David Ogilvy, the legendary founder of the Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency, wrote about Greek orators, “When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march.’ ”

All too often, presenters put all their creative energy into the pitch materials, generating dazzling eye candy while leaving little attention to the pitch itself until the moment of truth: pitchmen or pitchwomen must be dazzling themselves in the delivery of their pitches in order to get their marching orders.

In the 2300 years since Aristotle’s Rhetoric, volumes have been written questing after the art of the pitch, an art that has been elevated by PowerPoint slides to high-definition digital video. Overarching all these developments, however, are five factors that are essential to the success of every pitch. Following David Ogilvy’s example, let’s draw lessons from the master of each art.


1. Story

Aristotle’s simple requirements for a rhetorical beginning, middle and end are all too often forgotten in pitches that ramble off into the weeds. Begin with a brief, attention-getting statement. Use a human-interest story, an analogy or a significant statistic that will focus your audience on your main theme. Then follow your theme all the way through the middle of your pitch with a crystal clear flow that smoothly connects each part of your story to the next in a logical progression. End with a call to action.


2. Graphics

The guiding principle for all your slides should be “Less is more,” the maxim popularized by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the foremost designers of the twentieth century and the father of the minimalist school. Make “Less is more” and its corollary, “When in doubt, leave it out,” your guiding principle when you create your presentation graphics.


3. Delivery Skills

Ronald Reagan is known as The Great Communicator for his prominent position in the pantheon of notable orators, and he serves as an attainable role model for you or any mere mortal for one very basic reason: Reagan was always himself.

Contrast Reagan’s natural style to that of other famous orators such as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King or Billy Graham. All of them had rich, resonant voices and used dramatic gestures. Conversely, Ronald Reagan had a soft, silvery voice and he rarely gestured. The essence of his style was his uncanny ability to be conversational in every setting and across every dimension; to make every person in every audience feel, “He’s speaking to me!” Ronald Reagan was the irresistible force that moved every object, every audience, every time. Emulate Ronald Reagan: simply be yourself when you pitch.


4. Presentation Tools

For advice on the latest and greatest modern tools, turn back to a time before the advent of modern technology, to William Shakespeare. In Hamlet, Shakespeare provided a guiding principle to a group of players that is applicable to today’s presenters: “O’erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.”

Pitches are meant to be a communication of information, not entertainment. Let the entertainment stay in Las Vegas (along with whatever else happens there), leaving you, the presenter, the center of attention.


5. Q&A

During the Gulf War of 1991,General H. Norman Schwarz-kopf, held only a handful of press briefings, but his brilliant management of those sessions made him an instant global celebrity. Without having made a single speech, Schwarzkopf promptly went on to command keynote speaker fees comparable to those of heads of state. His handling of tough questions serves as a positive role model for anyone who has to stand up in the line of fire.

Manage the Time
Each of General Schwarzkopf’s press briefings was succinct and well-paced. In one, he handled ten questions in two minutes and forty-eight seconds. He kept his exchanges short and moved briskly from reporter to reporter, counting down toward the end. Manage the time in your Q&A sessions by setting time expectations at the beginning, count down through the middle and end punctually.

Listen Carefully
When Schwarzkopf recognized a reporter, he locked onto that person as if connected by a laser beam. Whenever a reporter asked a convoluted question, the general immediately got the key issue. Listen intently for the key issue within each question.

Exert Control
Reporters repeatedly asked questions about sensitive security issues, knowing full well that such matters were confidential. The general stood his ground every time and refused to answer. You are under no obligation to reveal confidential information about your business. Stand your ground.

Answer Concisely
Each of the general’s answers was brief and direct. He never introduced new material, as many presenters often do. The only purpose of any Q&A session is to clarify the content you covered in your presentation. When you open the floor to questions, stay off the soapbox.

Add Value
General Schwarzkopf frequently punctuated his answers with restatements of his mission: enforcing the United Nations resolution to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Punctuate your answers with a restatement of your clarion call to action. Seize the opportunity to go beyond the answer to state your own case.

Follow the leaders. Learn from Aristotle, Mies van der Rohe, Ronald Reagan, William Shakespeare and General Schwarzkopf. Be like Demosthenes and your audiences will march to your beat.

JERRY WEISSMAN is a presentations coach and author of
Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story and a DVD
In the Line of Fire: An Interactive Guide to Handling Tough
Questions based on his latest book of the same title. President
of Power Presentations, Ltd., Jerry has coached top executives at
companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, Cisco Systems and Intel.
www.networkingtimes.com/link/weissman