Episode 61

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Part “idea whisperer,” part message strategist, and part presentation coach, Tamsen Webster helps people and organizations like Verizon, State Street Bank, Ericsson, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney find and communicate the power of their ideas. She is the Executive Producer of TEDxCambridge, one of the oldest and largest locally organized TED talk events in the world. She is also Executive Communications Coach with Oratium, a messaging consultancy. In former lives, she worked in both agencies and at nonprofits heading up brand, marketing, and fundraising communication strategy, along with a brief but enduring turn as a change management consultant. She’s also a retired Weight Watchers leader and an accidental marathoner.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why speaking is the best tool for convincing someone that your agency is the best agency for them
  • Why you need to make your speeches about your audience and not about you
  • Mistakes that agencies make in pitches all the time
  • How to structure your new business presentations so that you win the business
  • Why you want people to remember the one big idea of your presentation — not specific tactics
  • How to develop a thought leadership presentation
  • Why niched presentations are a lot more effective than broad ones
  • “Why,” “what now,” and “how” talks: what’s different about these kind of presentations
  • How to structure a talk when you are given a general topic that you have to speak on
  • Why you should stop before the sell when you’re presenting to gain awareness for your business
  • Why creating an event is a great way to get good at speaking
  • How to find other speaking engagements
  • Why you need to grab testimonials from speaking engagements and video of your speeches
  • How to unravel a failed speech to make sure it works in the future

 

The Golden Nugget:

“When you’re presenting to gain awareness, stop before the sell.” – @tamadear Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. So, today’s topic is one that I chat with many agency owners about all the time, the whole idea of how do you become a thought leader? How do you get in front of folks without overtly selling, and helping them understand how good you are, how smart you are ,and how you can actually help them solve their problems. And we’re going to talk about that today, how to use presentations and speeches in a strategic way to grow your business.

So, my guest today is Tamsen Webster, and Tamsen is part idea whisperer, part message strategist, and part presentation coach. She has helped people and organizations like Verizon, State Street Bank, Ericsson, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney find and communicate the power of their ideas. She is also the executive producer of TEDx Cambridge, which is one of the oldest and largest locally organized Ted Talk events in the world. She is an executive communications coach, and she also consults with corporations, agencies around better speaking practices and skills. She works with teams. She works with individuals who are going to give presentations. So, today we’re going to focus on how agencies can use presentations and speaking in all forms to grow their business. So Tamsen, welcome. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks

Tamsen:

So much for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So, Speaking is one of those things that everybody thinks they should be better at, and they are both excited about and terrified of.

Tamsen:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

Talk to us a little bit about your vision of the value of an agency owner, or the face of an agency, A, being a polished speaker, but B using it to leverage the growth of their organization.

Tamsen:

Well, if you think about it, there is so much out there that’s cluttering how people find and choose and really make decisions for themselves about which agencies to go with and all of that. And whether you’re talking about content shock, where I think the latest figure I saw was that there’s 3 million blog posts a day put up. A lot of agencies have this question about how can people quickly understand that we’re the right agency for them? My perspective on that, there’s nothing that can replace the value of seeing somebody from that agency, how they talk, how they act, hear them speaking from their own personal experience and in a lot of cases, their own personal passion about why they do what they do, how they do, what they do and how and how all of that translates to the work of their agency. In other words, I think there is no more differentiating thing that any agency or agency owner or spokesperson can do than to leverage the truly unique qualities of human to human communication. And whether that’s one to one or one to many, it’s just one thing that nobody else can copy the same way that you as an individual do.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and it gets sort of to the essence of there are lots of agencies who are good at what they do, but the sort of unique DNA of any agency is the chemistry of that agency. And oftentimes that’s sort of personified in the owner or the spokesperson. And, you know, when we’re talking new business with agencies and when we go out into the field and we talk to CMOs about how and why they selected an agency, so often they revert back to the-

Tamsen:

Chemistry.

Drew McLellan:

The chemistry thing. It’s not tangible, but I just connect with them, or I like them, or I think I would like to work with them. And what you’re saying is, and I think you’re right, it’s how do you talk and what are your mannerisms and how do you connect, whether it’s you’re standing behind a podium or you’re sitting across the table from somebody.

Tamsen:

Exactly. Well, there are these things that we, as humans send out, they’re called honest signals. There’s some fascinating research that came out of the MIT Media Lab about this, that within seven minutes, we have all the information we need about somebody else, and that goes well beyond just those first impressions. But within seven minutes, how we speak, how we talk, how we hold ourselves, whether or not we unconsciously or consciously mimic the other person, how much we over talk, how much we interrupt people, how slow we talk, and all of that comes out in ways that we can’t fake. And, even though none of it is stuff we can consciously do, we, as audience members, can recognize and react to that instantly. And that is what chemistry is. Chemistry is honest signals. For some people, that creates this problem, of course, which is, well, how do I create that? And the answer is you don’t. You can’t fake it. So the only thing you can do-

Drew McLellan:

Right. How do I fake being honest?

Tamsen:

How do I fake being honest? The only thing you can do is find what to speak about and a way to speak about it that is so true to who you are, that what they connect with, what those honest signals send out is a hundred percent you. And if there is not a connection at that point, then there never would be. And so that’s a lot of what I counsel clients on is much of what a good agency counsels others on, which is not everybody’s for you. You want to find the right match, and being true to that, being true to those honest signals is the best path.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. So I know that one of the premises of your background and the way you coach and teach is sort of the construction, or thinking through the presentation. And I think a lot of agencies, especially in new business pitches, and we can get into that in a second, but regardless of the setting, I think a lot of agencies rush to the sell, or rush to trying to make themselves look viable. Talk a little bit about that and maybe a different way to think about constructing a presentation with the audience more front and center.

Tamsen:

Well, as you can probably already tell, I love figuring out why we do the things that we do. And one of the controlling concepts of human communication is something that’s called self-orientation, or sender orientation. It’s basically a fancy word of saying we are incredibly self-centered.

Drew McLellan:

Correct.

Tamsen:

And it makes sense. That’s the instinct that keeps us alive. It’s what keeps us tracking on what is going to make us happy. It’s how we pursue those things that will bring us success. The challenge for us, as communicators, is while we, as speakers are sender-oriented, while we’re very self-centered. The audience is, too. And so when we’re talking to potential clients, one of the chief mistakes that agencies, and truly though any speaker, makes is that they forget to put the client or the prospective client or the audience at the center of what they’re talking about. And that ultimately everything that you’re presenting needs to be thought through their eyes.

Now, if you think through that to its logical conclusion, you’ll realize pretty quickly that a lot of the things that make sense to us as ways to lead off a presentation, “Hey, let me tell you why I’m here. Let me tell you why this is the right strategy for us to go after. Let me tell you about our approach. Let me show you a NASCAR slide of all the clients that we’ve worked with.” Think about what the client is doing there. The client is desperately waiting for you to say something that is relevant, or more specifically about them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Tamsen:

And so when it comes to pitches, what you really want to think through is what do really want to know right out of the gate? Not what do we really want to tell them right out of the gate But, what is it that they really want to know? And if you flip that, then oftentimes the pitches can look radically different.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s interesting. One of the speakers that we often have at some of the AMI network meetings is an agency search firm. And they talk about the mistakes that agencies make in the presentations, and without a doubt, one of the biggest that they cite is if an agency has 60 minutes, they spend the first 20 minutes talking about themselves, and haven’t even gotten to the client at all. And often if they run out of time, it’s the client-centric stuff that gets sort of squeezed out rather than the agency chest pounding part.

Tamsen:

Yeah. The examples are legion. I had an agency as a client, and we went in and asked them for two things. We went in and asked them for an example of a pitch that they had one, an example of a pitch that they had lost. And the pitch that they had lost was for a typical 60-minute finals meeting, was 118 slides.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Tamsen:

I mean just even think about the math there. You are not getting through that in-

Drew McLellan:

Staggering.

Tamsen:

I know.

Drew McLellan:

Right?

Tamsen:

But, take a wild guess at which slide was the first mention of the client?

Drew McLellan:

59.

Tamsen:

Yeah, it was 62.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Tamsen:

It was bananas. Yeah. And we wonder sometimes. I mean, when we step back and look at these things, we can say, “Of course, that’s crazy. Of course, we made that client probably wait close to 40 minutes,” because there’s no way they’re covering those slides one per minute, or one per 30 seconds. We probably made that client wait 40 minutes before we told them anything about why are you here? What are the challenges that you are facing? Here’s what we think the answer to that is. And then why now, after we’ve told you that, why do we think this is a good idea?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Tamsen:

And that’s the biggest shift that I’ve seen when I work with agency pitches. But, also I do a lot of work with entrepreneurs and investor pitches. A lot of times you need to tell them right up front, what are you doing? And not as much time on everything else. Because it’s like tender [inaudible 00:10:36] large. You know how it is. You go and you present something. You know pretty quickly whether or not somebody is saying yes or no to that idea, whether they’re swiping right or swiping left. And if they have made that decision quickly that what I’m seeing from you, this idea, even if it comes 40 minutes in, if they don’t love it on site, there is no amount of strategy that you could have told them ahead of time that is going to change their mind once they finally see the creative. That’s just not going to happen.

So I find that that’s one of the biggest flips that people can make is to take a minute and stop and say, “Wait, what would the client, what does the customer, what are they looking for? What are the things that they want to say yes to?” So that I can present those things right away. And otherwise, they’ll say no. And we can’t afford that as agency owners.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You know, as I’m listening to you talk, I’m thinking about the way agencies typically structure presentations. On the one hand we talk about, “Oh, we want this to be a dialogue and blah, blah, blah, blah.” But we don’t actually give them anything to react to until three quarters of the way into the presentation.

Tamsen:

Right. And basically what we’re asking them is, do you love it?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Tamsen:

Not-

Drew McLellan:

While we’re nodding our head at them. Yeah. You love this, don’t you? So, when you coach agencies, how do you help them flip the presentation? And it’s easy to say, “Oh, put your big idea for the client first,” but how do, how do they A, get out of their own way to do that? And B, what’s the sort of mental process one has to go through to get there?

Tamsen:

Well, the biggest thing that I like to start with is what is it specifically that you want to have happen as a result of that particular communication. And that is honestly one of the places where many people go wrong. Because if it’s early in the communication, let’s say it’s a creds meeting or capabilities meeting, a lot of times some agencies I’ve seen go in and try to make the sale there. Well, that’s not going to happen. What you’re really asking for is how can I get to the next stage. At the finals meeting, at the pitch, absolutely, that you’re hoping for, yes we want to go with you.

So the first thing is, what is it that you really want to have happen? What’s the change you want to affect as a result. And then, from there, it’s a pretty straightforward process that I like to use, which is thinking through… I mean, we have to remember that as an agency and if you’re presenting, let’s take a finals pitch or even take a capabilities pitch, there’s something new coming in. There’s an idea that you’re trying to get across, and that’s all you. That’s good be because you need to know what that is, or else you’re going to just wander all over the place. And the client isn’t going to leave knowing why they should hire you. At the same time though, that can’t be the only thing. So, we have to figure out how do we essentially message from the middle? How do we find that intersection point between what we want them to understand about us and that knowledge of how they’re going to get there?

So the process that I like to use is to say, once we know functionally what the idea is and what we want to have happen as a result, then we start looking at everything through the client or the prospective client’s eyes. And that starts with understanding, well, what is it that they’re trying to achieve? What is it they’re trying to achieve globally? But what is it they’re trying to achieve out of this particular communication. And that often falls into one of two categories. One, there’s the known thing that they’re looking for, which is we need to hire an agency to do X, but there’s probably also something that’s a little bit more personal. So, it’s maybe they’re trying and look for validation of their role as CMO. Maybe they’re brand new for instance. And they want to make sure that they’re showing that they get the brand.

When you understand what that goal is, then you can start to think about the problem that they’ve got that’s getting in the way of that goal. And a lot of times that’s the problem that they came to you with. I mean, typically that’s how most pitches start is, “Hey, we’ve got this problem. We want to solve it.” And this is an opportunity. This is probably one of your first opportunities as an agency to show your metal as being different than other places, which is to say, “You say you have this problem. And we see that, and we see all the results of that and the consequences of that. But, ultimately we think your problem has more to do with something else. There’s a real problem going on that you-

Drew McLellan:

Something underneath.

Tamsen:

Something underneath that you probably don’t realize. And this is where any agency with a good strategy shop probably is already getting to. The challenge I find is oftentimes they’re burying that. They bury the lead under all the methodology and all the things they found out. Just like tell them what the real problem is. And when they go really, and then, hey, A, you’ve got an opportunity for a dialogue, and B, now you’ve got them asking for the information, not just patiently sitting through it. So, you’ve got the-

Drew McLellan:

And now, you actually have a shot of having a real dialogue, right?

Tamsen:

Right, right. Because I mean, at each point where you’re establishing these, I like to call them the skeletal sentences of a pitch, or a presentation. The goal is one. The problem is another. It’s an opportunity to stop and say, “How does that look to you? Is this right? How is this feeling?” And if you’ve done your homework ahead of time, you’re most of the time not going to be surprised with them going, “Yeah, that’s not it at all.”

In the best case scenario, even they’re saying, “Yes, that’s it, and here’s this additional information that we didn’t tell you yet,” but it helps you make an even better recommendation or make even better steps towards solving their problem. So, if we’ve got the goal and we’ve got their problem, then we need to frame the idea of the pitch, or the idea of what we as an agency bring to that particular client in the form of a single message. What is the thing that you need to understand either about us or about this project, or this initiative, or this approach that will help you solve now this problem that we’ve identified, this real problem. And that idea is key because that idea, and this isn’t anything that any good marketer or advertiser, communicator doesn’t already know. That idea is the thing that people will say when people ask you, “Well, why should we go with them?” Or, “What was the pitch really about?”

The idea is the answer to, “Well, if you do this, then we will get this goal.” And, it’s not the actual creative. It’s what does that creative represent?

Drew McLellan:

Or tactics.

Tamsen:

Yeah. It’s not the tactic. It’s the process. It’s the approach. It’s the idea. And this is where I think there’s a real opportunity because so many places don’t do this well for great agencies to set themselves apart. Because we want to give people a handhold on how to talk about us. And that idea is that. From that idea, then you say, “Okay, if this is the thing that helps us understand why we have the problem, then we now also have in the idea, the path to solve it.” And so then there’s this change, which is the thing that you want them to do. In other words, that’s the original thing you said you want to have happen as a result of the communication.

And then, you can talk about the actions that would get you there. So, that means that we’re going to deploy across content and social, or we’re going to do some outdoor and whatever, there’s this digital solution, et cetera. So, those five things are the goal, and that’s the audience goal that they would readily agree they have, the problem, which is probably something they don’t understand they have, the idea, which is the one thing they need to understand in order to solve the problem, the change, which is the thing they need to do to achieve their goal, and it’s the thing you want them to do, and then the actions, which is the tactics of how to achieve it. Just understanding that arc A, clarifies, internal thinking, and therefore it’s a lot easier to get people within the agency onboard with what are we trying to do in this particular presentation and B, it has the added benefit of backing you into a really solid outline for how to present the information.

Drew McLellan:

I’m grabbing onto, no pun intended, this whole idea that the idea is the handle or the one sentence summary that when they’re sitting around talking about the presentation afterwards… Agencies often try to sort of gamify it by going first or last or bringing in food or having some presentation gimmick but very few agencies, I suspect, say, “If they had to describe our presentation in one sentence, what would it be? And what do we want it to be? And then how do we build the whole presentation to make sure that that’s the pinnacle of what we talk about?”

Tamsen:

Right. Because what you don’t want them to do is to walk away going, “Oh, we loved this particular deployment.” Or, “We liked that particular idea,” because all of us who’ve ever spent any time in agencies know that just the nightmare thing can have happen, where they go with some other agency and then they cherry pick your ideas out of the pitch. Now, of course that’s not supposed to be what they do, but we’ve all seen it happen where they’ll cherry pick the ideas. I don’t mean the big idea. I mean, they’ll cherry pick the tactics. And, the reason why I hammer so hard on understanding what this one big idea is, not only does it come from all the Ted work that I’ve done, but it comes from this perspective, or this knowledge, that we, as humans are not rational decision makers. We’re rationalizing decision makers.

So that gut decision about where we go, whether or not we have the chemistry with this agency that’s coming in, whether or not we like the idea, or we like the creative, that’s real and I’m not going to deny that. And that’s where going first or last can kind of gamify it to some extent. But ultimately, you know that that first reaction is something that’s important to them, but then they go and sit around a table with all the pitch books or whatever you left them, or the boards or whatever you left them as the relic of the interaction. And then, they make a more, much more rational decision. And if what you leave behind, doesn’t a hundred percent deliver on the rational decision making. Then, you’re not going to win. But just imagine the power, if not only are you connecting with them in the moment, but then what you leave behind. They’re like, “All right, all these other people, they’ve got this stuff. They’ve got [inaudible 00:21:24]. I see their boards. This is an interesting idea. But, this agency, this agency, they are the ones that help us understand that if we just do this, then we get to this goal that we’re looking for.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Your mention of the Ted talks again, part of why we love Ted talks is because they’re so singular in their message.

Tamsen:

Yep.

Drew McLellan:

And yet, I don’t think we think about that when we are constructing our own presentations.

Tamsen:

No. And it’s the hardest. I will tell you that when I work with clients, it is the hardest thing for business presenters to come to because we’ve been so trained by conference organizers or ourselves or PowerPoint, frankly, to… Like what are the five actionable takeaways? Everybody wants the learnings. They want the tag, and I’ve been at conferences that said, “Well, I don’t see your takeaway slide.” I’m like, “Trust me. A, everybody gets a handout.” So, whenever I present, I always give a handout. And B, that handout’s going to be way better than your takeaway slide, but C, this is the thing that I tell people I work with. You can still give people actionable takeaways. You just need to wrap them in a big idea because they’re not… Increasingly, of course, conferences are going to 20… They’re going to Ted style presentations, which is just a nightmare for the average person, because the average person is used to having for 45 minutes to wander their way to their point. And in 20 minutes, what happens is that people just try to jam a 40-minute talk into a 20-minutes slot. And it just does not go well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s ugly for everybody.

Tamsen:

It’s ugly for everybody. So it becomes so much simpler on everybody. And first and foremost, on the presenter to say, “What is the one thing?” And once you know what’s the one thing, it takes the pressure off the actions. It’s not that they don’t have to be there, but you say, “Listen, what this all comes down to is creating,” to use an example of client I was working with yesterday. It’s about creating lifelong relationships with the customers. In order to do that, we need to make sure that we’re taking long term actions with them.

Now, how can you do that? She’s got some specific examples that she’s using, but at the end, she does have three clear actions that people can take. But, she’s summing up by saying, “But, really whether those are the right actions for you or not, what it comes down to is are you using longterm actions to get longterm relationships?” The additional benefit then that you get is that when you sell people on the idea, you open up many, many more avenues for them.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Tams