A recent episode of Mad Men had a great exchange between Peggy Olsen and Don Draper, where she finally asks Don: “Teach me. Tell me how you do it.” Don responds in a bemused way, as Peggy gives him her take on how he pitches his ideas to clients:
“You say the tag line as if you just came up with it.”
“I do?” he asks, like he doesn’t know that it's exactly what he does.
Don does a lot more than delivering a tag line off the cuff, and any UX professional who wants to get better at presenting would be wise to observe how he does his thing and take some notes.
Here’s the presentation style of Don Draper. Pay attention.
He Stands Up
When Don wants to command a room, he stands—like a camper trying to scare off a bear, he makes himself big to impress and intimidate. It shows he’s in charge, he’s driving the conversation. When Don pitches while he is seated, he is at the same level of everyone—and if you pay attention, that is usually when the pitches don’t work.
He Tells Stories
It’s not about a concept, or a tag line—it’s about a story. It’s about how people use the product, how they need it to make their lives complete. It’s about making things better. Whether he is selling cold cream or cars, he’s telling a story about the experience of the product and what it brings to the buyer. As a user experience designer, I know how important this is to success … Don Draper “realized” it five years before I was born.
He Acts Spontaneously, Reading the Room
This is what puts the management at his firm on edge—Don is a wild card, and he will go off-script based on how he sees things going. He changes focus on the fly if he sees one point resonate stronger than another. He plays the room.
He Lets the Client Contribute
Don listens to the clients when they react, and when they contribute ideas he uses them, because he knows that if the client feels they’ve had input, they will fight for the idea on his (and the agency’s) behalf. Don knows that the pitch doesn’t end in the room—it continues in the client’s executive offices. By giving the client the feeling that they “own” part of the idea, he knows that they will fight for it in those later meetings.
He is usually smiling and maintaining eye contact with the client. He’s paying attention to his audience. He is present in the moment and he is completely focused on that moment when he has to engage and sell the idea.
He (Usually) Hides Disappointment
Don may see that a pitch didn’t work, and inside he may be infuriated that the client didn’t “get it,” but he doesn’t show it. He smiles, says "we’ll think about it some more,"" and shakes the client’s hand. Of course, he doesn’t always do just that, as some memorable meltdowns have shown us.
He Uses Visual Aids Appropriately, and Sparingly
He knows that words are the most powerful tools, and that any art or slides that are shown are about supporting the story, not replacing it. It’s the story that matters. The visuals simply support the story.
He Know When to Listen
He always provides “pause points”—opportunities for the client to contribute. As part of letting his clients contribute, he knows he needs to give them a voice and let them respond. He also knows that the lack of response is a response in and of itself—if they are disengaged, the pitch isn’t working.
He Chooses his Words Carefully
Don is measured in his speaking. He can use words as a hug or as a dagger, and is well aware of their power. He says the precise thing, because he is verbose in the best possible way.
He Finishes Quickly
He knows that people have narrow attention spans, so he never overstays his welcome. He frames the pitch, tells the story, and finishes, never belaboring his point.
Don comes to the table knowing that the work he and his team has done is good, and he doesn’t show weakness. He supports the pitch 100%, even if he doesn’t believe in it fully himself.
So there you have it, the presentation style of Don Draper. If you bring some of this swagger to your own pitches, hopefully you can tell your story with confidence and close the deal, Draper-style.
Photo of John Hamm as Don Draper courtesy AMC