Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And now, for my next act...

           When I first became a creative director at an advertising agency, I was quickly confronted with many presentations. I often had to present the ads and commercials, but also had to present the backgrounds, the strategies, and the rationales.

           I loved writing everything, but was scared to death of standing up, waiting for their attention, and then acting out every part in the script or ad. Always without prepared notes visible by the client --- who's often just across the table from you.

           Our president knew I was scared. One time he took me aside and joked, "Harvey, if you faint, be sure the ads are facing up".

           Over time, I got better at the mechanics of presenting, but remained semi-paralyzed every time I was called upon to speak. Until I watched Ron Hoff.

           Ron was the Senior Vice President who joined us at Foote Cone and Belding in Chicago from Ogilvy in New York. He actually thrived in client presentations and blossomed before your very eyes as he started speaking. I was in complete awe. He was working on a book about public speaking, entitled "I Can See You Naked". That title was Ron's secret for not being uptight: he tried to visualize the people in the audience with no clothes on.

           I asked Ron for a tip for me; I had a meeting with Hallmark coming up the next day, and wanted a way to get through it alive. "Just be jaunty" he told me. "Be jaunty. Enjoy yourself. You know everything to say, you know that you can answer any question. Act confident. Take it lightly."

           I did, and it went well. I jaunted through everything. The meeting was light, the discussion was calm, and the client loved the work. We were a big hit in Kansas City.

           From then on, jaunty was my style. I acted out the TV commercials with drama, and an occasional wink or eye-roll. I presented each ad as if I were personally delighted with the way it turned out.

          Ron Hoff was the reason. He wasn't very jaunty, though, the day I quit Foote Cone to become creative director of another agency. He was furious with me. Said I embarrassed him by quitting. But whether at a presentation or teaching in a college class, his gift remains with me.

          And I can see you naked.

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