Thursday, 16 February 2017

Reflections on a lecture by the BBC, creative innovation and entrepreneurialism, and the art of Pitching.

I've really enjoyed the lectures that the BBC have kindly given to the Master's group over the last few weeks, and these notes provide a review of the final session that we had on Wednesday, 15 February 2017. The lecture was delivered by Mr Dan Ramsden, Director And Head of Creative Experience at the BBC, supported by Tina Connolly, senior UX designer, and Laura Fletcher, a UX designer for "content discovery".

The lecture was entitled "Pitching", or "effective communication and the art of being generous and selfish"!

I liked the style of Dan's delivery of the presentation almost immediately, as I appreciated the first important step of any presentation, which is to get attention!
In his words, the whole experience of a good performance is to "sell the dream, but deliver reality", clearly an example of his vast expertise in the marketing and advertising industry.

The lecture and presentation was split into three sections, which comprised of;
1) understand your audience.
2) have a clear and concise structure.
3) tips of the trade.

In a nutshell and something quite near to my own heart, Dan was saying that before any presentation, "we need to create a plan!" He was saying, "Make all your messages through the presentation, sticky ones", in other words, messages should be easy to remember by the audience, and easy for them to buy into, both logically and emotionally.

Section 1 a) - Consider an approach through Generosity. Focus on the audience.

- As I think McLuhan once said, "the medium is the message" (Marshall McLuhan, 1964, in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man).

  • Whenever delivering a message, be "outcome oriented". In other words, don't bury a message in reams of text, but make it clear and explicit, have clear objectives or actions that are easy to find.
  • I also like the phrase "you can win minds with logic, and hearts with emotion".
  • Therefore, when considering the delivery of the key message, it is vital to understand the audience to define whether the message is either emotional or logical. Both of these have different methods of delivery. What outcome do you want to achieve?
  • If you're winning hearts, use emotional persuasion, tug at heartstrings, or stroke someone's ego.
  • If you're winning minds, use logic and especially evidence to convince your audience.
An overview of some audience centred techniques was then provided, which relies on the idea of people falling into personality profile types. Choose the correct type of language that suits a particular personality or profile type. For example;
  • Emotive people are usually image orientated. They like change, are usually assertive and sociable.
  • People who fall into the directive category, are usually goal driven, dominant, opinionated, perhaps somewhat intense as they have a keen focus.
  • Reflective personality types tend to be thoughtful, considered and cooperative, but low in sociability; They tend to love the detail.
  • And finally, the supportive personality type tend not to like change; They are loyal, steady, reliable and considerate.
The audience impacts on the message! It's, therefore, vital to work out what personality type they might be, in plenty of time before a presentation commences. How the audience decodes, a presentation, therefore, will affect the outcome.

From my own experience, however, although it is in support of this concept outlined above, in the real world what is important is how we tailored the presentation to each of the audience participants. It is this blend of our interactions, which makes a general approach to satisfy each of the personality types present. Nevertheless, it is just as important, if not more so, to fully understand who the decision-makers are within an audience to ensure that the "pitch" is properly directed to them, and yet also gets the corporate support from the others.

1b) The selfish aim; 

In this section of the lecture, Dan was suggesting that instead of just giving a series of words to make up a full presentation, state your intent early!

  • Open the conversation by saying something like "to give you an understanding of…"
  • Or perhaps start with "to convince or to persuade you that… XYZ".
  • Be explicit in what you want, or alternatively what you want your audience to do, or to believe, or to go away to do, as early as possible in the delivery.

I remembered here, some of the beautiful words of a previous boss of mine, the legendary Scott McNeely, who used also use the phrase "Get all the wood behind the arrow"!

In other words, focus on the vital points you want to get across. Invite the audience to engage by asking "what questions would you like me to address to achieve the aim?"

Which are supported by bullet points, like feathers on the quiver of the arrow, with phrases like "how will you deliver the vital point actually?"
  • Establish early in the conversation what your "vital" point are.
  • Why are these critical to you?
  • What resources do you need to achieve them, or deliver them?
  • What will happen if you don't do this or that?
  • And finally, how will this make life better (for you, for them et cetera)?
  • Give your messages through questions to address each of the quadrants of the personality types.
So, -
In thinking about "my" audience, asking myself three fundamental selfish questions;
1) why am I bothering?
2) whom I talking to anyway (can they make a difference)?
3) what do I want them to do after this meeting/presentation?

An exercise that has been used with some success by Dan is what he calls the squid method. "Sequential questions and input diagram".

We were then divided into our groups to take forward some of the ideas that have begun to emerge in response to this whole module. The outcome of the "squid" session have been documented elsewhere, as it is not important in the flow of this blog. Nevertheless, it was a useful exercise and helped to establish and drill down each of the merits of our ideas.

In brief, the "squid" method helps to drill down, similar to the "five whys" method, and attempts to expose;
  • what are the features that a client is looking for?
  • How have we responded/done that?
  • Why is that right for the client? What are the benefits, not only for the customer but also to ourselves?
Ultimately what we uncover is what are the unique selling points that we need to address as part of our presentation.

Instead of thinking about the client's brief and then coming up with an idea, think about the idea again and check that it fits with the brief.
  • How are we going to communicate this to the client through the "pitch" (the what, versus the how)?
Some of the ideas that Dan was using were very similar to a simple method that I have been using throughout my professional career, which is based on AIDA, attention, interest, desire and action. The simple graph was shown as follows;

Start, introduction, the body of the presentation, conclusion.

The objective is to reignite attention at the end of the presentation to get action!

I recognised that this is similar to the classic idea of the narrative arc. A further graph was shown which I particularly liked that had the stages of:

exposition, inciting incident, rising action, crisis, climax, denouement, and ending.

Section 2: Structure;

"Introductions and attention grabbers."
choose one approach to grab attention right from the start of the presentation, which can be either
1) unexpected
2) emotional,
3) simple.

Or alternatively this could be through;
1) a quotation by famous author or celebrity.
2) a declarative statement such as "what's in it for me?"
3) a controversy,
4) humour or drama to induce an emotional mode.

Many of these ideas been taken from an advertising book called "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath, (2008),"Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath, (Publisher: Arrow (7 Feb. 2008), who also have a web presence and website at

The Oxford English Dictionary's new word of the year is "post-truth".

2) again thinking about people, people are great at visualising things. Therefore consider, what is the pain that you are going to come to cure with your solution? And also, who will you fix with your solution?

Tell your audience about a problem, something that they can readily recognise and identify with, and turn your own problem into an issue for them; Capture their emotional hearts by tugging at their metaphorical heartstrings.

Relate your conversation to diverse audiences by selecting real or imaginary people who are different, but who the audience can relate to on a personal level.

3) Building a case
Consider the classical Greek rhetorical devices;
  • Bring your facts to life.
  • Statistics and evidence win a logical mind.
Compare statistics and if necessary exaggerate, by making big numbers digestible by placing them and juxtaposing them in context with something familiar and reducing problems down further and further, e.g. Reductio ad absurdum.
  • Use vivid language to build a mental picture.
  • Use visual linking to metaphors through props and images.
  • Create these analogies and metaphors by making hooks to get above the topic or issue, by process of abstraction.
  • Consider the use of third parties; that provides evidence of success, case histories validation, and credibility.
4) Convince!
  • Use rhetorical questions. "Who doesn't love a rhetorical question?"
  • Recap - Through the presentation, especially to if it is a long one, to give some space to the audience to allow them to think again.
  • Use reiteration. Create a series, as a streamed reiteration, list the issues out.
  • Use triples or the rules of three; human beings seem to have an ability to put things together in threes. Exploit this behavioural characteristic.
5) Closing.
  • Never forget to ask what is next?
  • Build confidence around your product or idea by including at least one of these themes as your final slide; 
    • a list of short milestones; 
    • some testimonials; 
    • or a specific question 
    • e.g. "what's next?"


  • Building a good pitch or presentation can often be quite daunting, particularly if it's felt that the outcome may be subjective.
  • With a clear structure to a pitch or presentation, the tools that have been provided today will help a great deal in bringing confidence not only to a future audience but also to the presenter.
  • Many of the ideas that Dan presented in this lecture can be applied in one-to-one discussions with people, and it should not be forgotten that critical conversations, if structured and planned beforehand can equally result in your own individual desired outcomes.
In my own case, I often fail to think carefully about my desired results before engaging in conversations, and I particularly like the idea of considering your own selfish aims (perhaps this itself is controversial?), before making a pitch.


  • Lecture bt Dan Ramsden of the BBC, University of Huddersfield, 15th February 2017.
  • Heath, C & D, "Made to Stick" (7 Feb. 2008), Arrow, London. ("Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath, (Publisher: Arrow (7 Feb. 2008),)
  • See also for a great resource on Decision Making, Change Management and "Sticky Ideas".

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