Computer charged and slide deck at the ready. Lipgloss applied and checked. Pen and notebook positioned for frantic jots of notes. That's right, its presentation time. I love client presentation day, and you should too.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I've had some tricky client presentations over the years. I gave it my first go just two weeks after graduating, expecting to be presenting in front of just one person I knew fairly well… turns out I was the star of the show for an entire city board. Luckily, those nerve-wracking moments became learning experiences. Here are my tips for giving presentations that will leave both you and the client satisfied with clear steps to move forward:
If you have worked in the creative field, you know the long walk on the balance beam of developing the best solution for your client. What they want is knotted up in individual likes/dislikes, what they already have, what their competitors have, and what they saw last week on Instagram that they thought was clever. These ideas and suggestions are not killing your project — rather, they can be the secret sauce to the best solution when combined with your team’s ideas, knowledge, and skills. Giving the space for your client to breathe out ideas and suggestions allows you the opportunity to flesh out the best direction of the project.
One of my favorite professors gave us pop presentations rather than pop quizzes. Yes, it was terrifying at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday as a young sleep-deprived student. However, during those classes, we learned to clearly articulate the reasons behind the opinions we had. “Because I like it” or “I don't know, I just do” were not solid reasons for an opinion. The good news for designers is you do have opinions founded on knowledge of design principles, art history, current trends, color psychology, and typography. This is where you get to use this knowledge. Take note of why you took the steps you did during the design process. Maybe you gave a lot of negative space in one solution because — at the initial meeting — the client asked for a clean, open, hopeful website. Showcase how you listened to the client and translated it into the designs.
At the end of the day, your work isn’t for you. It’s for the client. Unless you have pointy ears and answer to Spok, you carry your personal feelings and opinions right along with your professional expertise. Be aware when you are getting irritated in the conversation and focus on why you are reacting this way. Recognize the client isn't against you — they are playing on your team with you. You may not like the client logo or the primary color they put everywhere on their site, but those choices are not yours to decide. Humble your opinions and recognize your reactions so you are more open to the client and collaboration.
Have you hosted a large dinner party lately? Let’s say 15 people are coming next Thursday. Whatcha making? Should you make lasagna? But then Jane has a gluten allergy and Joe doesn't like garlic. Maybe you could make a roast and have a few sides. What sides? Should you make a cake even though everyone is obsessed with a healthy lifestyle? (Answer yes, always say yes to cake).
The amount of small choices you need to make for a simple dinner with friends is a lot. Now think about how many choices and questions the client is facing with your project… and they don't know how to cook. Design is iterative — by nature, it’s a constant process of forming and reforming. If a client is getting too executional, understand that it’s probably because it’s easier for them to give feedback that way. Try to ask questions to understand the “why.” Reassure them that it’s your job to figure out the “how” later.
Assuming that your client is understanding what you’re talking about can be fatal to a project. It can easily lead to frustration, miscommunication, and destruction as the project moves forward. Part of successful meetings lies in making the presentation itself easy to understand. You need to figure out how to communicate with your client and your client’s audience. I may understand web design lingo, but Gary, who’s an expert at selling garage door openers, may hear complete gibberish. Make sure your meaning doesn’t get lost in translation. Use metaphors, stories, and common language. That means being able to talk through your jargon. It also means understanding the client’s lingo, too.
Presenting to the client is not the “bridge out” on the road you were going down. Rather, it’s a four way stop that allows you to choose the direction of the project that leads to the best possible outcome. Client meetings are opportunities for growth, collaboration, and innovation. Sure, they may end with a few more edits and asks on your project — but those aren't impeding you. They’re feeding the creative possibilities.
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