by seanlow on July 21, 2017

As a rule, I am underwhelmed by the presentation process most creative businesses undertake.

The willingness to ask a client to invest sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Pinterest-type mood board and simple samples astounds me. Shame on any creative business for letting clients believe that this is, in any way, acceptable. We all need to raise the bar here if we are to move the business forward.

Mailing in a presentation sucks. We all need to do better and be better. Imagine, for a second, you wanted a custom home built and the architect showed you a mood board and some rough floor plans for you to decide if this is the home you wanted. Oh, and had $30,000 of your money before they did this “work.” You see my point. And do not get me going on all things that would not be considered “design” – catering, entertainment, custom furniture, photography, textiles, florals, etc. They have to present their vision for their art just like any other creative business and they, as a rule, do not. Awful.

If you consider yourself an artist, have a creative business and get paid to create for a living, you need to present.  Period. Just because you do not call yourself a “designer” does not mean you are not one. The responsibility is yours.

Presentation is the very moment any creative business translates senses. Whether you do it as a series of building statements (like a Shopper interior designer) or with a single grand statement (like the Power Presenter interior designer) makes no difference. Presentation has to be appropriate to the moment, but still has to honor the moment of translation. Think about it – up until presentation, you might have been listening, maybe visiting, even experiencing. With your presentation, you and your creative business take that information and say to your client, “this is my intention, here is what I want to create for you in the sense(s) I will do it in.”

Business. Presentation is a value point – meaning something has to happen to move the process forward. That something is that the client says yes or no and/or pays you money. There is no going back once the presentation is done. What done looks like is up to you. I tend to be in the power presenter category and believe in very little choice. If you are a power presenter, in fact, I do not believe in choice at all. Here is a great post about why you should only show one option. That said, if you are a shopper, certainly there has to be more than one option, but not twenty. Your opinion matters. In fact, it is everything. You are not a diner, so do not act like you do not care what the client chooses.

Effective presentation then requires three things:

An Understanding Of The Gravitas Of What Is Being Asked Too often I see or hear about presentations as if they were an afterthought, an inconvenience or an apology along the way towards completion. Designers literally do not want to face rejection so they offer so many back doors to a presentation (“well, if you do like this, we could do this” and so on and so on) as to make the presentation meaningless. Any great presentation says, “This is what I want to create for you. Period.” Will there be tweaks? Sure, but never redesign. If you get it wrong, you deserve to lose and be done. Only the most forgiving client will (or should) allow you a second shot. But, make no mistake, there is always a price for getting it wrong. After all, you are paid to get it right. If you can appreciate the seriousness of the moment, the importance of taking a stand and can communicate that there is no “I changed my mind” after a client says yes, your whole approach to presentation will change.

Presentation Is A Separate Investment — Here is an example from the wedding business, but it can be applied to just about any creative business trying to sell a product in the end:

A florist has an awesome opportunity to do a 200 person wedding for$100,000. She gets a $3,000 deposit (which goes against the cost of the flowers) then proceeds to put on an over-the-top, incredible presentation: she has it catered with champagne and canapes, there are renderings, tablescapes, even a Cellist. The clients love love love everything but then Dad steps in and starts to question every line in the florist’s proposal. Why $500 for a centerpiece? Do we really need 10 people on site? The florist is stunned. They LOVED everything, so how come Dad is going so nuts? They have the money and I came pretty close to their budget. Can’t he see how much time and energy AND money I put into the presentation? How much I actually care?

Then, of course, the $100,000 job turns into a $65,000 job, still a good job

just not a great one. There is a bitter taste in the florist’s mouth and she

vows to never put herself out like that again.

All of you might relate to the florist with your presentations and think what a jerk Dad was. And maybe he is, BUT BUT BUT not in this case.

Here is the deal. The air in your creative business is not free and clients know that. To be alive, you need to be paid for your effort — whether that is press, money, effective decision making, does not matter, you need to be paid. SO when the florist did her amazing presentation but did not charge for it, the money, the return, has to come from somewhere. Dad knows this. Since the only place it can come from is the cost of the flowers (this is the only money the florist is charging), the more ornate the presentation, the more Dad will question the prices BECAUSE the money has to come from somewhere. So he starts to think of the $500 centerpiece — $100 is to pay for the presentation, $400 is for the flowers. I don’t want to pay for the presentation and I think a fair price for flowers given what else I can see online is $350. And so the negotiation begins. Except Dad is better at negotiating than the florist (it is what he does in some capacity every day) and the florist has no mechanism to separate out the cost of presentation from the cost of flowers so no way to stop this negotiation conversation from going down the rabbit hole.

The solution — charge for presentation or, if you are unwilling to do that, be specific about what part of the price of flowers is for the presentation. Or the florist can keep thinking her client’s Dad is a jerk. The cost to create, the cost to present that creation and the cost to produce the creation are three separate items. Mix them at your own risk.

Overinvest In Presentation – How many of you own a 3D printer? How many of you use it for presentations? None of you I suspect. Presentations today are based in an analog era. Today’s technology allows you to move into scale and virtual relationship effectively and far better than anything that used to exist before in analog. If you can appreciate one and two above, you will overinvest in what is available to you to present your ideas – whether you are a power presenter or a shopper.

Of course, there is value in the physical item, a rendering does not smell or feel wonderful (yet). However, that day is coming soon with virtual reality. The point is to see presentation as an opportunity to build your story; to establish and earn your trust with clients and the value it alone can deliver.

The shift is complete. You will all do a great job in the end. The images and testimonials will be ridiculous. Who cares? When the project is finished, there is no more investment to be garnered from a client. Counterpose the end with presentation. Effective presentation creates unyielding anticipation and enthusiasm. It makes success of a project that much more inevitable and the journey that much more pleasant. So make the time to present well and overinvest.

As I said during my conversation with The BBC Collective this week and on Facebook, there is a college student (or thousands of students) who is/are currently a social media maven (like every other college student), totally into virtual reality and 3D printing For fun, she creates amazing immersive experiences for her friends. Yes, she is the designer of the future and her ability to present her ideas is already insane. What do you think it will be in seven years when she is ready to challenge your creative business? You can rely on your reputation and the ability to get away with little or no effective presentation for only so long. She is coming for you whether you like it or not. So here is a thought: invest in presentation. Be intolerant of ANY creative business who does not ask clients to pay for the creativity alone. Or you can get run over. Your choice.

Previous post:

Next post: