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Presenting Creative 101 – Part 2: The Set-up

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.

In the first part of this series we look at look at how as creatives we have to do more than just present our work and there are some key things we need to understand to be able to get a client’s trust. Now we are going to look at the most important part of any presentation – the set-up.


One size doesn’t fit all

Anytime you are going to do a presentation you want to find out as much as you can about your audience so you can so you can put together a plan for how you are going to sell you work. Should that plan dictate your presentation style and lead to questions like should the presentation have a lot of detail and set-up or should you get right to the point? It should also lead to executional questions like do you need to comp up every single variation or will your audience be able to get the concept with just a few key visual? Working through these types of questions and use the answers and your insights to your advantage because they will help you find the best way to communicate with your audience and get your work sold.

Use seating to help control the focus of the room

Knowing your audience is also key to knowing if there are clients or group of people who will cause side conversations and distractions during your presentation. These problematic groups can derail your meeting, create a lack of focus on you or bigger problems. A simple way to control that is to use where people are seated in the room to control the focus. If there are two clients who usually sit together and have a side conversation then put them on opposite sides of the table but close to you so they can’t talk to each other without interrupting you. It is a small thing but it can really help the flow of the meeting and get the work sold.

Seating, projectors, white boards, lighting…

Don’t let something as simple as not having the right laptop adapter for the projector or the dial-in number not working make you look like you don’t know what you are doing. You haven’t even opened your mouth and your client is sitting there thinking “you want me to give $200,000 to someone who can’t even figure out how to turn on the projector to start the meeting?”. It may sound harsh but subconsciously it happens all the time. So don’t let something that small and simple hurt that critical confidence you are trying to create with clients. Before your meeting swing by the room you are going to use and to be sure you know where the room is located, how it is laid out, how the lighting works, what cord the projector uses and if there is a power outlet you can use. It will take 2 minutes to answer those questions and will be well worth the time.

If it is an important meeting – make it feel important

If you are having an important meeting or are presenting a big project make it feel like something different from all the other meetings your clients sits through every day. I use things that are a part of the clients brand like take aways, snacks, flowers or even candles to create a visual impact as soon as they walk into the room. It tells my clients this is going to be an important meeting, that I understand their brand and that I am excited about the work. It starts to create that sense of confidence before the meeting even starts or they see one piece of creative. Plus all of this can be done for as little as $20 – $40.

Bring your creative process to life

You can use the concept of telling a story two different ways. The first is exactly what you would think in that your presentation should, like any good story, have a beginning, middle and end. The beginning of your presentation should set the pace, introduce the story and set the stage. The middle should elaborate on the beginning and be the heart of the story where everything is explained. The end should wrap up everything and set the stage for the next episode.

You can also look at it that when you present creative work you have the license to make the way you present more of a work of theater. I don’t mean to put on costumes and sing songs but instead, think about the fact that you have the license to improve upon the story you tell your client about the work. You can take the fact that you really came up with the concept you are presenting while sitting at your desk and make it into how you were driving to work, saw something, were struck with inspiration and the concept came to you. It is a more engaging and personalized approach than simply standing up there and revealing the work.

Edit. refine. edit. refine.

Getting your client’s trust means that you present anything you must have a point of view about their brand, their work and the project you are presenting. This is important for two reasons. First, is that point of view puts you in a leadership position as someone who is in charge of the business and that position creates trust and confidence. Second, is because it will help you refine and edit your work you’re going to present down to only the choices that are in line with your vision. Not having that vision usually leads to two different actions – throwing in the step child and guessing.

We have all done it at some point. You have 2 really good options but you told the client you would present 3 concepts so you throw in that step child concept no one believes in to hit your number. You present all three, the client picks the third one you threw in at the end and now you have to put whip cream on the onion to make it work. For a long time, I thought it was because clients, like dogs, can smell fear and you key on the one concept you were afraid of. Since then my thinking has evolved to knowing that it was my fault for throwing in something I didn’t believe in and not doing a good enough job of selling the two better ideas. If I would have stuck with my vision then the finished project would have been one of the concepts I knew would have worked better.

Onto the subject of guessing. I recently had an agency do a presentation to one of my clients where they presented 8 different campaign directions and I got the sense that they felt like they had really gone the extra mile to produce all of this work. I saw it as a group that was completely lost with no clue about where to take the business. They didn’t have a point of view, they were grasping at straws hoping something you stick and as a result, I had no trust or confidence in them. I would rather they present a strong singular vision, even if it was wrong than just guessing wildly.

Have faith in your vision and have the strength to present it because your client will respond to that much better than if you just guess and hope you hit something.

Then practice some more.

If you want to get better at presenting then practice. It’s so simple it’s obvious but we all know because of the demands on our time it is really hard to find the time. If it’s early in the morning or at night after you have gone home you have to find the time and an audience to practice. It is so important because you have to be in command of the material and work on your personal style to get better.

It may sound silly but I used to practice with a video camera sitting next to my dog. I did it so I could look into somethings’ eyes when I was practicing instead of talking to a blank wall. I would switch on my video camera and use something similar to a Windows 10 screen recorder so that after I went through my pitch I could play it back to see if the performance matched the mental image I had in my head during the performance. Time after time I found when I watched the video playback, that it was like when I recorded my answering machine message and thought “I don’t really sound like that do I?”. You smooth things over in your head and create a slightly different perception of yourself. Being able to step outside of myself to see how I looked and sounded was really important to understand how to do a better job. It’s easier than ever to do this now with pretty much every iPhone and smartphone having the ability to record video. You can set it up anywhere, anytime to grab some practice time. Just remember to delete it before your significant other posts it to YouTube for some laughs.


The most important thing in any meeting or presentation is making sure your team has a clear understanding of what you want the client to do at the end of the meeting. The way you build the deck, the story you tell and everything in between should all lead your client to take that action. If you can’t answer that simple question then the meeting is going to be a mess that wanders around with no goal and too many chances for things to go wrong.

From here we will be moving on to the presentation before ending with 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.

Now read Presenting Creative 101 Part 3 – The Presentation

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