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After the project research, brainstorming sessions, thumbnails, rough layouts and such you’ve arrived at what you believe are, say, three solid solutions to your client’s quandary. It’s time for show and tell. The design presentation, when handled correctly, can cement your relationship with your client and have them doing the happy dance.

Blow it and you can easily find yourself doing a myriad of revisions or worse. Worse would be your client saying, “Well … um … thanks for the layouts, but we feel it would be best to hire another designer/firm to finish things up. Have a nice day.”

Preparing for the Design Presentation

Preparation for the design presentation begins long before ever putting finger to mouse or pencil to paper. Ideally, it started with your project proposal. That may have been presented during the new business presentation or after the client signed on and gave you your first challenge. Within your proposal was your understanding of the project scope, goals, audience, etc. But, during that meeting whether by phone or email for a remote client or having some face time with a local one, hopefully you addressed expectations.

It’s imperative to have an accurate and thorough understanding about what the client expects. Without it, odds are, you’ll be shooting in the dark. You may find what you think the client expects isn’t what they’re thinking. Don’t leave this to guesses or chance. Ask. Be specific. Be crystal clear. It’s pretty depressing to learn at the design presentation that what you’re showing and the way you’re showing it is off target. Even more depressing is losing your client’s trust in your ability to deliver. When trust goes out the window it’s awfully tough to get it back, if you ever can.

During the design process, consider what you’re doing and why. Anticipate questions that may come up. “Why is that blue?,” “Why did you go with Caslon 540?,” I don’t get the purpose of that photo.” Anticipating possible questions and concerns before the presentation will help you address them with confidence during the presentation and help to build a compelling, convincing case for your designs.

Form Follows Function

How will you present your design solutions? This usually isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. For remote clients, it may make sense to email pdfs or post your designs to a secure client area on your site. For local client’s, mounting printouts to boards may work best. This is one of those expectation things, again. It’s a good idea to ask your client how they would prefer to see layouts. For example, let’s say your client is out of your area and also a phone person who hates email. Although I find that hard to believe in this day and age, it can happen. Shipping layouts overnight or by courier and following up with a phone meeting might make sense.

Some projects scream for 3-D mockups/prototypes. Packaging comes to mind. For Web projects, showing your work in a browser makes sense. It’s also wrought with danger. Remember that guy, Murphy, from the previous article in this series? He’s still alive and well and just waiting to trip up your browser-based show and tell session. Network problems, slow connections, incompatibility issues and the like happen all too often. I prefer to show Web stuff as printouts mounted to boards. I usually pop them into a screenshot of a browser window so the client can see how the browser chrome (toolbars, scrollbars, etc.) affects the overall designs.

There’s another reason I prefer to show work on boards. It’s the sense of ownership my client gets from holding something in their hands, or at least looking at something physical. It tends to make things more real for them. But, how you handle things is up to you. Just be sure your client is on board (no pun intended) with your method.

Razzle Dazzle ‘Em

In many ways presentations are like show biz. As such, a bit of razzle dazzle showmanship can be in order. In addition, be confident in your work and show some enthusiasm. It’s contagious.

razzle dazzle

Don’t simply go into a conference room, yank your designs out of a case and say, “Well, here ya go.” Before the big reveal, recap the project goals, build some anticipation and verve.

Here’s a little story. I once worked for a design firm that had a theater contained within their office building. No joke. It was a fully functional theater just like a movie house, albeit without the snack bar and popcorn.

We had been feverously working on a line of retail packaging and an aisle display for a client. The client team arrived at the office on show day and was ushered into the theater. The lights went low. The curtain opened and the spotlights came on, bathing our display mock up and package designs in a warm glow while slowly rotating on a stand center stage. As the curtain opened, Also Sprach Zarathustra, composed by Richard Strauss (the theme music from Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey) was pumped through the sound system.

A little over the top? Probably. Nonetheless, it was effective and the client bought the design work hook, line and sinker, sans revisions. That’s the power of well thought out showmanship. If you can find ways to leave your client with their jaw dropped after seeing your presentation, you’ll not only have a delighted client, I can pretty much guarantee they’ll be saying to everybody, “Holy smokes! You should have seen the presentation my design group put on. It was amazing!”

The Rules of Engagement

If you read my previous two articles on presentation tips for graphic designers, The Employment Interview and The New Business Presentation, all the same tips apply. Here are some:

• Be enthusiastic.
• Be completely convinced of the value you bring to the table.
• Remember that you’re not selling graphic design. You’re selling a solution to your client’s problem that’s loaded with benefits.
• Be prepared to clearly communicate your strategy and design decisions.
• Anticipate and prepare for questions and concerns.
• Be polite and respectful.
• Avoid trade jargon, unless your client happens to be in the trade.
• Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
• Have a backup strategy in place if things go south.
• Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them.
• Address two or three key points early on in the presentation. Then recap at the end.
• Speak clearly.
• Dress professionally, but comfortably.
• Strive for stunning professionalism throughout the entire presentation experience.

When it comes to presentations, you might encounter a single person or a larger group, depending on the size and structure of your client’s business. Speaking to a solitary person is pretty easy. It’s simply a conversation. Most of us are comfortable with doing that. It’s the larger groups that can induce knee-knocking anxiety, if not outright blind fear, for some.

If that sounds like you, you’re hardly alone. Public speaking is ahead of death on the stressful things to do list. Consider that statistic for a moment. People would rather be pushing up daisies than speak in front of a group.

Why is that? Mostly it’s the fear of being ridiculed, making a fool of one’s self and rejection. Chill out. It’s really not that tough. Here are a few tips to help quell your fear.

• When rehearsing, consider taping yourself (video, audio or both).
• Know your material inside out and backwards. Knowing your topic will give credence and authority to your words.
• Arrive early and get to know the room, audio visual equipment and the overall lay of the land.
• Know the audience. Greet folks as they arrive. You’ll gain a sense of speaking to people you know.
• Before your presentation, relax. Take a few deep breaths.
• When speaking, look slightly above your audience’s heads and at the back wall. Most, if any, won’t notice. It will appear as if you’re speaking directly to them.
• You may pick out a few people and address your talk primarily to them. But, try to move your direction of focus at least occasionally so others don’t feel left out.
• Similarly, try to address some folks eye-to-eye, if possible. Don’t focus on your notes or worse, the floor. Making eye contact enhances believability. Speaking to the floor doesn’t.
• Toss in a bit of humor, but be careful. What’s funny to one isn’t to another.
• Pace yourself. An indicator of nervousness is speaking too fast.
• Consider joining Toastmasters. Toastmasters International is an organization where you can hone your speaking skills without the threat of airborne tomatoes.

And there you have it. Follow the tips and suggestions within this series and you’ll soon find yourself presenting like a seasoned pro.

What about you? Do you have any tips, tricks or design presentation experiences you can share? Success stories are an encouragement to others. A few horror stories are good, too. We’ve all been there.