How to Give a Killer Concept Presentation
In the course of your freelance business you may be asked to do a concept presentation for your more complex projects. A concept presentation is a pre-development or planning phase where you show your client a prototype or draft of what you’re going to deliver.
If you’re a freelance web designer, a design concept presentation is often referred to as a “mockup.” If you’re a freelance writer, it’s often two or three pages of copy and layout work, or an annotated outline of a planned article or report.
A concept presentation is where you present your development work and decide a particular direction before launching into full-work mode. There are three distinct stages of a concept presentation and you can excel in each of them.
1. Choice: Offer your client several choices (but indicate and sell your preferred option).
Sometimes clients don’t know what they want and are asking you to give them creative direction. “Show us what you can do,” you might hear. Or, “Let’s see your ideas in action.”
If that’s the case, try developing three different concepts or ideas. Three may seem like an arbitrary number, but clients I’ve worked with seem to appreciate this number: it’s not too many options to be confusing or too few to make it seem like you’re a one-trick pony.
In general, it’s good to give clients enough options because tastes and preferences can be hard to predict. There are also numerous ways to complete a job for a particular set of specifications, whether it’s a logo design, newsletter, or marketing campaign. If you give clients a chance to choose what they want, you’ll make the process more fulfilling for them and hopefully less frustrating for you.
On the other hand, your client may be paying you to make the call, in which case they don’t want to see an array of options–just one solid pitch. The challenge with that is if they don’t like what you present–it’s back to the drawing board for you, and this can drag out the planning process and waste time. In this scenario, I recommend working in iterations, checking with clients throughout the development stage to assess if you’re going in the right direction.
2. Pitch: Sell your preferred concept to the client in the context of their needs.
When you showcase your work, especially if you’re presenting several options in a design concept presentation, you’re probably likely to get a reaction where your client will want to take some detail from one concept and combine it with another. Sometimes, this works well, especially if your client is very specific about what they want and don’t want. For other clients, however, their preferences may be vague. (“Oh, I’m not sure why, but this color combination just doesn’t work for me. It looks garish and boring at the same time…”)
This type of conversation can quickly get messy. Turn the tables by taking control: start by championing the version you think best meets the client’s needs. Show that shining example as if it were the best option for the client. If he or she is still unsure, come back with the alternatives.
How do you sell a concept? Never try to justify a project purely on your aesthetic and personal preferences. Justify a project in business terms. Your client’s terms. For example, you might say:
You mentioned that you wanted a report that was engaging and story-focused. Keeping that in mind, I decided to use this strategy…[then explain what you did]. By starting with first-person accounts in the Introduction, we’ve projected a human face onto this report, which is a key objective for your business presentation.
Even the most creative work for clients should always respect the client’s more practical objectives, even if they are mundane or unimaginative in your mind. This way, when responding to criticism, you can frame your counterarguments and justify a stylistic direction in terms of the client’s business needs. This will allow for a more constructive conversation in contrast to just saying, “Well, I think you’re wrong…”
3. Respond: Everyone’s a critic – how to respond to criticism.
Always listen to input and take note of all issues that your client raises. Challenge those comments that are just off-base or unjustified. Don’t be judgmental when responding to criticism, but respond by reframing the client’s points in terms of his or her business objectives.
You can respond by saying something like:
I see your point. However, if we try your idea, wouldn’t that fall under the category of a more conventional report? From our discussions, what you had your mind set on was a more narrative approach. I think my strategy, while unconventional, achieves that goal, makes for a more engaging read, and sets you apart from other companies. Let’s make your report stand out.
Agree to minor changes, but stand firm against off-base client criticism and refuse (to a point) to change elements that dilute the effectiveness of a work. Remember, you’re the expert–that’s why the client hired you.