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Presenting Creative 101 – Part 3: The Presentation

There is a true art to selling, not presenting, creative work and this article is a summary of every trick I’ve learned doing ti pretty much every day over the past 20 years.



As I have studied more and more about what goes into being a good presenter I have found that it happens on conscious and unconscious levels. There are a lot of things that you are naturally aware of on a subconscious level that you can use to your advantage. The first of those things is having an understanding of how you can use your proximity to your clients to your advantage.

Whenever you look at the physical spacial relationship between two people any time you move inside of a four-foot radius from someone you are inside their persons space and that will create a strong positive and comforting connection or negative uncomfortable reaction. The inverse of that personal space bubble is if someone is more than 12 feet away from you they are in disconnected space. This means that there is so much space between you and your audience that they feel that they can disengage from you and what you are presenting. We have all seen this in action in school because it’s why all the slackers would always sit in the back of the classroom.

Use these spacial relationships to your advantage and make sure that whenever you have to give a presentation you’re in the sweet spot between 4 and 12 feet away from your audience. This means that if you are presenting in a large boardroom table position yourself in the middle of the table so you are in the sweet spot instead of standing at the end where you will lose people at the other end.

[Tweet “Understanding personal space gives you a huge advantage when presenting creative”]

If I wanted everything read to me I would have bought the audio book

One of my biggest pet peeves is going to a meeting or conference and having to sit through slide after slide as the presenter does nothing but read the content on each slide. A lot of people do this as a crutch when they are really nervous or think they aren’t a good presenter. The problem is that no matter what that presenter is really saying your subconscious is hearing what I have written on the slide above. That happens for two reasons. First, your audience can read the content on each slide faster than you can say it so they know where you are going and tune out after you have talked about 1/3rd of the slide. Second, and more importantly, is that when you stand there doing nothing but reading your slides you are subconsciously telling your audience you don’t know what you’re talking about.You aren’t providing them with even the most narrative beyond what is written on the slide and it creates a subconscious perception that you lack authority. Having a client or an audience come to that conclusion about you is catastrophic because they will never have any trust or confidence in you.

Killing the skip aheads

Whenever you do a presentation it’s an exercise in keeping the focus and attention of your audience on you. I have found that understanding basic psychology helps that happen and some things you can do that will help are:

You want every client looking at the same thing, at the same time, so you keep them from skipping ahead, forming opinions about work without the benefit of an explanation and then disengaging from what you are saying. When you present either project your presentation or use one printed deck so all eyes are on one thing, This keeps everyone engaged, look at the same thing, focused on you and most importantly lets you control the pace of the meeting. If you give everyone their own copy of the presentation you lose that control and that focus which is so critic to being an effective presenter.

Keeping any hand out till the end supports the use one deck concept I explained above but it recognizes that clients will want to be able to look at the work after the meeting. If you do it sooner then you will have 50% of the group on the same page, 25% not paying attention at all and 25% flying through it ignoring what you have to say. Keep their focus on you during the meeting and then they can have their own copy to review at the end. This will usually come in the form of custom booklets that may have been printed using companies like Printivity, as this will enable you to set out the main points of your presentation in a neat and professional fashion. This could also put you in a good light amongst your partners and potential clients too.


I am a firm believer that the words ‘Powerpoint’ and ‘design’ should never exist in the same sentence but I think it is critical to use slide builds in any presentation. If you look at the slide above you see a basic slide with a title and 5 bullet points. If you show this slide with all the content already revealed then your clients human nature is going to be to read the content you put up on the screen. They can read faster than you can talk and they aren’t listening to what you have to say. They know where you are going to go with that piece of your presentation so you will start to lose a high percentage of the room who will drift off until you go to the next slide. You have lost their focus simply by not having each of the bullet points build in when you want them to. So while it may seem like a small thing, using builds for each line of the slide will keep the room focused on you and keep them listening to what it is you have to say.

There are a lot of occasions when you aren’t going to have the luxury of presenting to clients face or face or even over a web cast. In those instances you still need to try to control the focus of the presentation as much as you can so I will send out the presentation as a PDF but make them password protected. This way I know I can at least control when everyone sees the work and I can try to minimize the people who skip ahead as much as possible.

It can be a controversial technique and I’ve had some clients get really at mad me for doing it. My explanation is always that my team and I have put a lot of work into the project and I want to the chance to be able to present the work and the thinking . I don’t want assumptions to be made ahead of time which are going to mitigate what I have to say because they have already made up their minds.

[Tweet “Password protected PDF’s save any creative presentation done over the phone”]

I also do this because on an unspoken level I have to maintain my position as a leader and have my client give me the basic respect of listening to what I have to say. If I send that presentation ahead of time, let them go through it without me and form their own assumptions then I am giving up that leadership and respect by subconsciously admitting I have nothing to add.

Think of it like presentation training wheels

If you are nervous about presenting them here are two different techniques I have used that may help you get over that fear and help to start to build your confidence.

The hardest part of a presentation is the beginning because you have to be the first to stand up in front of everyone, get all the conversations to stop, set the tone and get a rhythm going. It can intimidating and scary so when you are just starting to do presentation think about having a more senior member of the team start the meeting. It gives you time to get into the flow of the meeting, get rid of some of the butterflies and you can follow (chase) that more senior member of the team. It is a simple but effect way to get your confidence up.

Similar to chasing the rabbit, doing a presentation with another person so you can hand off from one section to another helps break the presentation down into smaller parts and lets you study and evolve your technique in the meeting.

Talk about your work in terms of business benefits

This is associated with the concept I discussed in my last post that ‘Not everyone can see it’. In that case I was talking about the fact that everyone can visualize concepts and designs in their head. In this case it is the fact that most clients don’t look at your work in the same design terms that you do. They spend all day talking about business issues so you need to look at your audience and see if you need to do the same. Instead of talking about your choice in fonts, colors, etc. in terms of what it does for the design, talk about in terms of how it solves the business problem and what business benefits it will provide. So when you are presenting the work think in those terms so instead you will say things like “We chose this typeface and color palette because it resonates with our core demographic, that will build the brand recognition and that recognition will help increase sales”. I have also found that when you are able to do that then your client will see the thinking in a way they understand and will not try to find it themselves in the designs. If you have clients that rip apart your designs and nip pick everything little thing it is probably because they are trying to find that logic and those benefits so the designs make sense to them in a way they understand.

Check in early and often

Checking in with your client through the course of your presentation is important for two reasons. First is that it makes your audience switch from a passive listening mode to an active thinking mode to answer your question. That simple switch in thinking modes helps wake them up, focus them and make sure they are keeping their attention on you. It is also a really good trick if you are presenting blind over a conference call because asking questions and checking in will keep your clients from skipping too far ahead. The questions will create a sense of risk and they may not be able to answer a question if they are too far ahead or not listening.

From here we will be moving on to how to handle problem clients and dealing the aftermath of the presentation. If you have comments, thoughts or additions feel free to put them in the comments because this is by no means a complete or definitive document and I always love to hear other opinions.

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