The art of client presentations

How to bring magic into the meeting room


Here we are, this dream project is finally happening. The contract is signed and you did the best you could. In a few minutes, you will proudly show the result of your hard work.
40 minutes later… the client rejects your proposition.

The easy way would be to rant about that client “who knows nothing about design and how their comments were stupid and how the work was great”…

But before that, are you sure you’ve done your job correctly? And by that I don’t mean your design skills, but your selling-the-project skills.


Selling is part of the job

Quality of the work alone doesn’t mean that the project will sell itself. Our job as designers is about creating great things, but it’s also about selling them to the client.

We have to present the work, not just show it. Even the best project is meant to be rejected if it’s poorly sold.

Don’t you think it would be useless to be the best designer on the planet if you couldn’t convince anyone that your work is great?

Warning about this article: this is not a bullshit lesson, or how to sell ice to an Eskimo: we’ll acknowledge here that the work has been done properly and that we’re honest designers doing honest design!


Presenting is storytelling

In a presentation, you’re showing the result of why your client is paying you, but you’re also presenting them their new baby. It’s time for you to make it live! Don’t sell it the way you would sell a pair of socks: sell the whole universe around it.

Make it live

Tease your audience and make them experience the whole thing.

Let’s imagine you are designing a concert hall website. What this website needs to communicate is not only timetables, locations, wayfinding or agenda. This site is also meant to convey the feeling that people will have a good time with artists they like.

Don’t become a living cliché, but do more than just delivering visuals or working prototypes.

Explain your process

The client might not understand everything you show or every decision you’ve made. Not because he’s an idiot (he’s not), but because it’s not HIS job to think about all of this.

Explain your choices, your decisions and the path that led you there. You are not showing something coming from nowhere. You are showing an educated decision based on your analysis. This is the result of your professional expertise and years of experiences in the field.

Show the path you’ve travelled on

A former teacher of mine once told a class: “A good presentation is explaining what you will present; presenting it; summarizing what you’ve presented”.

At the beginning of the presentation, redefine the goal of this meeting. Explain why you’re there and what you’re going to do today. You’re in charge of this meeting, don’t forget it. A short “previously on…” will help put the mind of everyone back in the right tracks. Set up the place to show that what you’re going to present is based on mindful decisions and/or previous validations.

Don’t hesitate to explain the steps you went through. Show some of the initial concepts, relate to the research, the reflexions that brought you there.

At the end, do a quick summary. Bullet point style, no big deal but just highlighting the key points.

Explain why

Unveiling at once your entire work is cool when your name is Tony Stark. But by doing so, you’re going to confront your client to every single parameter at the same time: the ones he likes, the ones he requested, but also the ones he doesn’t understand or doesn’t like. This increases the chances of a bad global impression.

By going step by step, extracting the key elements out of their context, you’ll be able to explain each decision one by one. Extract and explain colors, fonts, composition, grid, etc.

Don’t put your audience to sleep with too much technical details (no one cares about Max Miedinger or the CSS framework you’ll be using), but you will quickly realize that it’s easier to get a global validation on the project if you show the value of each of your decisions.

A big “YES” will happen way more easily after a series of “okay”.

Don’t be afraid to show only one option

The value of your work is its quality, not its quantity.

Have you ever thought “I hope they don’t pick this one, it’s not as good as the others”?! If you think it’s a bad option, why show it?

Your job is to find the best solution to a given problem. Coming with 5 different options is a nice way of showing that you’ve worked a lot, but it doesn’t mean that every option was worth showing.

Not only you’ll give your client useless solutions, but you’ll also drastically increase the chances of ending up with “a mix between variant A and C but with the colors of variant D and the type from variant B”. Not something that we, designers, like to hear…

The choices you make are the result of your education and your personal experience. It’s not a subjective choice because “blue is your favorite color and that font is trendy right now”… It does not mean that you’ve worked on only one option, it means that you’ve picked the most appropriate one, the one you really believe in.

Remember that the client hired you to make the tough choices for him.

Learn to say no

You can say no to your client. “The client is always right” is an outdated motto. The client is not always right, you’re not either.

Your designer life improves greatly when you discover that you can refuse something to your client. It’s not an ego problem. You’re here to do the best work possible. So when you are asked to do something that will decrease the quality of the project, you can politely explain why it’s a bad idea and why you don’t want to do it.

Remember, your goal is not to please every desire of your client, nor it is to “have something nice to put on your portfolio”. Your goal is to make the project work for the audience.

“You’re not here to become the client’s friend” said Mike Monteiro. If you end up buddies, great! But the quality of the work is your main target.

On the other side: don’t become a pretentious ass. You’re the pro in your domain but your client is an expert in his field and he might know things about his business that you’ve never even thought of.

Be very demanding with yourself

Do you want to make sure your client knows he made the right decision by choosing to work with you and your expensive fees?! Quality of the work is still not the only parameter.

Having what is called a “creative job” is not an excuse to work like an amateur.

  • Be on time, always: show your client that you value his time as much as you value your own.
  • Proofread your texts: a stupid typo on the big screen can ruin the perception of your work… and your self esteem. (I’ve learned that the hard way by once presenting a logo where there was a typo on the company’s name. I can assure you that you do look like an idiot).
  • Take care of your appearance: of course you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s not a reason to look like you’ve just gotten out of bed. Learn to adapt to your audience. The “Bazinga” t-shirt is probably not the most appropriate outfit when visiting your suited up bank clients, but the suit and tie would be a bit overkill at the local skateboard store.

Whether you want it or not, you will be judged on those “details”. Better be prepared and spotless.

You’re here to solve problems

In the eighties, a young company called NeXT (founded by a guy named Steve Jobs) contacted famous designer Paul Rand to design their new logo. Here’s what he told Jobs:

“I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution — if you want options, talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how, and you use it or not, that’s up to you — you’re the client — but you pay me.”

I’ll agree with you that not everyone is Paul Rand (but we’re working hard towards it), yet this is the kind of relationship you should try to establish with your clients: you’re the problem solver.

You’ll do that the best way you can, you’re payed for the task after all. So take control of the project and act like the pro you are.


TL;DR: what you should remember from this post

  • Work on your presentation. Don’t go into the meeting thinking doing good work was enough.
  • Explain how you work and how you got there.
  • Don’t be afraid to present only one option. If it’s the best option and you believe in it, why show something that’s not as good?!
  • Learn to say no. Your target is a project that works well, not spending the holidays at the client’s beach house.
  • Take care of your looks, be polite and be on time.
  • Don’t forget you’re a pro, you’re payed like a pro, so act like one.

Further reading