13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations

…and one weird trick you won’t believe works every time.

The hardest part of design is presenting work. You can’t even argue about this. I’ve seen people who did amazing work get up in front of a client and lay eggs. I’ve also seen people do alright work and work clients around their little finger. Optimally, you want to do good work and present it well. But I’d rather have a good designer who can present well than a great designer who can’t. In fact, I’d argue whether it’s possible to be a good designer if you can’t present your work to a client. Work that can’t be sold is as useless as the designer who can’t sell it.

1. Seeing the client as someone they have to please

Your client hired you because you are the expert at what you do. They are the expert at the thing they do. And you have been brought in to add your expertise to the client’s expertise to help them accomplish their goal. (If you’re presenting work and unclear on what that goal is we have a bigger problem than this article is going to address.) What they didn’t hire you to do is make them happy, or be their friend. Your decisions should revolve around achieving that goal, not pleasing the client. And while you should do everything in a professional and pleasing manner, never conflate helping the client achieve their goal with making them happy.

2. Not getting off your ass

This is your room. Your first job is to inspire confidence. Not just confidence in your work, but also confidence in your client that they hired the right person. Every interaction is an opportunity to reaffirm their decision in hiring you. Get off your ass and lead this meeting. You’ll seem more confident if you’re standing up. Your voice will carry better. Be the authority on design your client hired. Work the room. Walk to where you’re needed. Being on your feet will allow you to walk from person to person as they ask questions, simultaneously making you look more confident and allowing for more intimacy.

3. Starting with an apology

Do not start the presentation with an apology or disclaimer.

4. Not setting the stage properly

You have gathered all of these busy people together. They probably have other things to do. So let them know why they are in this presentation. Let them know they are a necessary and important part of the conversation. People like feeling needed. And they hate having their time wasted.

5. Giving the real estate tour

Never explain what they can obviously see right in front of them. They can all see the logo on the top left. They can all see the search box. There is absolutely nothing more boring than a designer walking a client down the page, listing all the things they can already see.

6. Taking notes

You’re too busy giving a presentation to take notes. You’re on stage. Ask someone else to take notes for you. And then post them for the client to review after the meeting so you can agree you heard the same thing.

7. Reading a script

I’m already asleep.

Be a scientist when you work, and a snake charmer when you present.

8. Getting defensive

You are not your work and your work is not you. It is not an extension of you and it is not your personal expression. It is work product done to meet a client’s goals. The client is free to criticize that work and tell you whether he believes it has met those goals or not. You are free to disagree with him. And you are expected to be able to make a rational case for those disagreements. But you are not allowed to get all butthurt about it. This is a job.

9. Mentioning typefaces

Clients don’t give a shit about typefaces. And if they do, they’ll ask.

10. Talking about how hard you worked

The worst feedback you can get from a client is “Wow. It looks like you worked really hard on this!”

Sell the fuck out of that one hour of good design — most people can’t do ten minutes of it.

11. Reacting to questions as change requests

“Why is this green?”

12. Not guiding the feedback loop

There’s only one question worse than “What do you think?” (It’s coming up.)

  • Does this reflect your users’ needs as we discussed in the research?
  • Does this reflect your current ad strategy?

13. Asking “Do you like it?”

Dear sweet lord in heaven above and all his angels, you just gave away the farm. They are no longer viewing you as an expert. You are no longer their equal in expertise. You are no longer the person they feel comfortable enough writing a check to. Even if they don’t realize it, all of these things just happened. You are now reduced down to a small child showing your dad a picture of the cat and hoping he deems it worthy enough to put on the fridge anchored by his magnetic Las Vegas bottle opener.

…and one weird trick that you won’t believe works every time.

Learn the client’s goddamn name.

English is my second language. You were my first.

English is my second language. You were my first.