Hitting the Mark with Presentations in the Digital Age: Part One

Many of us have seen this scenario at many an industry conference: Two thought leaders with starkly different approaches toward B2B communications present at a conference, perhaps one after another.

One makes a basic presentation with PowerPoint slides that contain quotes and a few charts. It may also contain an occasional cartoon from the New Yorker magazine to provide comic relief and illustrate a point.

The second presenter appears to have been teleported from a TED Talk. A Bluetooth microphone orbits their jaw. Their slides include video and digital sound. Audience members are polled on questions during the presentation, which are displayed on the screen in real time. In fact, their presentation may even be streamed to an audience in another city, or possibly around the world.

One presenter may dazzle. Another may be ho-hum. However, it’s not necessarily clear which one is which. The ultimate test is whether they connect with the intended audience on an emotional level.

It may be best to explore how we wound up at this intersection between the present and future by first looking at the past. That may be done by discussing the very best television on business-to-business communications: “Mad Men.”

“Mad Men” was about the America of the 1960s as seen through the goings-on of a New York advertising firm. Much of its drama occurred in the small conference room of the Sterling Cooper agency. There, pitches were routinely made to capture new accounts or retain existing ones. Sometimes  conventional storyboards were used, sometimes the cutting-edge technologies of the era.

The emotional tenor of “Mad Men” was often set by these pitches as the agency’s creative and account managers try to move to the” next level” by getting business with a national company that produces either automobiles or foodstuffs. The importance of family (Popsicle), depravity (Jaguar) and dark truths (Hershey’s chocolate) were among the topics explored through these pitches.

However, two B2B communications in “Mad Men” stick out. One occurs in the episode “Carousel,” the other in the episode “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency.” In the former, ad whiz Don Draper convinces executives from Kodak to name its new consumer color slide projector the Carousel by using the device to show slides of him in affectionate moments with his family. Another member of the ad agency who is estranged from his wife has to leave the room, having been overcome with emotion. In the latter, Sterling Cooper has merged with a British ad agency. One of its partners is inadvertently omitted from the new organizational chart which is being projected on an overhead projector. A lackey pens his name in as the presentation drones on. Both chapters of “Mad Men” are highly emotional for various reasons, but they stay with the viewer for a particular reason: Emotionality through human vulnerability.

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