Presentation Lessons from the Mad Men Board Room

This is a guest post from's Roger Kethcart. Mad MenThe most difficult part of an advertiser's job isn't coming up with game-changing, original ideas. That's what they do day in and day out. The most difficult part is selling those ideas to clients—or, the pitch.

Advertisers have to be on their A-game when pitching to a client. In a short period of time they must not only captivate the client, but also make their idea better than the competition's. Hit a home run and they win the client. Miss, and they are sent home with their tails between their legs.

Though the stakes may not always be as high, anyone who is presenting an idea to an audience is essentially doing what the ad men are: selling an idea to an audience. So whether you're presenting on financial upticks over the last fiscal quarter or pitching a new product line to potential investors, here are some lessons from the board room of AMC's Mad Men that you can apply to your own presentations.

Prepare for Your Presentation

Don Draper, the principal pitcher on Mad Men, likes to shoot off the cuff, spending little time preparing and practicing for his client presentations. In fact, he often forgets when he is even meeting with clients. But he, in his Hollywood enhanced glory, is the exception.

Most of us wouldn't see the same success if we followed in Don's footsteps when it comes to prep time. Most people in the real world agree that a presentation should be rehearsed several times, just not so many that it seems rehearsed. Having run through the presentation at least a few times helps to bring your ideas to the forefront of your consciousness, allowing you to remain focused and continue if there are any surprises or distractions.

It is also recommended that when dealing with nerves you don't resort to alcohol or drugs to combat them. It goes without saying these influencers can have a dramatically negative impact on your presentation. It might have flown in the 60s, but certainly wouldn’t be seen as professional today.

Speak Eloquently

Eloquence in speech is one of those things that is hard to define, but you know it when you hear it. The right words and the right timing working in harmony contribute to powerful, eloquent speech that is capable of moving an audience to tears or firing them up for action.

A great example of eloquent speech is observed when Don presents Kodak with a name pitch for their new slide projector. His presentation literally leaves the clients speechless, but in a good way. Even after he is done speaking, his profound words linger in their consciousness.

One will observe the specific timing and words chosen during the presentation. Don's words reach deep into the soul, drawing out memories of comforting nostalgia. And his rhythmic cadence with deliberate pauses allows his audience to "feel" what he's saying, giving them time to process and marinate the words.

In addition to Don's presentations, there are many other resources out there to help you speak more eloquently. A quick internet search will yield hundreds of helpful tips.

Have Confidence in Yourself

Confidence plays a big part in establishing credibility and gaining your audience's trust. Look confident and you'll quickly look like someone who knows what they're talking about. Speak with conviction and your audience will also have confidence in what you're saying.

This is also where body language comes into play. Stand up straight and look the audience in the eye and you'll radiate confidence. Your audience will find it more difficult to listen to you if you slouch and look down at your notes the whole time.

How well prepared you are and how well you "know" your idea can also impact how confident you are. Preparing for and facing objections and sticking by your words shows passion and helps to persuade those who would normally stand unwavering. Don does just this despite second thoughts from an unsure client in this clip.

While you may not frequent any ad industry board rooms any time soon, chances are you will have to give a presentation of your own at some point in time. Take it from Don and remember to prepare for your presentation and exude eloquence and confidence while giving it, and you'll be able to sell your ideas to any audience.