Image Postcard of Emmett Kelly as "Weary Willie" world famous clown. Ca. 1960s. (antiqueshoppefl.com)
While I had never thought of it this way, I think I agree with Mark Monteiro when he writes that he’d rather have a “good designer who can present well than a great designer who can’t.”
This is so true. Once we have created our design concept, it is time to sell it.
The pitch is extremely important to sell a concept, to put your ideas out there and to have those in the room buy it in its totality (rarely happens, but what joy when it does), or parts of it (more likely).
That is why I found a piece by Mark so appropriate and will probably add it to our list of readings for my Columbia University course in the spring. Mark is a designer and author two books—Design is a Job and You’re My Favorite Client.
I recommend that you read the piece, and there are two of the 13 items Mark lists that resonate with me and which I never fail to mention to my team and to my students:
1. Starting with an apology
“Do not start the presentation with an apology or disclaimer.”
I make sure that students who present their projects appear satisfied and even proud of what they are showing. Members of our Garcia Media team know that a project presentation is a key moment in the life of the project and every word counts. There is no room for such lame excuses as:
“If I had had two more hours, I would have…..”
You are risking having someone tell you to go take the extra two hours. If that is the case, and if you have nothing new to contribute to the project, what would you show after you are granted a two-hour reprieve?
Be positive. Be proud of the work you have done. Show others how they, too, could benefit from the ideas presented.
2. 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.”
Amen. Rejection of your work, of your great idea, is definitely NOT a rejection of you. Those clients may adore you as a person, they just simply did not like those round photos for columnists, or your choice of a specific font.
Don’t dwell on a negative comment. Instead, find constructive ideas to make whatever is in question better.
The world is not perfect, however, and the human condition even less so. We do not like to be criticized, and we invest so much into our own work that it becomes an extension of us, whether we admit it or not.
One more thing on the list
There is no such thing as a perfect pitch, but there are guidelines to make that important day in the life of a project more successful for all parties.
I recently had dinner with a young man whose technology firm is producing some of the most cutting edge stuff to enhance storytelling digitally. He had just pitched his new software to a major mega media house in the United States.
“How did it go?,” I asked eager to know how his day had gone at this iconic title.
“I thought it went well,” he said, “although I can’t tell how much they liked a lot of what I presented. The four people in the room were stone faced, really, but polite.”
Body language sends a message, of course, both from you the designer to the clients and vice versa. But don’t let it ruin your day. I have encountered stone faced clients who two days later called with a delayed “wow moment” and those precious words: “We’d like to work with you”.
The best advice for a pitch/presentation: Do the best you can with the material you are going to show; practice the mental outline of how you will present it; stand in the front of the group and be confident. In my case, I always think all along that they will not have seen anything like what I am showing them (which, of course, is not always the case).
A combination of luck, the character of everyone making a decision (what are the internal politics at play?), the type of day you had prior to the presentation (if you found out minutes before entering the room that your mortgage was not approved, or that your pet cat had disappeared, you may not be in the best mood) and, ultimately, how much of what you are presenting conforms to the briefing (while design can be as creative and playful as you want to make it, it also must be true to the clients’ goals).
Just remember, be proud of what you are showing and be ready to accept that it is rare that everyone of your brilliant ideas will fly high.
And, yes, do your presentation while standing, don’t read from a script and smile often.
13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations