Client Presentation Tips for Designers
Presenting designs to clients is a tricky part of the project cycle. You need to convince the client that your vision is worth following, and there’s a lot at stake. On one side of the outcome spectrum lies helpful feedback and renewed motivation; on the other side there are endless design iterations and versioning nightmares. (Ever named a file HomepageFinalForRealThisTimeVersion7.psd?) So how do you consistently land yourself on the better side of the project? The answer is simple: good communication. Moving a project forward without getting bitten later hinges on the ability to state your position clearly as well as listen to feedback from others. Here are some presentation tips that will improve your communication skills and make the design presentation a less harrowing experience.
Before the presentation
Establish expectations. A successful pitch often begins long before the design presentation – by the time you bring the client and designer together, email or telephone correspondence have already set the mood in the room. If someone else is managing client relations for you make sure everyone on the project including the client is clear on the deliverables. Get it written down. In all cases ensure that the client’s expectations are no different from what you plan to deliver.
Do most of your work before the presentation. The bulk of difficult design work happens at the beginning of a project. Be prepared to put in enough time and effort to back up the design decisions you will be talking about at your presentation. Look at your client’s competitors; research the available imagery, type, or technology; think about how design decisions you make now could flow through the rest of the project. Anticipate questions the client might have and find the answers before they’ve asked, before they even know they have a question. Doing your homework and being proactive lends credence to your expertise, and building a relationship of mutual regard with your clients will help you push through ideas they might be reluctant to try.
Determine how you will deliver. Whether print or interactive design, the way you show a client your ideas will influence their opinion of the design itself. There are many methods to reveal your work, from designing in a browser to creating boards, but be sure to give this some thought. It is one of the things that you can consider and remove from your plate early on.
Manage your time. The best way to avoid large problems is to cut small problems off at their source. Time-management is one such potential problem area, and a common one. Understandably, the unpredictable nature of creative process makes projecting when things will happen a challenge. There are however, many tips for creatives that can help you manage your time effectively.
Expect changes. Go into the presentation with the expectation of compromising and choosing your battles. Designs do not magically manifest themselves as the final product without some kind of change, especially in interactive work. Even in the best client-designer-relationship some adjustment will happen for a wide variety of reasons (unavailable content, challenging timelines, politics). Try to relax a smidge, be realistic, see the forest for the trees, and accept some change as a given. In an environment of collaboration change is only natural.
During the presentation
The way you talk about your design will contribute to the client’s impression of your work. For example, if you do not come across as confident the client may believe (whether consciously or otherwise) that you are not capable, and it’s difficult to regain trust once it’s lost. For this reason it is a good idea to return to the basics of effective communication and practice them until they come as naturally to you as breathing.
- Speak clearly. Clarity and simplicity show your client respect. It tells them you’ve thought the matter over and believe in their ability to understand what you are saying. Speak loudly, speak confidently, and don’t mumble.
- Use your audience’s language. If you are presenting to someone who is comfortable with design terms, by all means, geek out over typography. But most of the time you will need to watch for subtle signals that your client isn’t following – blank stares, pauses, irrelevant comments or questions. Try to suss out which vocabulary they are comfortable using by listening carefully to the way they speak. Make yourself a more effective presenter by relating your work to different perspectives, ie. learn how to talk about business goals as well as high concept design principles.
- Look people in the eyes. Showing that you are genuine and passionate about what you are saying has a contagious effect. Other people on the project will feel only as excited and as confident in your work as you are.
- Don’t interrupt. If someone else is speaking let them finish. Courtesy goes a long way.
- Listen. Truly try to understand others’ points of view. Consider your reaction and what it would mean to compromise – it could mean a slightly less ambitious design but a happier, more loyal client. Being open-minded will allow you to listen for feedback that could make your work even better.
- Don’t apologize unless you have something to apologize for. For example, there is no fault in asking questions – don’t be meek or apologetic for wanting to discuss a point in depth. Save your apologies for real blunders.
- Accept compliments and move on. Ego can be detrimental to team morale and hinder progress. Try to receive praise for good work with humility and gratefulness.
- Ask lots of questions. This is a great way to get the conversation flowing and better understand your client’s subjective preferences. Everyone is different. Dig deep and pry open vague or contradictory responses.
After the presentation
The follow-up correspondence may very well be the most important thing you do when you present a design. The simple act of expressing that you heard your client’s concerns at the meeting can cinch the final bit of their confidence as well as set the tone for ongoing communication.
In your follow-up contact, which is preferably written so that it can be referred back to, be sure to:
- Restate your key points: Did you say everything you wanted to say?
- Restate what you heard: Did the client have concerns you need to address?
- Clearly list the next steps.
- Allocate responsibility for each action item.
Always bracket a presentation with optimism whether that comes in the form of a compliment for the project team or is merely a statement of progress. Try very hard not to end a presentation until something positive has come from it – enthusiasm and good-nature will propel the project toward completion and make your working situation more enjoyable.
Practice, practice, practice
The ability to successfully present a design is a learned and practiced skill. The more you do it, the better you will be at it. On the same hand you can speed the learning process by making some of these suggested techniques central to your design process. For example, if you practice being organized throughout the entire project cycle, by labeling layers in your psds and taking meeting notes or keeping timelines up-to-date in your calendar, you will undoubtedly appear more organized in presentations. If you share designs early and often with your colleagues in order to build confidence in your work, you will come across as more confident in business presentations. Presenting designs is ultimately about good communication and it is this practice, as well as an awareness of who you are presenting to and what their needs are, that will make you an effective communicator.
Photo credit: Spence Photo on Flickr