Preparing For The Unexpected In Client Presentations

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Practicing your presentation skills is one thing. But anyone who's been in a client presentation knows that there are a lot of things that can throw you that you don't see coming, despite all your prep. So how do you prepare for the unexpected? Here are some curveballs that commonly come up and how to handle them.

1) An A/V malfunction
Technology is awesome—until you're about to start the meeting and your laptop starts flickering or the sound doesn't come through. Make sure you understand the presentation set up in the room—what is the cable hook up situation? Where will the laptop be in relation to the screen? Double check that you bring the right dongle, as well as a backup laptop. Have a PDF version of the deck on your desktop and your files on Dropbox in case you need to send it to someone. Make sure your clicker has enough battery. You never know what will happen, so prepare for the worst case scenario.

  Image from  morghoul

Image from morghoul

2) The clients show up late
Clients are usually running from meeting to meeting, so assume you have 15 minutes less than you think you do for the presentation. Whether that means trimming your presentation, moving some detail slides into the appendix or leave behind version, or identifying which section is skippable, you'll want to have a strategy in case the client keeps you waiting. 

3) Side conversations
Nothing is more distracting to a presenter than when people start whispering while you're talking. First, don't take it personally—best case scenario, the client is discussing something you said in the presentation. Find a graceful place to pause and ask whether there are any questions. You don't have to call anyone out—the silence will make it obvious that a side conversation is happening, which should a) make the whispering stop, or b) give the client a chance to voice their thought to the group. This is also a good technique if you notice people not paying attention because they're on their phones or laptops.

  Image from  SoulPancake

Image from SoulPancake

4) Interruptive questions
Sometimes you'll get a client that likes to jump in mid-presentation with questions or thoughts. If you're short on time, try to prevent interruptions in the first place by explicitly asking everyone to save their questions until the end. If you still get questions mid-stream, there are a few ways to handle it and keep the flow of the meeting going.

  • Huddle with your team beforehand to decide who will handle what kind of questions. This allows the presenter to punt the question to a teammate and lifts the pressure of feeling like you have to field all questions on the fly.
  • If it's a question that'll be answered in an upcoming slide, tell the client just that. If they still have a question after you've covered it, they can ask it then.
  • If you don't know the answer to the question, tell the client that the team will look into it and get back to them as a follow-up to the presentation. Admitting you don't have all the info on hand is better than stuttering/grasping/awkward silence. 

Bottom line is, you never know what will happen in a client presentation, especially in a high stakes setting like a pitch. But taking a deep breath and incorporating these strategies will help you handle any hiccups like a pro.  

Double check your dongle,
Natalie