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6 things I learned about pitching ideas from Cannes Lions 2022

by | Aug 1, 2022

What do Patrick Stewart and Megan Thee Stallion have in common? 6 things I learned about pitching ideas from Cannes Lions 2022 by Claire Bridges, Founder, Now Go Create 

4 minute read

Here’s a cruel truth that many of us have learned the hard way: your big idea is only as good as your ability to pitch it.

I’ve just spent a week working at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, where I MCed the Debussy stage. I hosted 26 talks over four days, with more than 100 seasoned creative leaders and many celebrities taking to the stage.

They talked about all aspects of creativity, and I watched every single speaker – including:

  • The line-up from the United Nations Development Agency
  • Ogilvy’s Chief Creative Officer Liz Taylor
  • Vaynerchuck Founder Gary Vee
  • Actress Issa Rae
  • Pepsi marketer Todd Kaplan
  • Megan Thee Stallion
  • Activist Munroe Bergdorf
  • Paris Hilton
  • Patrick Stewart

I watched them all with barely suppressed glee (most of the time!). And I learned a lot.

My day job here at Now Go Create is to help people develop their creative skills, so it was fascinating to see how these big-name speakers and marketing pros put across their own ideas about creativity. It was also interesting to observe the methods they used to nail their talks.

Once back home, I set about working out how the rest of us could learn from what I’d seen.

The fact is, public speaking is something that most of us want to be better at. It’s widely known that a fear of public speaking can paralyse even the seemingly most confident of people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a fear of public speaking is the most common phobia – ahead of death, spiders and heights – and it affects about 73% of the population.

We fear being judged, being visibly nervous, being evaluated and being looked at closely by others.

I’ll never really know to what extent the various guests I met were on edge when they stepped out pitching ideas to the audience at the world-famous Palais des Festivals in Cannes.

But it’s no mean feat to capture the attention of 1,000 people waiting to hear their talks. So here are my top six takeaways – along with some tips to help us mere mortals put these key learnings into action.

1. Go ‘inside’ before you step outside

Everyone has nerves to some degree before they head out pitching ideas they are passionate about. it’s completely normal. I love the quote: “There is nothing wrong with stomach butterflies. You just have to get them to fly in formation!” – anon.

Nervousness is due to chemical processes in the body and the fight or flight hormone adrenaline which causes the sweaty palms, racing heartbeat and anxiety that are agonisingly familiar to so many.

So, what did the pros do differently?

Tellingly, I saw many of them take a quiet moment before going onstage to just connect with themselves, gather their thoughts and ground themselves in the moment. It seemed like they went ‘inside’ before they went outside.

If you want to see what this looks like in action watch this short film of J. Lo getting mentally prepared for the biggest gig of her life – the half time performance at the 2022 Superbowl.

In Cannes, actor and filmmaker David Bianchi took to the stage to perform spoken word poetry. His performance was electrifying and powerful, and energetically a stark contrast to his moment of quiet just before he stepped out onto the stage.

My top tip for beating the nerves when pitching ideas: Take five minutes on your own immediately before starting your speech. If this means that you have to excuse yourself to ‘nip to the bathroom’, then do it.

Breathe naturally but deeply, and ask yourself what impression you want to convey in the room – friendliness? Authority? Energy? Meditation apps like Calm have breathing bubbles (a slowly expanding and retracting bubble on the screen) that you can follow.

Bonus tip!: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Practice until it becomes muscle memory.

One hack for doing this is to record yourself on your phone and listen back. This helps make it conversational, and when it’s as good as it can be you can listen to it whilst you potter about at home. Do this before you video yourself, which is the next stage – it’s a lot less distracting. Thanks to Caroline Goyder’s book Gravitas, for this tip.

2. Harness the energy of the crowd

In the world of on-demand and ‘skip ads’, I think any speaker’s job has become harder in terms of maintaining attention for 30 mins. So get the audience on-board early. Whenever the presenters did this, it paid off.

My top tip for including the audience: Use the Slido app (or similar) to poll the crowd about your topic and submit questions. That way you can really speak to the interest in the room and make it feel personal. This tip will serve you well in smaller groups, too, and even a simple audience check-in such as “Are you following me so far?” can work wonders.

This ties directly into tip 3.

Bonus tip! Sounds weird, but try and look beyond the crowd and focus on the far corners of the room. By tapping into your peripheral vision, you can actually help to reduce anxiety – which is linked to tunnel vision. It basically gives you a wide-angle lens that helps you to see the broader picture.

I find that by focusing my energy outwards like this I become more aware of what’s going on in a room – whether that’s with a training group or on the Debussy stage. It’s as though you can see individual movements and faces amongst the crowd, whilst still seeing the whole. Try picturing a spot on the back wall of where you are working and then ‘opening your vision out’.

3. Think about your props when pitching ideas

I can’t ask this loudly enough:

“Do you really need PowerPoint?”

One of the standouts talks for me was with the force of nature that is Bozoma Saint John, former marketing ace at Netflix and Uber, among others.

Many of the speakers had big entourages helping to either calm their nerves or hype them up. Boz by name (boss by nature) arrived with just one other person. Cool as a cucumber, dressed to kill, she had a one-slide talk defending anyone’s right to ‘job hop’ if their role isn’t working for them, and to live life urgently.

I watched her from the wings in awe as she gave a one-woman presenting masterclass.

She invited the audience to get involved – telling us (I’m paraphrasing here): “I’m a PK – a preacher’s kid – and in church when we are feeling it, we say ‘preach’ to show our support.”

Let’s just say I had some intense hard relate moments and was shouting from the wings. Bozoma introduced the three things she wanted to share, providing anticipation and structure at the same time. Along with the whole audience, I left the room absolutely buzzed – no mean feat as it was the last talk of the day.

My top prop tip: One of the questions you must ask as a presenter is what the audience needs. It’s what I call ‘WIFM?’ (what’s in it for me?).

Think about what they might need to make the speech really engaging. Don’t expect them to just sit and listen to exactly what you want to tell them. If you’re talking about a soft drink, why not do an Oprah and give one to each member of the audience?

Bonus tip! Don’t overdo it. What you say, do and urge with your content is more important than a fancy deck – all of the things that Saint John said were relatable, actionable and from the heart. I’m still fangirling over her talk (her everything, actually).

4. Stories = emotional engagement

In the book Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo reveals that the most popular TED talks lead with emotional, then rational messaging – without fail. As you might expect from one of the world’s most seasoned actors, Patrick Stewart was super-comfortable on stage and clearly very much enjoyed his chat about ‘Building fandoms with the Star Trek franchise’.

Leaning on his relaxed, conversational style, he told a story that moved the audience in a way you could feel throughout the room.

He said:

There’s one letter I received that meant so much to me.

It was from an LAPD sergeant, and his letter began by writing about how much he’d always wanted to be a policeman, how he loved the job, he was so proud to be a sergeant in the LAPD, but there were days, he said, when I go home and what I have seen and experienced and witnessed in the world out there has been so discouraging and shocking and depressing.

When that happens, I go home, and I put on an episode of Star Trek, and I begin to believe in people again.”

My top story tip: Make us feel something. Become a story-hunter – search hard for the perfect anecdote about yourself, the brand or the topic that will make the audience feel the way you want them to. When you feel it, the audience feels it too – it’s infectious.

As writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou famously once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Check out our storytelling masterclass here. 

5. Be yourself

The incredible talk about Me Too in 2022, by the movement’s founder Tarana Burke and FCB Global’s Susan Credle felt like an intimate conversation between two friends that we just happened to be sitting in on.

Being comfortable and honest signals confidence to the audience. This can be a quiet integrity, which can be incredibly powerful. It doesn’t have to all be jazz hands and ‘volume up’ if that’s not you.

Paris Hilton surprised some commentators by appearing on the bill with Gary Vaynerchuck to talk about the Metaverse and NFT’s, something she was eloquent and super-knowledgeable about. But she seemed most in her element when the crowd begged her for selfies at the end of the talk.

My top ‘you do you’ tip:

It can be helpful to remember that it’s not all about you – this is directly linked to tip 2. It’s about the people in the room. What information can you give them that no one else can?

As presentation expert Nancy Duarte writes:

We should be bringing something of important value to our audience, they should not leave empty handed. There should be something useful and somewhat life-altering that we give them.”

6. Be memorable when pitching ideas

Booming thunder and lightning, smoke filling the auditorium, total darkness, booming bass. No, this wasn’t the start of a Metallica gig – it was the opening of the United Nation Development Agency and SAWA’s talk, ‘We had an asteroid, what’s your excuse?’.

The title was intriguing from the off. What then followed was an appearance of a 9ft velociraptor – Frankie the Dino – to talk about climate change. It was an unexpected and brilliantly creative way to engage in this hot (sorry!) topic.

Another unforgettable moment was the build-up to Megan Thee Stallion’s appearance – the audience were hyped up even before she stepped a stilettoed foot on the stage by playing her hits loud enough to boom boom, shake shake the room.

Co-conspirators Pepsi marketer Todd Kaplan and Luis Miguel Messianu, Alma DDB chairman, were also memorable for their ‘tango’ off-stage together to demonstrate the joy of a creative partnership done right!

Showtime tip: Being memorable starts before you speak – how are you going to set the tone in the room? I’ve been in meeting rooms with no natural light, peeling paint, ivy growing over the windows and broken furniture. It makes for a pretty terrible start.

Try and make your setting communicate to your audience: “You matter.”

Summing up

Cannes Lions 2022 was definitely a career high for me, but what I’ll never forget is feasting my eyes on all of the above-named speakers – plus Munroe Bergdorf, June Sarpong, Gary Vaynerchuk and a whole host of others – as they walked out into a packed theatre of complete strangers… and owned the room.

And this brings me back to the question at the start. What Patrick Stewart and Megan Thee Stallion (plus Paris Hilton and the rest of them) had in common on that stage was a perfect blend of:

  1. Knowing their subject inside out.
  2. Giving the audience a good dose of what they wanted (selfies, Star Trek and stories, and swagger).
  3. And being themselves.

Quick note: if your fear of public speaking is debilitating and you feel that you need more support (it can tip into social anxiety and phobia territory) then there is help. James Mallinson, Founder of Fix My Mind hypnotherapy has worked with thousands of people over the past decade on this exact topic, including CEO’s, musicians and actors. He says:

Everyone talks to themselves in their own head, all the time, and how people talk to themselves can and will have a profound effect on any performance.

Studies with athletes show those that talk negatively e.g. ‘I’m going to be rubbish’ can make that person very vulnerable and reduce performance. However, those who talk to themselves kindly, in the first person, with a simple, goal-orientated statement, such as ‘I’m in control and know what I’m talking about’, are far more likely to make themselves feel more resilient and  have a better outcome.

And making that newer voice sound confident, warm, and encouraging can shift your inner coach into action. Practicing this can have a significant impact on how you present and are perceived in meetings.”

Which brings us back to where we started – namely that your big idea will never get anywhere unless you’re able to present it. To sell it. To make others believe in your vision. I’ll leave the last word to Nancy Duarte, who sums up the importance of getting your idea ‘out there’:

“Deep inside of you,” she said, “every single one of you has the most powerful device known to man. And that’s an idea. So, a single idea, from the human mind, it could start a groundswell, it could be a flash point for a movement, and it can actually rewrite our future.

But an idea is powerless if it stays inside of you. If you never pull that idea out for others to contend with, it will die with you.”

Claire Bridges is Founder of creative training consultancy Now Go Create. As a Creative Director and educator, Claire is passionate about how creativity and innovation can mean the difference between a business thriving or stagnating. Claire hosted the Debussy Stage at Cannes Lions 2022. Find out more about how pitching ideas, storytelling and content development by checking out our How To Be A Pitch Ninja courses.

Copyright © ClaireBridges2022

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