How we do pitches

Pitching is an opportunity to demonstrate our expertise, showcase our work and demonstrate our values. Sometimes, we have plenty of notice and time to prepare, other times we have to turn pitches around quickly. To give ourselves the best possible chance, we should follow the steps outlined below.

Preparing in advance

When we find out we are pitching, the first thing to do is assemble the pitch team, and make them aware as early as possible of their involvement. The people pitching should be whoever is lined up to do the work if we’re successful. We should also nominate someone to lead and coordinate producing the pitch.

When we receive an invitation to a pitch, send a prompt reply back to thank the buyer for the invitation and give them any information they need (such as names of attendees).

Think about the logistics. Look at all the emails or any notes from conversations with the buyer and pull out any deadlines and important dates. Put the dates into the pitch members’ calendars and set reminders in Slack so we are all clear when the deadline is.

Factor in time to rehearse the pitch, ideally a day before to give us time to make any last minute changes or more time to practice. Whoever is co-ordinating the pitch should make sure this happens. As well as the bid team members, invite others to attend the run-through to act as an audience.

Prepare some good questions for the assessment panel. There is usually an opportunity at the end of the pitch to ask some questions to the buyer.

Writing the deck

Look at the original brief and pull out the evaluation criteria and weightings. These should form the initial headings for the pitch deck and the weightings should give you an idea of how much time to devote to each part of the deck. If you feel you need to, read up on the Digital Outcomes and Specialists scoring process and how weighting works.

Look at previous pitches for inspiration. It’s fine to reuse slides from previous pitches if they are relevant. That said, it’s important that the pitch reflects back the buyer’s language so if there are key phrases they use in the brief, it’s good to speak to those.

Try to write positively. If you want to say “there are no contractors on the team”, consider rephrasing as “all our team-members are full-time” to avoid someone mishearing and getting the opposite message than you intend. So, unless you’re trying to achieve a particular effect, say what we do and just avoid saying what we don’t.

The slides should always convey the message or most important theme of each slide. Avoid making them too wordy—use the speaker notes to explain context and detail. When you’re writing the speaker notes, remember that you’re going to be presenting so write in the most appropriate format that helps you deliver the pitch. For example, avoid long paragraphs, fiddly phrases or difficult alliteration.

Make sure you feel ownership of your slides and speaker notes—if they’re not written in the way you’d say them, either tweak them so they’re in your “voice”, or try reducing them to simple prompts.

Put in plenty of line breaks to make the notes easy to read, especially if you plan to ad-lib. Add the name(s) of the people who’ll be talking at the top of the speaker notes for each slide. Know when the next slide is yours!

You can refine the words after you’ve run through the pitch to make sure the deck tells the story you want to tell. The slides need to flow so try and establish a narrative arc, i.e. the slides should make sense in sequence as you tell the story.

Allow up to two minutes per slide.

Designing the deck

The deck must look the best it possibly can. Use one of the slide deck templates as the basis of your slides. Look at the brand book and get help from a designer if you need it (use the #helpmedesign Slack channel). Pay attention to details. They matter as the audience’s eyes are always drawn to mistakes and inconsistencies. Proof-read the words and proof them again. Spelling mistakes and typos do matter, they undermine the credibility of the deck. Share the slides with people that aren’t working on them to get a fresh set of eyes on them.

Make sure you use relevant imagery, ideally images or visuals that tell a story or are relatable to the point you’re trying to make.

Test the slides in a variety of screen resolutions. You could be giving the pitch with a state of the art monitor or a decades old projector. Think about people who may be a distance from the screen. There’s often no way of knowing in advance, so prepare for all eventualities (including back up paper copies!)

Rehearsals and run-throughs

We always allow time for practice. You’ll find that until you read through the slides, you have no idea how the pitch is going to sound. It’s also important to test out the words you’re saying so you can avoid any difficult phrasing and make sure the pitch flows.

Arrange to have a group to practice in front of, who can comment and give feedback. If you’re not used to presenting, it’s good to practice in front of large groups so you can try out the techniques you plan to use for giving the talk. Practice making eye contact with people, and reading the notes with a human voice so you don’t sound like you’re reading verbatim. Make sure you are aware of your pace - you need to speak clearly and slowly. Try not to rush, and take regular pauses between sentences or points.

Practice the hand-overs between different presenters so these are natural and don’t disrupt the flow. Decide in advance who is doing the introductions for each section so we look like a unified team.

Feedback from the wider team is a really important part of finalising the pitch, so embrace suggestions. For those providing feedback, remember to be constructive.

Think about answers to any questions you may be asked that relate to your slides. If you foresee questions that you may have trouble answering, check with the others on the pitch team.

On the day

Before you leave home, remember to check if you need photo ID—some government departments will require it.

When it comes to appearance, smart casual is a good idea. No need for suits, but definitely don’t turn up in shorts and flip-flops. Overly casual dress has been known to be noticed!

Although many of our clients have guest wifi, don’t assume it will be reliable. Take along the dxw mifi/dongle or a smartphone that you can tether from as backup. Make offline copies of pitch slides, either as PDFs, Keynote or whatever you’re comfortable presenting from. It’s a good idea to print out the speaker notes too, so we’re as well prepared as we can be. Leave plenty of time to organise print-outs so you’re not rushing them at the last minute.

Make sure you have an HDMI cable plus all standard monitor adapters so we can present from our own machines. Decide whose laptop you’ll be presenting from, and make sure it has plenty of battery.

Aim to arrive at least 30 minutes early. You can always take a stroll or have a coffee before the pitch rather than turning up flustered and on the back foot. We need to appear credible and confident so this will remove one source of stress on the day.

Doing the pitch

Help each other out during the set-up, make sure the slides display correctly, adjust the resolution and do whatever you need to do in advance.

Speak slowly and deliberately, don’t rush. Try and make eye contact with the panel. When you answer questions, politely check that the questioner is happy with the answer you’ve given.

It’s preferable to say that we’d prefer to not answer a tricky on-the-spot question– and explain why – rather than try and bluff an answer.

Most of all, relax, smile and be calm—remember that with all the preparation that’s gone in, you’re master of the brief and as long as you speak slowly, in measured terms, this will come across.

If we don’t win

Obviously, we want to win every pitch, but there will be many times when the best pitch doesn’t win the work. It’s important to realise that no-one has, or can have, a 100% win rate. And it’s okay to be disappointed when things don’t go our way, especially after putting in so much work.

It’s important to review our performance afterwards, and be honest: was there anything in our control that we could have done differently that would have given us a better chance of winning? Get feedback from the client, in writing if possible and schedule a quick meeting with everyone involved with the client and the pitch to review it.