Book Review: “The Perfect Pitch” by John Steel

Rating: 4.5/5

An exploration of how to give the perfect presentation by the author of Truth, Lies and Advertising, How to Give the Perfect Pitch is a book that practices what it preaches. One of the first lessons Steel gives us is to only ever have one message in a pitch, and make it obvious from the start. This book’s sole purpose is to take apart the PowerPoint presentations we all know and hate, and show us how to put together and present a pitch that is meaningful.

Steel’s language is highly accessible and he draws heavily from his own past experience. Having pitched – often successfully – with some of the best-known advertising agencies in the world he definitely has plenty of this. Steel shows us the secrets of how he crafts the perfect presentation and uses of examples to illustrate his case. These extend from the defence case at the OJ Simpson trial to the UK’s bid to be the hosts of the 2012 Summer Olympic games, but all have a number of traits in common with each other.

Preparation is Key

Much of Steel’s advice is sensible, and sometimes seems obvious. But Steel takes things to lengths that we would not normally contemplate: he seems to spend days on each part of his preparation. Before reading this book I had thought that a whole working day spent in preparing a presentation would be plenty; I know that I would struggle to deliver a presentation that I would be proud of if I spent less time. But John Steel makes my, and I suspect almost all of our, efforts look trifling. He seems to spend weeks collecting data, days organising his presentation, more days preparing the visuals. And he never, ever uses PowerPoint templates. He also takes time when putting a pitch team together and wherever possible doesn’t use a salesman. The result of all this is that he wins pitches far more often than most people.

The only problem with this is time. Steel has always worked with major agencies, who can afford the time to put together presentations on an enormous scale. For those of us working for smaller advertising agencies, we can only dream of having the kind of time to dedicate to our proposals and pitches that Steel and his team have at their disposal.

The key takeaways from this book are probably:

  • Have one narrow focus
  • Tell them three times
  • Never alienate your audience by talking about yourself – if you can talk about them, so much the better
  • You can never do enough research, and the best way to research a company is by meeting with them and talking to them
  • Use as few slides as you can, with as few words on them as you can

As noted above, all of these seem fairly obvious once we have read them. But how many presentations have you sat through which meander around, go off on tangents, then have a ten bullet-point conclusion at the end? Or where the presenter talks about their work, their vision, or their acheivements and bored you silly by doing so? Or where the slide deck is eighty slides long, all of them crammed with bullets so you spend more team reading the slide than you do listening to the speaker? Even worse, how many of these presentations have you made?

Is The Perfect Pitch Worth Reading?

I definitely took a lot away from this book – and it has already started changing the way I approach presentations and pitches. If Steel’s book were to be combined with Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk from 2010 and Will Critchlow’s blog post on SEOMoz How to Create Presentations like Rand in corporate training courses our whole corporate culture of presentations could be changed. And definitely for the better.