How to pitch remotely: Top studios share their video call presentation tips
Stink Studios, DixonBaxi, Engine and Anyways share their experiences and advice for successfully pitching for projects while secretly wearing your slippers.
- Jenny Brewer
- 18 May 2020
“Pitching is the lifeblood of any independent creative company,” says Stink Studios’ James Britton. Paid retainers are a rarity, so almost all projects are won or lost in a competitive pitch, and most are unpaid. In 2019, Britton says Stink Studios’ average cost for a pitch was upwards of $20,000. It’s no wonder studios spend years fine-tuning their presenting skills.
Yet in lockdown, everyone’s had to change tack. Delivering an idea via video call is an entirely new set of skills that requires different preparation, technical know-how, and even a change to the usual structure. But it also provides new opportunities to explore a concept. Here, four top studios – DixonBaxi, Anyways, Engine Creative and Stink Studios – share their experiences from years of pitching remotely and offer up some top tips for navigating your next video-call presentation.
James Britton, group managing director, Stink Studios
Close the gap between the idea and the execution
Our aim in pitches is always to make the work as real as possible as quickly as possible. Whether showing interactive walkthroughs in Figma, collaborative whiteboards in Miro, or technical prototypes, our aim is to involve clients in the process of how ideas will be executed. We’ve even created custom Snap lenses to use during the presentation, wearing virtual products for example, just to customise the presentation for the individual client. Prototype demos can be even more impactful remotely, using QR codes in the presentation to allow clients to access directly on their phone. AR projects work particularly well (you can try an example from our recent H&M and Netflix project below).
Design the presentation for remote viewing
Small touches can make a big difference. Include a slide with photos of the team on the call who will be working on the project (and resist the urge to have everyone introduce themselves individually, which can be painful over video call). Be sure to number slides, in case you need to guide clients who are viewing the presentation locally. We’ve also adapted our own branding to only use system fonts (Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Courier) so there’s no need for clients to install fonts, reducing the risk of display issues.
Ask for feedback more frequently
A lot has been written about the etiquette of video calls, but there are a few things worth stressing for pitch presentations in particular. Make sure everyone arrives early (see above), and make sure everyone other than the person speaking is on mute at all times. Most importantly, take the time to ask for feedback much more frequently. Video calls strip away the nuance of body language, eye contact, and reading the room, so it’s important to ask direct questions after any slide where there may be details or possible ambiguity.
Take advantage of the advanced features in Zoom
The early weeks of lockdown saw an unprecedented take-up in video-conferencing tools, from BlueJeans and Google Hangouts to Microsoft Teams and WebEx, but we’ve been using Zoom for a long time, particularly with clients in China. While Zoom has largely proven to provide the best video and audio quality, it also has a few extended features that are particularly useful when pitching, like sharing your computer audio, sharing multiple screens, or temporarily pausing screen share if you need to juggle slides unexpectedly. Most useful, however, is the workaround where you can share just part of your screen while presenting (Share Screen > Advanced > Portion of Screen). This means you can retain all the presenter features of Keynote (Play > Rehearse Slideshow) while clients see the presentation full screen.
Presume there will be technical issues
Most of the best pitch presentations are still being worked on moments before the actual presentation (sometimes, if we’re presenting in Google Slides, the deck is even still being worked on after the pitch has started). But with internet bandwidth in high demand, it’s sensible to make sure everyone has a copy of the presentation to view locally (especially if the pitch includes video), and to avoid sending large files minutes before the presentation is due to start.
Firstly, set yourself a deadline to share the documents at least an hour before the call. This takes some discipline, but makes all the difference in ensuring a smooth start to presentation. Secondly, make sure you’ve optimised the deck for file size (Keynote > File > Reduce Filesize). Make sure you’ve asked about the client’s preferred file formats well in advance and, if in doubt, send separate zip files for Keynote, PowerPoint, Slides, and a fallback PDF as an email attachment. Adobe offers a straightforward way of compressing existing PDFs, remembering to caveat image quality with the client. A few minutes saved at the start of the call could make all the difference, extending the time available for feedback and questions.
Ellen Turnill Montoya, senior creative at Anyways
Set up your space to feel “pitch ready”
Going into a pitch is a weird situation in the first place. Going into a pitch when you can see last night’s washing-up in the corner of your eye line, and a potential client in another, is an even weirder situation. Set up your space as best you can to be both physically and mentally prepared to pitch. This may mean standing up, when you usually sit down. Or asking loved ones you are sharing a space with to take a well-timed walk, to ensure there are no interruptions (a special apology to Donut the dog who has been banished from the room on several occasions). Making the room feel just that little bit different will help form that experience that you would usually associate with the formality and occasion of a pitch.
The importance of a run-through
In the remote pitches we have done so far, we’ve made sure to do a few run-throughs beforehand – both in terms of knowing the creative work you are going to present inside and out, but also being ready to present with the technology; working out what we’ve been calling the “choreography” of the pitch. What program are you using (Zoom? Meet? Teams?) Who is screen-sharing and “driving”? Will they be able to see your notes? How do you pass over to your colleague smoothly? Knowing all of these answers as a team will help you feel completely confident and in control before you start.
Dressing for the occasion
It can also be helpful to dress up that little bit more than you usually would, as if you were going into the pitch IRL. Personally, this has helped me to feel ready and access that pitch-y headspace too. Pitching digitally also makes you feel a bit more self-conscious, as you can see a tiny version of yourself in the corner. So, if I do accidentally catch a glance at my face on the screen, seeing a together and non pyjama-wearing version of myself reminds me where I am. (But having said that, shoes are a step too far. I never thought in my life I would pitch in socks... but here we are.)
Be extra extra (extra) clear
On a video-call pitch, we have found that people are less likely to put up their hand, interject, or ask a question while you are presenting than in an IRL one. We have definitely felt the importance of over communicating to make sure our point gets across. Paraphrasing, recaps and summaries, as well as clear times for clients to interject throughout, have really helped make everyone feel on board in this potentially awkward situation!
Making a connection
A huge part of pitching relies on that feeling you get when you walk into the room, and the energy you bring to the occasion too. Pitching digitally removes a lot of that, and we have been thinking of ways to overcome this obstacle. Having some time to catch up, have a chat and establish a bit of rapport at the start helps, as well as adding an introduction section, as sometimes it’s hard to know who is in the “room”.
Managing your adrenaline
Something I really didn’t expect was the adrenaline spike I would feel (and not be able to manage so well) while pitching from home! Typically nerves are usual in these occasions, but without the stimulus of the outside world and colleagues, there is less to cushion the crash. Without this I have found myself sitting at home afterwards with adrenaline levels falling, so make sure you have a bit of time to decompress after a pitch (and a delicious celebratory treat to help with this too!).
Find a way to celebrate (WFH style)
At the end of a pitch all you want to do is debrief with your team and go through every (sometimes juicy, sometimes confusing) detail of what happened. Without a pub or coffee shop to scuttle to afterwards, we would recommend planning in a digital debrief afterwards. A huge amount of time, work and energy is invested into a pitch and it’s important that you mark the occasion and celebrate too, WFH-style of course!
Don’t rely on charm
Notions of charm are dead on Zoom. You need to actively make a connection with your audience and be “seen” – whether that’s with your voice, or something you send ahead of the meeting.
Keep the team small
You want the team as lean as possible, ideally no more than two to three people. If needed, send detailed bios of the wider team who aren’t on the call.
Don’t rely on videos to sell your idea
It’s likely they won’t work and will make for painful, juddery viewing. Send films as part of your pre-read and aim to build the video into the narrative as presentation bookends so it doesn’t disrupt the flow. Oh, and always tick to “Optimise Video Streaming” when sharing your screen.
Check the tech. Does everyone have the right set-up beforehand? Adapt the deck and consider leaving space for “Zoom faces” on your template. Send a pre-read. Agree who’s the compere. Rehearse, record, review.
Twinning is winning
Harmonise your dress and your backgrounds to look like one team.
Log in early to get set up. Ensure you’ve got flattering lighting and a good webcam angle – no-one wants to see up your nose! Allow a bit of extra time for participants to settle, check technology, and files and assets.
Manage attention spans
Mix up the people talking to ensure you keep people engaged. Don’t waffle. Ask questions. Build in coffee breaks and pauses for review. Sprinkle in a bit of group banter. Plump for an early spot in the day to avoid Zoom fatigue.
Stand up, shut down
A standing desk is a great way to help stay engaged throughout a long presentation (we can recommend an ironing board box combo for this (see above)! Make sure all other programmes are shut down other than the one you’re presenting in as this will make it much easier to be totally engaged.
Keep it concise and simple
Summarise all key points at the end so the takeout is super clear. Don’t underestimate how simple things need to be. Be really clear and concise in your delivery – boredom tempts distraction.
Aporva Baxi, co-founder of DixonBaxi
Have a pre-call before the presentation. Check in with the client and run through the agenda and plan for hosting the meeting, from who will join to tech specs. It gets everyone in sync and prepared. One tip is to send a personal invitation before the meeting with a note of what to expect. It builds trust, sets you up for success, and shows you value their time.
Check and double-check
Technology is liberating and makes international or remote working so much easier. However, checking that it works seamlessly is essential, and even then, on the day, there can be technical hitches for both sides. What has worked before suddenly doesn’t, so having backup plans prepared ahead of time will have you covered.
Work harder to communicate with clarity
Not being in the room means you have to work harder to be clear. Without full body language and oftentimes with the presentation in full screen, you can’t see who you are talking to and they can’t see you. It’s essential to work on how you deliver the presentation and make sure it has cadence and flow, and that the key points resonate.
It’s all about the story
Focusing on the narrative is critical. Keep it simple, clear and build from the idea out. Don’t start with the granular details. Reveal the why, not the just the what.
It’s easy for a presentation to swell in size. Show only the best parts and rationalise the strategic and creative story so it’s as concise and emotive as possible. Show too much and it can be overwhelming, confusing or complicated, which can diminish the power of the work.
Technology should work for you
Zoom, Hangouts, Teams, conference call... choose the one that serves you or the client best. If it’s decided for you, make sure you know how it works. Looking for the Share Screen, Chat or Mute button with ten people watching can feel awkward ;)
Be prepared for choppy video
However good the connection, playing videos is always a challenging experience, especially with everyone is working from home. Have links ready to share as you talk through the work, pause and then resume once they’ve been watched. It’s not ideal, but if done right, the presentation can still feel seamless.
We love the spontaneity that comes when presenting work and try not to over-rehearse. However, in the current context, rehearsing has become more essential to make sure we capture the arc of the narrative and clearly define who says what and when. It helps focus, creates clarity and avoids repetition.
Give everyone a role
Make sure everyone gets a proper introduction, then divide the presentation into sections, have one person chair the meeting and different people talking through the work. Having two or three people present helps the tempo and avoids the monologue. Be careful not to have too many speakers, though – it just gets confusing.
Know who is in the (virtual) room
It’s important to know who you will be speaking to, their roles and perspectives, and who may be a silent listener on the call. This will help ensure the narrative speaks to the different audiences and their needs.
Be positive, listen and lean in
Positivity and openness are critical to building relationships. Be passionate and on the front foot. Respond to questions by leaning into them, letting the client know that you are on their side.