Are you selling or are you presenting?

Have you ever lost a potential sale and found yourself wondering why some salespeople seem to easily close deal after deal? Is it charisma? Talent? The gift of gab? I’ve asked those questions myself because persuasion isn’t my strongest quality as a designer and the idea of selling always made me cringe. (After all, I’m a designer, not a salesperson!) But, we all know that these two roles must work in tandem for any business to be successful, and over the years I’ve been in search of a magic potion. I’ve observed skilled salespeople, researched articles and watched endless videos, and even followed Mad Men thinking I could pull off a rendition of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Catch Me If You Can. (Fake it ‘til you make it!)

Recently while preparing for a workshop on design I was seeking advice on being a good presenter and I came across a TED talk: “How to Speak So That People Want to Listen,” by Julian Treasure. From it I gained this insightful quote:

The human voice: it’s the instrument we all play, the most powerful sound in the world, probably. It’s the only one that can start a war or say ‘I love you.’

(I’m such a sucker for great quotes and engaging speakers!)

After watching the video, I realized that I was going about my search for sales skills in a way that was wrong for me. The pressure to sell was a weight on my shoulders that began to hinder my attitude and created other issues in my approach with clients. I know through my own personal experience that I don’t want to be sold anything, so in a way, I was transferring that same empathy towards my audience. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Market research on consumers actually indicates that most people don’t like to be aggressively sold to.

Trend Bible Future Insight graphic

Switching it up

What if instead of trying to be a great salesperson, you focused on becoming a great presenter? This would not only pertain to the success of the sale, but also to the success of meeting customer expectations. After all, when a project is complete, isn’t the desired result a satisfied client and subsequent referrals?

Let’s review some tips on improving your presentation skills.

Key Presentation Skills for Better Selling2


  1. Be a great listener
    While this has nothing to do with talking/presenting, it has everything to do with establishing the foundation of your communications. It is the most important factor in the connection you will make with your client. By listening you are establishing a very valuable emotion: empathy.
    The term “active listening” applies best here. If you listen attentively your client will tell you their likes, dislikes and what problems need to be resolved. Listen for the factors that tell you how they want to be communicated to. Ask questions to clarify and draw out their preferences. I have experienced so many salespeople who go into “drone mode” and talk endlessly before asking a single question or letting me tell them what I’m looking for. If you’ve ever had someone really listen to you, then you know the value this brings.
    Bottom line: Talk less, listen more.
  2. Be authentic
    Being you is the best part of the deal for the client. It’s what will create the bond that develops into the relationship. The relationship is one essential factor that determines whether they will buy from you or not.
  3. Be confident, but don’t be conceited
    This starts at your first appointment. They are analyzing you from that initial meeting and you should be doing the same with them, but for different reasons. You are gaining insight; they are determining if you are a fit for them and that you’re qualified. Being confident is reflected by your appearance, posture and the way you speak, as well as the knowledge you have of your business and our industry overall.
    Have you ever taken a course on presentation skills? It’s a great format for objective feedback and may give you the extra boost of confidence you’re looking for.
  4. Be prepared, be concise
    Presenting your design is the best opportunity to show your expertise, and presenting additional options can really pay off. For example, show them what they asked for, but then also show them an alternative for one zone/area of the design. Maybe you’ve designed a better option in the past and can explain why it worked better for a former client. Remember, clients don’t know what you know, so it’s on you to consider the best options and present them.
    Present all your information in segments and ask questions between each. Give your client a chance to absorb it all, and take breaks during long appointments. Each segment should be no more than 15-20 minutes long in order to keep their full attention.
  5. Frame your presentation to establish the right expectation
    Initially, you want them to see the big picture rather than the pixels. There will be time for getting into the details, but your first presentation should be a high-level overview that covers the important aspects of the project. List out the services you can provide. Review the general phases of the project, the average timeline from start to completion, and for the love of all things good, explain what will happen if something needs to be corrected due to damage or other extraneous circumstances. What they should take away is that you will make it right in the timeliest manner possible.
    If you haven’t ever established a full-scale project list, it’s a good idea to work through one with your colleagues, contractors, installers, etc. Then create a high-level list to use with your clients.
  6. Deliver the value
    Now is the time to remind them why they’re sitting across from you. First and foremost, remember that they like you and have a connection with you. This bond is probably the most powerful asset in your court. Remember my quote earlier on the power of the human voice? Speak with confidence, lower your voice into your chest, use good posture, and speak in terms they understand. (Don’t get too techy.) In addition, identify the reputation of your company, the warranties of the products you’re including, and, most importantly, what is unique about you and your services that they will not find elsewhere.
    If you aren’t sure exactly why you’re so awesome, try interviewing past clients; ask for permission to share their testimonials. They will tell you what they loved, or what they didn’t love. In both cases, you gain insight.
  7. Follow-up
    Whether they signed a contract with you or not, don’t let more than 5 days go by without a simple follow-up to thank them for the opportunity. No one wants an annoying salesperson, but a simple note or call will make a lasting and positive impact. You may not know when they’ll be ready to go ahead with the project and your follow-up may be the one they remember; it might even be the only one they receive if they’re shopping at multiple businesses. People want to feel like they matter, and they should.

As we round out the month and the buzz of the fall selling season, remember that each step you take towards improving your skills will expand the possibilities for your future. With practice and time, you’re sure to find an approach that works best for you. I’m still searching for that “magic potion,” but in the meantime, you’ll find me hunkered down and working on honing my skills!


What best practices do you use when presenting to your clients?

What other elements factor into being a great presenter of your services and products?

What format do you present your designs in? A paper printout? On-screen? A combination?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Steven Dettinger, CKD

    #4 is so important. in a retail sales position earlier in my career, I lost a sale because I gave the client exactly what they asked for, and on budget. Another firm came up with an alternate solution as well, which the client actually liked better. When I questioned them about this, their response was, “we didn’t know”. Lesson learned.

  2. Steve Pratt

    RE: Point #2 – One of my favorite “presenters” is your colleague Rob Best. He encourages sales people to read their customers and try to be as much like them as possible, because “customers like to buy from people who are like them.” While I am certain that he is not telling us to be deceitful or IN-authentic, there does seem to be a little bit of a dichotomy between your Point 2 and his recommendation. Thoughts?

    1. Suzanne DeRusha - Medallion's Design & Trends Expert

      Indeed Steve, I’ve worked with Robb for many years and agree with the principals that he teaches on. Ps. He’s one of my favorite presenters also!

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