Love it or hate it, if you're in advertising, you will have to give a presentation at some point.
The ability to sell your own work, and sell it well, is vital to your success as a copywriter, art director, designer, or creative director. If you're in the accounting department, it will be a weekly occurrence. If you're in the creative department, it may not happen as much as you'd like, but it will happen. And, when it does, you have to nail it. An advertiser not being able to present, or being bad at it, is akin to a swimmer being afraid of water or a window washer being afraid of heights.
This is your job. It's part of what you do. And you have to get it right, or some amazing ideas will never get the chance to shine. Quite often, the client is scared to take a risk but will do it with some hand-holding and convincing. It's up to you to cover every question and hang-up, so their only option is to say "yes...let's run with this."
Never Present Work You Dislike
The problem with showing work you don't like is it's got a great chance of being bought by the client. Back at the agency, your team came up with three solid, creative, original ideas, and one idea that was so-so. But, the so-so one is not terrible, and it checks all the boxes on the creative brief.
That so-so work is exactly the kind of campaign that clients like to buy. It's safe. It's not very expensive. It won't make headlines or get anyone into trouble. Sadly, it probably won't sell a lot of product either. But once the client has seen it, the other, cooler ideas don't stand a chance.
If you're lukewarm on the idea, kill it before the meeting. You always have it for round two, if the first meeting goes poorly. Remember, give the client what they need, not what they want.
Practice and Practice Again
You need to get everything in order before the big meeting. The only way to do that well is to practice. That means being on the same page as the copywriter, art director, account manager, and creative director.
If you all have slightly different opinions on the work, it will not look good to the client. You should know how you came up with the work, why you did what you did, what the benefits of the campaign are, how much it will cost, and how long it will take to produce. The moment you stutter or falter in a meeting, you're telling the client you haven't thought it through. That makes you look unprofessional and unprepared.
Walk the Room Ahead of Time
The most frightening part of any presentation is the unknown. The easiest way to remedy that is to eliminate as many of those unknowns as possible, starting with the room itself. If it's your own agency's conference room, do a rehearsal in it in front of real people. If it's at the client's office, ask for photos of the room, a layout, a quick visit, or something to help you set up. You'll have the equipment to bring and boards to set out and you'll need to make sure everything fits together as planned.
Remember the Client Is Not a Monster
Many people, creatives, in particular, fear the idea of the big, bad CEO, but in reality, he or she is just a person. If you've already met them, and know them, you know how to speak to them in a way that they like and respect. You may even have a good professional working relationship before the big presentation or pitch, which can drastically ease tension. A good agency will engage the client before presenting their work. They may even involve them in early tissue sessions or brainstorms with the creative department.
Fight for Your Ideas
Clients are notoriously hesitant. They don't like big, new ideas, which are scary and represent the unknown. It's easier for them to kill a brilliant but risky idea than it is to go through with it and have several months of indigestion and sleepless nights. So, alleviate their fears. "Yes, it's risky, but being safe in this economy is even riskier. Be seen. Get noticed. Stand out. Do something that your competitors wish they had done first. Lead, don't follow." Whatever you do, keep it controlled and respectful or you'll be looking for a new job.
Don't Over-Explain Anything
Let's be clear. It's not enough to simply hold up the boards, say "that's what I've got" and sit down waiting for questions. You need to introduce the idea or campaign and explain the pieces that are not apparent. However, do not start gushing verbal diarrhea. The client can see what's going on. They have eyes. And the consumer won't have you there to explain the ad, either. Let the campaign do the work, you need to support it without suffocating it.
Never Say "You'll Love This"
If a comedian comes on stage and says "I have some jokes that will make you cry with laughter, so sit down and strap in," then he or she is in for a tough set. The challenge is out there, the audience is now adamant to prove that comic wrong. "Oh yeah, you're funny, we'll see about that." It's the same with creative work. Tell people they'll love it and they'll probably start out hating it. It's fine to say that you, yourself, love the work. But leave it at that. It's all just someone's opinion anyway.
Prepare for Tough Questions
Clients love asking tough questions. Sure, there will be several questions coming that are the softballs you've answered already in your internal meetings. But someone is going to throw one out of left field. Anticipate the tough questions ahead of time. Ask other creative teams in the agency to review the work and be VERY critical. You can then formulate solid answers before the actual presentation.
Never Fight in Front of the Client
If there are disagreements between members of the agency, they should be left at the office. If someone says something you really don't agree with, deal with it later. No client wants to see infighting or dirty laundry; it fills them with insecurity. And don't try and solve problems in the actual presentation; it never works.
Not Ready? Don't Present
Finally, if the work isn't good enough, buy yourself some more time. It's far better to ask for a few extra days to prepare than to show up with poor work and red faces. You don't need to tell the client you're struggling; simply say that you'd like more time to explore some ideas that you think could be really exciting. Big, brave ideas are the only ones worth presenting.