Yesterday I watched the movie "Pom Wonderful Presents... The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," Morgan Spurlock's advertisement-within-a-movie-within-an-advertisement about product placement and marketing in movies. He filmed every aspect of putting together the advertising for the movie, including his pitches to the companies who ended up being his major sponsors.
A lot of what Spurlock went through in pitching his clients and putting deals together demonstrated good lessons for speakers. Here are a couple.
Use simple but striking visuals
I enjoyed watching his pitches. While there are some things I might have changed (such as inserting each company's logo in place of "Brand X" on his storyboard so they could visualize themselves as the title sponsor), I especially liked his simple, clean visuals. He didn't use PowerPoint, but simple storyboards (which I gather are more common in the advertising world than in the public speaking world). As he displayed each image, he described what it meant in the context of the whole campaign. Here's a clip from his POM Wonderful pitch where you can see how he used the storyboards:
His pitch was successful enough that POM Wonderful became the movie's title sponsor.
Understand what your audience needs, wants and cares about
There was a later scene, however, when his visuals didn't make the impact he had hoped for. In this scene, he approaches POM Wonderful with his three ideas for a 30-second commercial that will be inserted into the movie. He shows his storyboards and explains the story lines of each commercial. All three are flops. Why?
Because Spurlock's commercials emphasize aspects of the product that are at odds with what POM Wonderful wants to emphasize. It's clear from this scene that he has not researched his client enough, and hasn't actually determined what they consider important features of the product. And therefore, all three of his commercial pitches are shot down.
When you show up for a speaking engagement and deliver canned material, without first learning what your audience wants from the session, you are doing both yourself and your audience a disservice. You are doing yourself a disservice, because you might have had some really good, targeted material that would have made you stand out from other speakers. You might have really nailed the presentation and had a real rapport with your audience. And you do a disservice to the audience because now they feel they are wasting their time, listening to a speaker who doesn't understand or care about them. This is hard to undo.
Luckily for Spurlock, the relationship was already established, the company gave him their alternative suggestions, and his commercial was aligned with the company's desires.
Always be prepared
Spurlock learns early on that he himself is a brand and needs to acknowledge and market himself this way. As speakers, we are in the same boat. What is our identity that sets us apart from other speakers? Each of us has a brand, though not all of our brands are equally visible or identifiable. Take a moment and think about this: What's your brand?
Here's a scene where Spurlock approaches people on the street and asks them to define their brand:
People on the street, who are most likely not professional marketers or pitch people, are able to identify their personal brands. Then we meet the Ban deodorant marketing executives. This was maybe the most humorous and shocking scene to me.
When Spurlock approached Ban deodorant to be a sponsor, his pitch was similar to those he gave at other companies (in fact, Ban was the first major company to sign on, influencing the responses of prospects to follow), full of tonque-in-cheek images of his medicine cabinet full of Ban products and of him putting on deodorant before a big interview.
What was surprising was when he asked Ban for their own brand identity statement. He asks, "What are the words you would use to describe Ban? Ban is...'blank'?" Watch the response:
The clip doesn't show how much time actually goes by, but it's long enough for the silence to become uncomfortable. How weird and sad is this moment, where these executives sit here as time ticks by, unable to articulate their brand?
Ban, in this instance, is the potential client, and maybe did not expect to be asked this question. Spurlock is the one pitching them. However, there are likely many occasions where these same executives are on the other side of the table. How is it that they have no words to describe their product?
It's embarrassing to be put on the spot, but as a speaker, you must always be prepared to answer unexpected questions. If that means brainstorming possible questions (even completely off-the-wall ones) before your speaking engagement and imagining or writing down possible answers, then do it. If it means asking your co-workers or friends to throw their toughest questions at you so you know what other people might be thinking, then do it. Sure, there's a possibility that you will occasionally be stumped by a question. But it should never be the easiest one.
This movie is full of great lessons for speakers, and for anyone who wants to stand out and be seen, noticed and recognized for their brand identity.