The presentation style of Don Draper


The latest 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 tells 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 does’t know that is exactly what he does.

Don does a lot more than that, and anyone who wants to get better at presenting would be wise to watch how he does it 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 better and/or 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 – what it brings to the buyer. As a user experience designer, I know how important that is to success… Don “realized” this five years before I was born.

He acts spontaneously, reading the room

This is what puts the management at SCDP on edge – Don is a wild card, and he will go “off script” based on the response to how he sees things are going. He changes focus on the fly if he sees one point resonates stringer 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 if the client feels they have 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 idea that they “own” part of the idea, he knows that they will fight for it in those later meetings.

He’s positive

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 where he has to engage and sell the idea.

He (usually) hides disappointment

Don may see that the 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 that, as some (memorable) melt downs 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 words, and the story, that matters. The visuals are supporting that.

He know when to listen

He always provides “pause points” – opportunities for the client to contribute. He needs to give them a voice, and let them respond. He also knows that the lack of response is ALSO a response – 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 outlasts his welcome – he frames the pitch, tells the story, and finishes. He never belabors his point.

He’s confident

Don comes to the table knowing what he and his team has done is good, and doesn’t show weakness. He supports the idea 100%, even if he doesn’t believe in it fully himself.

There you are, the presentation style of Don Draper. If you do similar “pitches” in your job, hopefully these techniques can help you tell the story and close the deal.