Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Theo Paphitis highlights the advantages of a Columbo approach to revealing an idea rather than an ‘Agatha’

If you are pitching a big idea – say a creative solution for a PR or advertising campaign, a new piece of packaging, whatever, there are broadly two routes you can take.

The first, whereby you reveal the idea up front and then go into a detailed explanation of how you came up with the concept is sometimes referred to as the ‘Columbo’ approach.  The old TV detective series used to start by showing us the crime, then Lt Columbo arrived and gradually solved what we already knew. 

The alternative is an ‘Agatha’ approach, in which you hold back on the actual revelation while you tell the audience the ins and outs of how you decided on what they are about to see.  That, of course, is the way Agatha Christie constructed her murder mysteries – no one knew who committed the offence until the very last page.

It is important to say that there is no right or wrong way to do this, but experience has taught me that a ‘Columbo’ is usually best.  The main reason is that your audience has something to tangible to focus on and you spend the maximum amount of time discussing what you have come to talk about rather than, effectively, teasing your audience.

There was a good example of this principle in action on a recent edition of the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.  An entrepreneur entered the den with his invention swathed in a big black curtain.  He told the Dragons how much time and money he had invested in the project; he stressed how passionate he was about it; and he outlined various early endorsements he had received.  The Dragons, meanwhile, still had no idea what his invention actually was and Theo Paphitis indicated his frustration, saying: “It had better be good”!  Paphitis subsequently chose not to invest.

You should certainly show excitement for your big idea and a touch of drama can help – as long as you have considered carefully in advance whether this particular audience is likely to be suitably responsive. There is, however, a further fundamental problem with the Agatha approach in that your audience needs to love your idea instantly.  If you have already given it the ‘full sell’ prior to the reveal you will be forced to ‘back pedal’ if required to take on board their objections.  With a Columbo reveal you have the opportunity to woo them gradually, even making them feel they are part of the decision. Then, if all is going well, you can hold back one final gem, maybe announcing it in the classic Columbo style that was later adopted by Steve Jobs: “One more thing…”.  What better way to close the deal? 

         Extracted and adapted from Nick Fitzherbert's book
         'Presentation Magic', published by Marshall Cavendish

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