When Developers Meet Clients: 10 Tips to Feel Confident Beyond your Code

  • Teresa Bailey
  • June 15, 2011

No matter how killer your coding or design chops, some developers find themselves in situations where they have little or no experience presenting to their clients, especially in person. So what happens when you need to meet with a client that you usually work with remotely, or when that big new project hinges on your web team’s presentation to a prospective client?  Hopefully, you’ll feel a bit more confident after reading these tips--which I’ve culled together from my experience as a project manager and senior designer attending jillions of web meetings over the last 14 years.

My tips focus on creating a positive connection with the existing/new/prospective client, instilling the client’s confidence in your professional capabilities, and setting yourself up to succeed by controlling many simple things that are within your power.

Before the Meeting

1. Familiarize yourself with the project and purpose of the meeting. If there are documents detailing what the client is looking for, or what your company is proposing, be sure to get and read them ahead of time. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself at least an hour to thoroughly review the existing website.  This small amount of prep will pay big dividends throughout the meeting.

2. Research and quantify specific examples. If a goal is to solve certain known problems, spend a bit of time researching appropriate examples and ideas from other sites. Also, if you know you’ll be choosing between a couple of likely tools, then take some time to research basic questions such as costs, licensing approach, and other key details that will aid in decision-making so you have this information at your fingertips.

3. Rehearse to smooth out your delivery. If you are responsible for presenting during the meeting, note the major points you want to cover and rehearse what you want to say. The simple act of reciting sentences aloud, even just once or twice, will help you find much better ways to transition from one point to the next, as well as uncover new points that are important to include. Rehearsing will help your final version flow effortlessly.

During the Meeting

4. Help break down the client/vendor barrier. Try to sit among the clients, so it’s not your company on one side and the client team on the other. Sit across from your co-workers, not adjacent to them, so you can better see their faces and react to what they are saying and see if they want to jump in. Don’t inadvertently sit at the head of the table, as the head of the client team may wish to do so.

5. Know who’s who. When introductions are made, jot down each person’s name and his/her role in the project (note their role may not necessarily be evident simply from their job title). Sketch out this information according to their proximity to your seat, so you can always address people by name and better remember who said what later.

6. Know when to hold back. Each company has its own internal working dynamics and social norms. Resist the temptation to help or to jump into internal discussions the client team is trying to solve. Also, remember that some people in the meeting may have contributed to the site you are now reworking. Keep that in mind while discussing possible improvements, so your suggestions are not seen as a slight to them.

7. Be gracious regarding other vendors. If the client mentions anything negative about their former web vendor’s work, even in a joking way, be gracious and hold your tongue. Just listen to their concerns in a neutral tone and address how you’d approach things differently. Also, your team may need to work with that vendor, and so the client will want to know you can handle that sensitively and professionally.

8. Don’t put your co-workers on the spot. Everyone has had the experience of “fading out” for a few seconds only to have someone ask you a question at that very moment. If you have been doing most of the talking for a while but then want to volley a question to a co-worker (or the client already did and your co-worker may need help), first get their attention, briefly and casually restate the scenario, and then state the question.

9. Don’t interject problems that have no immediate solution. If you have a concern, weigh it for 2 seconds and consider whether you have a good solution, or whether your co-workers will likely have a positive and/or useful answer. If you aren’t sure, then mentioning it at this point might just cause unnecessary stress for the client. Instead, write it down and follow up with your co-workers later, and address it with the client once you have a good solution in mind.

10. Only bring examples you can comfortably describe. If you’d like to show an example website created by your company, but no one in the meeting was involved in that particular project, either research it with other co-workers ahead of time or consider not bringing it up. If you bring up a project and have a rehearsed script of only a couple things to say but no one can answer deeper questions, that segment may end awkwardly. Your major examples should be ones you feel comfortable speaking about.

Whether you are meeting the client team members for the first time or not, in-person meetings offer a great opportunity to build mutual trust and understanding between yourself and the client that will help ease communication when you do work remotely. Clients want to see that your team is easy to work with, on the ball, has creative ideas, can solve issues and come up with solutions on the fly, can deal with awkward issues graciously, and will let them contribute to the process.

Find as many ways as possible to be confident by controlling all the little things above that are in your power, and those will all go a long way to making the presentation itself smoother and less stressful.

Do you have other tips to share? Please comment!

About the author: Teresa Meile Bailey resides in NYC and has been a project manager and senior designer at Velir since 2000, way back when they were an upstart startup of just two people.  Besides geeky design and interactive data stuff, she is fond of fattening desserts and starting craft projects she has no time to finish. She is excited to have her first blog post behind her, and found it was much easier to write than chasing two toddlers around the house.