. I found this interesting because for most of my life, I had been taught to keep things professional and to put your best foot forward. And while it is certainly true that you need to be at the top of your game, Coughter stresses how important it is to be yourself and not to be afraid to get a little personal. To be able to present in a fashion that is smooth and casual, it is crucial to truly know and understand what you are presenting. Though it can be intimidating, “the surest defense against nerves is this- know your stuff” (Coughter 90). Memorizing facts about what you are selling and actually knowing the product/ service and being able to answer questions and bail out teammates is crucial to a presentation. Not only should you know about the product/ service you are pitching, you should know who your audience. Know more than the menial things about who they are, know enough so that you can connect with them on a personal and emotional level. A product can be amazing, but if the pitch is boring, strictly fact based, and unemotional the product may not necessarily sell. Drawing from the idea that this is a conversation where the presenter is doing most of the talking, what makes a conversation interesting? Personal stories, making it clear that you understand your audience, and authenticity. No one wants to be in a long, boring conversation with information that goes in one ear and out the other; the same goes for the presentation. Although not necessarily a formal presentation, I often find the manager at my job employing these same tactics to sell his food. He not only makes sure that the customers are happy with their food, he makes a personal connection with them. I have noticed he will pull up a chair or kneel next to them so that he is on the same level as them to make the conversation even more personal. By doing this and creating a bond with his customers, he is able to get them to try new food, buy more, keep them coming back etc. I liked how Coughter not only offered tips for how to liven up presentations and make it easier for presenters to sell their project, he gave real world examples. For instance, he wrote in stories from presentations of a Mercedes- Benz pitch. Including stories from ad executives who explained why their presentations worked and didn’t work put more context to the information Coughter was giving to us. Coughter included tips that seem obvious like always rehearse, be on time, be on the same page as your teammates, etc. but overall, the book did a fantastic job in teaching not only marketing executives how to give a presentation, but anyone who needs to learn how to give a better presentation. As for downfalls, the book can be repetitive as it based around the notion that it all leads back to a conversation and characteristics of a conversation should be seen in your presentation. However, the repet
steven2 More than 1 year ago
 The Art of the Pitch is a marketing trade book written by accomplished professor and businessman Peter Coughter. Coughter founded and was the president of one of the most respected add-agencies in the Southeast. Currently, he is the president of Coughter and Company which consults the most respected agencies across the globe. His book is a masterful guide that simplifies the single most feared aspect of human life: giving a presentation in front of a group of people. Each year, surveys show that spiders, drowning, and ghosts are all less feared than public speaking. Clearly, the public at large could use guidance when it comes to giving oral presentations. With many years in the industry at his back, Coughter effectively debunks the notion that presentations are impossible to conquer. Through its clear outline of necessary skills contained within successful presenters and fitting inclusions of knowledgeable anecdotes, The Art of the Pitch is sure to propel you to the top of your game. “Everything is a presentation,” according to Coughter. From the very onset of the book, he establishes this main idea and uses it as a theme throughout his work. Of course job interviews and proposals to a Board of Directors are presentations, but the book emphasizes the fact that one can be judged by the way he acts in any situation. A few of the 11 characteristics of successful presenters were rather simple, but others such as reaching a level of intimacy or making sure every member of the team masters the entire presentation proves that there is much more to presenting than meets the layman’s eye. The author then puts a sense of ease in the reader’s mind by stressing that any presentation is about the audience. Coughter claims, “Without them, there’s nothing for you to do. Without you, they have no reason for being there. So you’re dependent upon one another to pull this thing off.” When presenting, it is crucial to discern between some common mistakes that people make. One must act confident rather than cocky, use self-depreciating real world humor rather than corny jokes, and be simplistic rather than wordy. The cookie cutter mold of lengthy PowerPoint presentations with every inch covered in facts is a death sentence. Throughout the rest of the book Coughter goes into detail on previously talked about material as well as touches upon new topics, such as the layout of the presentation, the importance of practice, and the need to speak fluently and clearly. All in all, The Art of the Pitch ensures that the reader misses no steps in his or her preparation.  What I enjoyed most about the book was the way that Coughter used it as his own presentation to the reader. Following his own guidelines that he laid out, he was able to turn a dreaded topic into a fascinating one. If tasked to read a how-to book on presenting, I would certainly approach the situation with some discontent. Yet, The Art of the Pitch had me engaged from the first page to the last. Coughter wrote the book with a conversational tone, used engaging rhetoric, but above all he created a sense of legitimacy with his readers. With authenticity as one of the main points of the book, Coughter made sure every reader knew he was a big deal. After experiencing so many years in the industry, Coughter used a myriad of real world examples to his advantage as his audience was delighted with stories of both captivating and abysmal presentations. The verification did not stop there, as he used quotes and anecdotes from his expert friends in the field of advertising. Each technique used by the author allows him to accomplish one very important objective; he both stresses the importance of good presentations while allowing the readers to believe they can conquer their feared enemy. If he were to talk for 300 pages merely about how crucial public speaking skills are, he would have frightened his audience. On the flipside, if all the book did was say how presentations were a breeze, readers would undermine the importance of the presentations themselves. Instead, Coughter uses a perfect balance of the two, creating motivation and confidence amongst his audience.   My recommendation is clear; The Art of the Pitch is a wonderful and necessary guide for those who call any occupation their profession. As a freshman business major eager to see what his career has waiting him in the future, this book motivated me to be the best I can be, and taught me how it is possible to do so. From bankers to artists, construction workers to athletes, or lawyers to actors, there is not one individual who will not benefit from reading this book. There is no reason why any reader out there cannot achieve the great heights described by Coughter and his peers. 
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