Fuel INjected IN-house: Idea Algebra – Secret formulas for presentation perfection

Showing ideas – how many and what order?

by Sam Harrison

In my seminars on selling ideas, questions always arise about how many options should be presented to decision makers.

The answer, of course, greatly depends on the idea and the client. Some problems deserve more potential solutions; some decision makers demand more than one alternative.

When writing IdeaSelling, I asked a number of people who consistently sell ideas how many choices they prefer presenting. Here are a few answers:

“It depends on the stage of the idea,” says Trish Berrong, creative director at Hallmark Cards. “Maybe a half-dozen early in the process, one to three when it’s call time.”

“Usually two or three,” says David Schimmel, founder of And Partners.

“Three seems to be the magic number,” says Lisa Maulhardt, partner at Stone Yamashita. “Something resonates with people’s memories of fairy tales when they get three options to choose from – as in ‘This one’s juuuuuust right.’”

The follow-up to “How many choices?” is usually “In what order should the choices be presented?”

Here’s what idea-sellers said:

“It varies,” said Hallmark’s Berrong, “mostly by how involved the piece is.”

“I always tell them the order before I start showing so they’re not wondering what we’re up to,” says Jeff Long, creative director at Digital Kitchen. “This contributes to the overall honesty of the presentation. I’ll say something like, ‘We have a set of solutions to show you – we like some more than others, but we’re comfortable with everything we’ll show.’”

And Don McNeill, Digital Kitchen’s president, adds: “First I show them what they ask for, then the safest, then our preferred recommendation.”

McNeill’s pitching strategy closely aligns with that of Paul Arden, author and advertising creative director. “First show them what they want,” Arden said. “Then show them what you want them to have.”

Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was released in May by HOW Books. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.

One thought on “Fuel INjected IN-house: Idea Algebra – Secret formulas for presentation perfection

  1. Ron Dayka

    no more than three! citibank…was our client. when i took over the account, we were working 3 months in advance for a simple newsletter…changes and changes and more changes. reshoots, new photography. 2 issues and i reduced it to 3 weeks, no changes. when i started my own agency, you got one idea, and we built off that.