How to Present Well--and Secure a Great Career

The Best Ways to Sell Your Ideas

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Sitting in L.A. morning traffic, I felt like an antelope being digested by a python. The painfully slow constriction finally deposited me at my client's doorstep about 10 seconds before the start of the new-business presentation. It was still early in my career, but I felt confident -- until I reached into the back seat for the portfolio case.

Wait. The portfolio case. ... Where's the frikkin' portfolio case?!! As the ice water flushed through my blood, I realized exactly where the portfolio case was: on the kitchen counter. Um, yeah. Let's move on.

Most of us spend a lot of time on the material in the presentation and very little on the presentation itself. But dumping your notes into PowerPoint is akin to serving Bobby Flay cuisine on paper plates.

For anyone working in an idea-based business, coming up with ideas doesn't mean squat if you can't sell them. We sell ideas in presentations; ultimately, presentations form the very building blocks of our careers.

In today's marketing environment of chaos and insecurity, you have to fortify your ideas to face the most hairy decision-making moments. Below, a few tips for turning between great hypothetical ideas and great produced ideas:

Think of the client's concerns before they do.
Ahead of the meeting, be brutally honest with yourself and your team in pinpointing the weak spots in your ideas. That way, you can address those if the client brings them up, earning their genuine consideration.

Be able to articulate every element of your recommendations.
Don't send your ideas out alone and defenseless into the meeting. Be able to clearly explain every element of your work and why you did things the way you did.

Have plan B ready if your work isn't approved.
Decide which elements of the work you're willing to compromise, and which ones you're not, so that you can pick your battles.

Help your audience support your ideas.
Give your client all the tools he or she needs to then turn around and sell the ideas internally, even when you're not present.

Remember to prioritize the relationship.
There is no single idea that's so good it should be valued more than the overall relationship. The reality is that there are more good ideas at your disposal these days than there are clients.

Don't wait to find out what's going wrong.
Try to rustle the pink elephant out of the bushes. Acknowledge the situation with a little diplomatic honesty: "I could be wrong, but by those veins throbbing in your temples, I'm sensing that this isn't working for you." Let them express concerns, then help solve them.

Finally, check the kitchen counter before you walk out the door.
(Just in case.)
Sally Hogshead is a freelance writer and a professional speaker for companies. Read more at
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