Business advice: how to impress when presenting work to clients

Written by: John Scarrott
Published on: 9 Jul 2017

Communications coach John Scarrott runs through the traps that creative directors and account managers should avoid when leading presentations, and how they can make a positive impression on their audience.


Presentations are a crucial part of the designer-client relationship; how you present yourself could be a clincher in landing your next project. In my work with design professionals, creative and account side, there are some assumptions that come up frequently when it comes to presentations.

Assumption 1. “I’ll focus on my slides. What I’m going to say will come to me when I stand up to speak.”

This generally leads to two styles of presentation. You may end up writing what you’re going to say on the slides and then reading from the slides. And because your audience can read, this bores them, and probably you. Or your spontaneous speaking becomes a ramble, the beginning and end of which you’ve not considered. Treat what you’re going to say and the slides as separate but complementary tools. And spend as much, if not more, time on what you’re going to say and let that guide your slides.

Assumption 2. “Focus on the work. We can prepare and rehearse on the way to the meeting.”

Designers love their work. Nothing wrong with that. But when they fall in love with it, that creates problems. By the time they get to the client’s office to present it, they know it better than anyone else. But the client doesn’t; they haven’t been there all the way. This is their first sight of your work. Bringing them up to speed on what you’ve developed will take more than “voila”, followed by a flourish. And that’s why you need to spend more time thinking and preparing how you will get your client to love your work as much as you do, and how to manage the situation and yourself if they don’t.

Assumption 3. “What happens before and after the presentation will take care of itself. It’s ‘our presentation’ that’s most important.”

The time before you start and the space after you finish your presentation are real opportunities to engage your audience. Use the ‘before’ to settle them and yourself in. And the ‘after’ to ask them what they think and decide on next steps. This creates a strong start and an organised and forward-looking finish.

Assumption 4. “No questions, phew!”

This is not necessarily a good thing. You want to make your audience think, otherwise, why are you there? You want them to be engaged with you and what you’re saying; to be stimulated, to think new thoughts and then to question them. You want them to be interested enough in you, your idea and their use for it to query and clarify. Questions say that you agitated your audience and gave them something new to think about. Isn’t that what you want?

Assumption 5. “Great presenters are naturally talented.”

Take someone you admire, get their autobiography and read it. If in the opening pages your admired hero says “I woke up one morning with this natural gift and it just took me to the top with no effort, like a magic carpet,” feel free to print this article and burn it. If not, note the effort, grit, passion and determination (among other things) that your idol put themselves through to become great. They may have some natural talent but that’s not enough. You can go much further than you ever imagined with effort and hard work.

Assumption 6. “Fear is a bad thing.”

Actually, fear is a useful thing. Back in prehistoric times fear told us to run or fight. The problem is that we haven’t lost that impulse, and it can get us into trouble when it comes to presentations. We don’t run or fight so the anxiety shows itself in other ways, such as stage fright. Here’s how to deal with it; use it. See it as a warning that something important is coming up, and welcome it as a warning from you to you. “You’d better prepare. And practice.” That’s what fear is saying. And when you hear that voice, it’s time to listen, and then take action.

John Scarrott is a Trainer and Coach working with design professionals on their approach to influential communication. Find him on Twitter @JohnDScarrott or check out his website where you can find other useful articles on this subject.