Small Business Trends

How to Screw Up a Client Presentation

Published by in Small Business Trends

Every good client meeting comes down to three things. Presentation, presentation, presentation.

First, you’ve got the prepared material of your client presentation. Then, you’ve got the actual talking through of that material, which is your presentation. Then, you’ve got the manner in which you present yourself – your presentation.

If you’re worried that your client meetings are going too well or you’re getting too much business, have no fear, I’m here to help. Today, we’ll look at the best ways I know to screw up a client presentation at every available turn.

client presentation

Preparing your presentation

The first key to a truly bad presentation is to rely on a nice old version of PowerPoint or a piece of bleeding edge tech that you have no experience with. I’m partial to either PowerPoint 2002, which worked well with Windows ME, or some sort of presentation-as-video-slides thing that you find on a random Russian website.

Once you’ve got a medium to work with, you’ll want to build the actual presentation. Here are my key points to making perfectly horrific slides:

  1. Obviously, a good presentation is going to be easy on the eyes. You should put too much information on any single slide for a reasonable person to consume in the five minutes the slide will be on the screen. This leaves people guessing, which is a great start.
  2. People hate bad PowerPoint effects almost as much as they hate bad movie effects. Use star wipes between each slide. While you may be tempted to throw in a fade effect or a just a jump cut, keep Homer Simpson’s star wipe mantra in mind – “Why eat hamburger when you can have steak?”
  3. Finally, keep everyone’s attention glued to the screen by laying out material in an order that even IBM’s Watson couldn’t decipher. Instead of telling a clear story about your value proposition and product offering, mix it up. Start with the cost then dive into implementation then finish with the problems you’re going to overcome. Perfect.

If you adhere to these tenets, you should be well on your way to absolute failure. Now it’s time to figure out how you can keep anyone from actually understanding the small bits of truth that may have accidentally ended up on the screen.

It’s time to focus on presentation.

Presenting your presentation

Before you can really muck up a client presentation, you’ve got to get inside the heads of your audience. They want clarity, certainty, and a story that puts their concerns at the heart of everything.

This should be easy.

  1. Before the presentation even begins, you should spend some time futzing around with wire and screens and projectors. Instead of planning ahead and testing your equipment, you’ll want to figure it all out on the fly. Ideally, you’ll be able to say, “This worked the other day,” a few times.
  2. Once you finally get up and running, it’s time to hand out a printed copy of your slides. Instead of everyone looking up at you and following your points as they’re made, you want everyone to be staring at small print in a dark room, trying to figure out why there’s a picture of a clown on slide three.
  3. Remember when you put all that dense text on your slides? It’s payoff time. You’re going to want to read through those slides as quickly as possible while lingering on the slides devoid of content. People hate being read to.
  4. You want to do all this while keeping your back to the audience. Some people are going to ignore the printouts you’ve laid on the table. They’ll be desperately searching for some eye contact or to be able to hear what you’re saying. Don’t give them the chance.

These presentation tips are going to get everyone in the room riled up. At this point in the day, you’ve hopefully already lost a few people to “important phone calls” or other solid excuses.

For the stragglers, you’re going to have to pull out all the stops to make sure they get the point. You are bad at presenting and you are here to show them just how bad you can be.

Making a fool of yourself in a room full of strangers

There are plenty of time-tested tricks to making yourself look foolish in public. While some of the best systems aren’t appropriate even for a satirical piece on making a fool out of yourself, there are still some winners to be found.

The goal of this system is to make yourself seem both oblivious and kind of mean. If you can achieve both, you’ll be on the fast track to never having to present again.

  1. Clearly, you’re going to want to start out by being brash, overly familiar, and slightly too loud. If, by some miracle, your audience is following you, you’re going to want to make it as painful as possible. Never mirror their attitude or excitement, it only builds rapport.
  2. The best way to support your credibility is to address your shortcomings head-on. That means that you should be attacking the question asker or your competition instead. Why can they do what you can’t? They’re liars and cheapskates and you’re focused on the wrong thing, dummy.
  3. The last step here is to pretend like you know the answer to everything. Basic questions that you could get back to them on? No dice. Just throw any old answer out there to satisfy their curiosity and then get defensive if you’re challenged on it.

There is now no possible way that this potential client will ever call you back unless it’s to let you know about a restraining order that they’ve put in place.

For the rare client presentation that has to go well

I can safely say that, if you’ve followed these tips, you should find yourself with a lot more free time. Sometimes, though, you’re stuck giving a presentation that you actually want to go well. One where the outcome has to be positive.


If you find yourself in such an unfortunate state, leave Florida. Ha. That’s a joke about the quality of my home state. But seriously, if you have to get it right, here are a few final pointers.

  1. Make your visual presentation as light on words as possible. Put nothing on the screen that you plan to say aloud. Instead, use that space for simple graphs, charts, and illustrations.
  2. Test all your equipment beforehand. Grab a portable projector, laptop, and a memory stick so that no technical challenge has a chance to put you off.
  3. Face and engage your audience. Keep eye contact whenever possible and read their reaction to your material. If people look lost, slow down and add in details. If they look bored, skip the high-level stuff and get to the meat.
  4. Be comfortable answering questions with questions or with a promise to find out the answer. Build a real, ongoing dialogue with people and they’ll come back for more.

You can do all this with any PowerPoint – which I’m still oddly loyal to – or one of the better, modern presentation options now available. I like Canva but I’ve got a whole list of free presentation software, if you’re interested.

Remember, above all else, when you’re selling your business, you’re selling yourself. People buy people. Make it as easy as possible for clients to buy you.

If you’ve got any presentation horror stories, drop them in the comments below. If you need a full listing of presentation software, check out Capterra’s presentation software directory. Good luck.

Looking for Document Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Document Management software solutions.

About the Author

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.


Comment by Abigail Lee on

Wow! What an amazing blog. I absolutely love the information you provided in your blog. However, as per my understanding rather than creating presentations from scratch, I would go for downloading readymade templates and modifying them as per my needs.

Comment by OKC Painters on

Great tips! It can be so nerve wrecking!

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