Presenting is a core skill. It’s theater, it’s sales, it’s Speech 101. Putting good work before smart clients can actually be fun. Done correctly, presenting adds to the value of the creative work and can sometimes even improve it. Whether you’re presenting ideas, initiatives or programs, here’s a short list of mistakes to avoid in your next big presentation.

  • Don’t see the client as someone you have to please. You’re not there to make a friend, you’re there as an expert with an expert solution.
  • Not standing up. Inspiring confidence is tough when you’re slouched in a chair. Stand and deliver, work the room, be the authority.
  • Never start with an apology. No disclaimers, no weakness. If you have to apologize for a dirty shirt or missing power plug, just cancel and reschedule. If you’re not prepared with the right stuff, get it right first.
  • Not setting the stage. Start by thanking everyone for their time, let them know their role, why they’re here and what you’re going to show them. Make them the experts at their job. Then remind them of where this work fits in the larger scheme and how today’s decisions will move the project ahead.
  • Avoid the real estate tour.  Do not explain what can be seen. You don’t sell a house by talking about sheetrock. Sell the benefits, sell how it matches the goals, sell the story. And tell it well.
  • Take good notes. Ask someone to take notes, edit and post them for review.
  • Don’t read a script. This is a show, and you need to build excitement. Know what you need to know, why the solution is ideal, and what the next point is. No notes, no memorized patter.
  • Getting defensive. You are not your work and your work is not you. It is product created to meet a client’s goals. If they start criticizing, shut up and listen. Sometimes good people do bad work, and if you keep an open mind, feedback will help save it.
  • Forget typefaces. Clients do not care about typefaces. You are the design expert, let them be the experts on their business, and how the work relates.
  • Don’t talk about how hard you worked. The worst thing you will ever hear from a client is “It looks like you worked really hard on this.” It’s not about the hours spent, it’s about the brilliance of the solution.
  • Reacting to questions as change requests. Just answer the questions as asked, even ones as troubling as “Why is this green?”
  • Not guiding the feedback loop. There’s only one question worse than “What do you think?” Instead, frame the feedback with topics like
    • Does this reflect your brand
    • Does this reflect your users’ needs as seen in the research
    • Does this fit with your ad strategy
  • Never, ever ask “Do you like it?” The client did not hire you to make something they like. They hired you to help them reach a goal. What they like may not do it. So don’t get subjective.

Bonus tip: Learn and use everyone’s name.  Everyone.

Useful tips on the craft of selling ideas are seldom seen. Designer Mike Monteiro hit it in his “13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations” piece on, and the knowledge is just as useful on the client side of the table as it is for the person holding the display boards. Whether you’re presentor or presentee, there’s a lot of best-practice in these tips, and when the presentation is great, everyone wins.