Five tried-and-true tips for making a compelling pitch

In this article, leadership coach John M McKee provides five tips that can create greater success when you're standing in front of others.

 "Sorry, but that's really boring!"

I knew that wasn't a great thing to tell a client, but she needed to hear it. Working with her on a speech she was about to deliver, I was struck by how "clinical" she was coming across. Surprised, really, because she's fun, smart, and aggressive. I always find her to be very engaging during our meetings, but her prepared remarks would put even a well-rested athlete into a coma state.

"C'mon, John.....I know that this isn't exactly the most fascinating subject matter I'm discussing, especially for you, or anyone else, not involved in the day-to-day stuff," she replied.

I understood what she meant. After all, the subject was her budget — how she's doing, what needs to be changed, and what the outlook is for the rest of the year. Such presentations can be lengthy and often are filled with information that might interest only the insiders who will be affected.

But I didn't agree that all budget presentations are boring or that one needs to have a working understanding about a subject to be impacted by a presentation.

I've sat through hundreds of presentations, often about subjects I had no knowledge about. And many of them were interesting. I often left with a lot of new knowledge and understanding; but most importantly, it was clear that the people for whom the presentation was aimed — the insiders — had been "moved" by what they'd seen. By "moved," I mean that, as a result of the presentation, they were moving into action or had been moved to change their perspective about the subject at hand.

Here's how the best presenters succeed:

1. The pros know their objective. They know that the most successful people treat each presentation as having an objective more than just "reporting" the facts.

My client was doing a regularly scheduled status report. It didn't seem to have any objective or intended outcome. She would report. Those in the room would listen — perhaps ask some questions — and then she'd be finished with it for another quarter. When I asked her to tell me the best outcome she could imagine from her presentation, she had to noodle about it. Then, as she started to consider what was going on in the "real world," it became clear that she'd really like some audience members to support her on a people initiative she only noted in passing because this was a budget (e.g., numbers) presentation.

She reconsidered her presentation in that light. If, when it was all said and done, she'd actually recruited support for some big changes in her people programs, she'd rate the whole presentation as very worthwhile. (It was.)

2.  The pro's care. And they show it. Clearly. My client's talking points were satisfactory, and the key message was fine. What was missing most of all was — her. She'd probably got the job because of who she is, but her "stuff" wasn't clear in this presentation. There was no energy, no inspiring issue, and no call to action.

Simply by reframing her presentation with her newly identified objective in mind, she got "hot." Audiences, at any level, on any subject are impressed watching presenters who really care about the subject at hand. When they see a compelling argument, supported by passion, the chances are significantly greater that they'll support the presenter.

3.  The pros don't overstay their welcome. I work with a lot of executives in the entertainment sector, and they often remind me of an old saying that's still used by many successful performers — "Leave the audience laughing, asking for more." The point is to keep your presentation tight. Get it all on the table within the amount of time allocated for your presentation, but don't go into overtime. Even better is if you finish early and the people wish you'd been on longer because then they'll look forward to seeing you the next time.

Most presenters ignore agenda schedules. This can antagonize those who are there to hear them. That can impact how they respond. Plus, it's just plain rude.

4. The pros keep to "The Rule of 3" for presentations. They understand that people often have other things on their mind when they're watching or reviewing a presentation, so they take steps to ensure that the key messages are heard and retained.

At the start of the presentation, tell them what you're going to tell them. Then, tell them. At the end of the presentation, tell them what you just told them. This rule will greatly increase the chances that your audience "gets it."

5. The pros do everything possible to keep written material very brief. It's a fact of life that we're all buried by detail and data. While sometimes it's needed to successfully make the case, usually it's not.

I've seen CIOs knock it out of the park with a one-page "business plan" for the Board and watched senior executives "wow" the boss using a PowerPoint that was one-tenth as long as other presenters'. This shorter-is-better approach works as well in a presentation as it does in staff meetings when using a "standing meeting" (i.e., everyone stands the entire meeting).

Go ahead — become compelling!


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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