Why I am a Print Designer
Avoid the Architect's Fallacy

Coming Soon to a Concept Presentation Near You

Concept: Take One

Like most people, I enjoy watching movie trailers -- and not just because of my love of slick CG graphics and fancy typography. If a trailer looks bad, I've saved two hours of time and ten dollars of my hard-earned money on a film that will probably be terrible.

Clients view concept presentations in the same way. If their company is going to live with a creative idea for a good length of time, then the trailer -- your concept presentation -- has to reel them in from the very beginning. Life's too short for slogging your way through Ishtar on a weekly basis.

Let's put on our director's caps, rustle up some popcorn, and screen some of the tricks we can invigorate our concept presentations, Hollywood style.

Cue your clients about the ground rules before you present. No cell phones. No smoking. No loud talking, unless it's for a quick clarification. Without the ground rules, if they cut in they'll feel like you're just shutting them down to get to the next idea.

Have a narrative arc for your overall presentation. Be careful that you aren't producing one of those art-house trailers, where you have no idea exactly what the movie is about at all. Your concepts should be arranged in a manner that shows a progression of thinking over time.

Keep yourself to a three-minute time limit per concept. Client meetings are for listening more so than talking. Every second you save is another opportunity to solicit a reaction from your client when the lights come up.

Don't explain away the magic. Only say three things about each idea. Just provide some connective tissue from the approved strategy to the visuals before them. Who wants to see a movie whose entire plot was ruined by an overblown trailer?

Observe how your audience reacts. Don't belabor the details if you see them nodding away -- quickly move on. Unlike a trailer, in a concept presentation you can deviate from the script that you'd rehearsed beforehand. You did rehearse the presentation, right?

Share the right kinds of detail upon request. When clients solicit details, they either don't quite get your idea or they're starting to fall in love. Be sure you know which path they're going down, and provide the necessary color. Otherwise, your well-lit roads will become dead ends -- and that's where the idea-killers hide in the shadows.

Gently guide your client toward a decision. Clients shouldn't feel like you're deftly steering them towards a predetermined conclusion.

Let them mull over their initial reaction. Fine concepts get better upon reflection. Requesting that your clients withhold their final decision until a day or two have passed after their initial viewing will bring more balance to their decision-making process.

Feel free to stop the drama whenever possible. It shouldn't be a tragedy if your favorite concept loses out. Take that concept right off the table in a sympathetic, yet dramatic flourish. Great ideas end up on the cutting-room floor all the time. Just be sure to be mindful of how and why that concept didn't get chosen, and learn from the experience.

Beware of showing them sequels. If your client doesn't like a concept from the get go, it's pretty uncommon for them to choose it in the end -- even if it performs fabulously in focus groups or usability testing. If you rehash that idea and present it to them again, even a year or two later, you're only incurring The Wrath of Client.


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