As a freelancer, contractor or agency, whether you meet in person or engage with your clients by remote means, your presentation skills are a key component of how successfully you communicate with clients and keep them happy.
If you leave them thinking “meh” or scratching their heads, you’ll either end up missing out on work or finding that projects are dragged out longer than you anticipated as clients request more clarity or changes to things they don’t understand.
If you don’t connect well with them or fail to come across as confident and competent, your clients may just walk away.
For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on common presentation pitfalls, both written and verbal that independent contractors or agency owners make and how to avoid them…
Get the bonus content: 7 Steps To Nailing Your Next Client Presentation
#1 – Failing To Engage Emotionally
This applies to any sort of presentation: face-to-face, verbal or written. If you really want to succeed at hooking your audience, you need to be able to engage with them emotionally.
Why? There are scientific explanations which back this up. Research shows that engaging emotionally lights up more areas of the brain than simply passing along the cold, hard facts. Facts are processed by only the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, whereas emotional engagement through stories and imagery see much more brain activity.
Image source: Melcrum
Give your data, proofs and presentation materials some emotional texture by including relevant stories to back them up. You’ll engage the client by helping them to imagine themselves in the context of the situation and light up the senses involved with the experience.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to dig down to the emotional appeal of your ideas, a Harvard Business Review article recommends that you begin by asking yourself a series of “why” questions to dig down to the stories of the human beings who are affected by it.
Why does this website need upgrading?
To give it a more modern, cleaner design.
Why does it need a more modern, cleaner design?
It’s to appeal to busy entrepreneurs who are looking for simple ways to declutter their lives and free up their time.
Why do we need to appeal to busy entrepreneurs?
These are the client’s customers. If we can find a simple way to better engage with these customers, the client can reduce stressful business bottlenecks and be free to focus on other growth activities.
#2 – Not Speaking The Client’s Language
This is a key stumbling block in any relationship where an expert needs to communicate ideas to a non-expert, and speaking the client’s language can be challenging, especially if you are trying to communicate complex ideas.
As a general rule, you should avoid jargon such as acronyms or terms which will only be understood by someone who is in the same industry as you. If it’s corporate or marketing speak, overly technical or anything which may be found in a game of “Buzzword Bingo”, it’s best to leave it out, UNLESS that is the kind of client you’re aiming for.
There is a fine balance though: most clients will appreciate you getting to the point without unnecessary fluff, but you should also mind that you’re not overly dumbing-down your pitch, or coming across as patronizing.
If it helps to make your points clearer, use visual aids such as graphs, diagrams or pictures in written presentations, or in face-to-face presentations which have a visual component. This is a good way to communicate something complex without being condescending.
#3 – Failing To Structure Your Pitch
The structure of your presentation matters, no matter which medium you’re using to communicate it. If you “go rogue” and fail to properly structure for maximum effect, there’s a good chance you’ll miss parts that are important for the understanding of the client.
In “Sell Without Selling”, Douglas Davis outlines a 7-step structure which he recommends for presentations. These instructions are aimed at designers, but this basic structure can work for anyone:
- Insight: Share your most relevant observation from your research.
- Therefore: Explain the conclusion you’ve come to based on the insight.
- Concept: Articulate the design concept by revealing your idea in a few sentences.
- Execution: Communicate how the concept will be conveyed in the project.
- Benefit: Reveal the reason why you’re executing the project in this way and how it will result in benefits to the client.
- Message: State the takeaway for the client based on the project you’ve described.
- Objective: Reiterate the goal that was outlined in the initial client brief or project assignment.
#4 – Killing Them With Details
Anyone who’s sat through a “death by Powerpoint” session can attest that rambling presentations which go too far into unnecessary details for the particular audience are ineffective.
This point really ties in with speaking your client’s language; you should have a good understanding of who your client is, how they operate and their preferred extent of communication before going too far into detail. This applies to any type of client presentation, whether oral or written.
Keep in mind the details that are actually important to the client – how whatever it is that you did or propose to do directly helps them to achieve their business goals. For many clients, that looks more like “I don’t care how you do it, I just need a result of X.”
Know your audience and cater to heir particular needs.
#5 – Your Portfolio Doesn’t Show Your Best Work
… or, your portfolio doesn’t show your work in its best light. Your website and online portfolio should be given as much consideration as an individual presentation to a client because these are often the first presentation of yours that the client comes across.
Sometimes it’s a bit like the plumber who has bad plumbing at their own house because they’re so busy taking care of everyone else’s; but in an online world information is fast, snap judgements are faster and you can’t afford to slack on your own website if you want to stay in work.
There are two main considerations here; that you’re showing samples of your best work and that you have it structured in a logical way which shows it in a good light and is easy for a potential client to follow. The saying “a confused mind never buys” is very applicable here!
#6 – Apologizing/ Lacking In Confidence
A classic mistake, often made by someone who is nervous or lacking in confidence is to start out a presentation by apologizing for something, thereby communicating their lack of confidence (or possible incompetence) to their audience.
This can set a negative tone for the entire presentation; clients want to work with someone who is competent and confident, so don’t give them cause to think you’re anything less. Most of the time, even if something has gone wrong with your presentation, you’re better off saying nothing rather than highlighting it, but if you genuinely do have something to apologize for, save it for later on rather than opening with it.
In another note on confidence, learning how to confidently deflect when you’re unsure of an answer to a question is another good skill to have. Sometimes people feel under pressure to give an immediate answer, which can result in projecting a lack of confidence or giving an answer you might end up flip-flopping on. There’s nothing wrong with saying something like; “that’s something I need to check up on, I’ll get back to you about it as soon as I confirm.”
#7 – Being Too Scripted
While it’s a good idea to practice any oral presentations so that you’re confident with the content, beware of coming across as sounding wooden and scripted. Your presentation shouldn’t be a flawless display of how well you can learn lines, rather it should be genuine and authentic.
This is another point that goes back to engaging clients emotionally and speaking their language; they will engage with humans more than robots.
To avoid sounding like you’re reading from a script, try laying out a presentation structure with just brief notes on the points you need to cover. This way you are reminded to talk about them but need to expand on them in the moment, using the words which come to you then.
Get the bonus content: 7 Steps To Nailing Your Next Client Presentation
Giving your client a good presentation experience begins with understanding your audience and what makes them tick. You need to know how to engage emotionally with them, the kind of language to use and how much detail to go into.
Whether you’re giving an oral presentation to an individual or creating a presentation on your website which will be seen by many, keep this target customer in mind, use a solid presentation structure and always highlight your best work.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake and don’t let it taint the rest of your presentation. True confidence comes with experience, but keep projecting confidence in your presentations anyway. It’s what your clients expect of a competent professional.