Anyone who presents their work to others knows that producing something awesome is only half the battle: the rest lies in communicating well with other people to push those ideas forward.
It's easy to think there's some one-size-fits-all solution out there, and if we could just find it we'd solve the challenge of communication permanently. But people are different, with unique viewpoints and motivators, and may respond very differently to the same approach.
We've found a few strategies, though, that help us understand the best approach to take with different clients, making sure we're all on the same page and working toward the same goal.
Do Your Research
A client contact may be representing their company, but that company isn't monolithic, and its employees aren't identical cogs. Going into a project, if you can pull up a contact's LinkedIn page, you're already a step ahead: this will tell you how they like to present themselves professionally, explain their background in both work and education, and will often even include their interests.
Knowing this background can help you gauge what level of technical detail you should go into about a project, what elements will be likely to interest (or bore) them, and what aspects they're likely to find most important. Are they new to the company or a ten-year veteran? Is the work you're replacing near and dear to their heart, or are they ready to chuck it out the window? Picking up on these details can help you avoid potential minefields, better understand what factors clients will appreciate the most.
What's more, this offers a psychological benefit, especially when you're communicating over an (often impersonal) phone: if the going gets rough, knowing that that stickler VP of Marketing used to be an artist, or that Product Manager spent eight years in the Coast Guard will help you see them as people, and hopefully understand their viewpoint a little better.
This is just a starting point - don't jump to conclusions or make rash assumptions, but instead try to better understand where your client is coming from.
Listen Between the Lines
We communicate with our clients every step of the way through a project, making sure we're on the right track, and that they've bought into the ideas we're proposing. When we walk a client through sketches, or wireframes, or a visual design, it can be tempting to just turn on autopilot and explain away.
But tailoring your explanation to your client and turning a careful ear on their feedback is hugely important. It can make the difference between a ho-hum meeting and high-fives all around.
First, keep their biggest concerns in mind: were they worried about that new user call-to-action? Emphasizing company branding? The wording of a particular link? Make sure you call those concerns out, explain how you addressed them, and why your solution is awesome.
Second, pay careful attention to their responses as you go. If they're excited about a particular feature, by all means, go into more detail about how great it is. If you feel like you're losing them, feel them out and figure out why. Propose solutions on the fly. You don't want to leave a meeting without knowing how to improve the situation, and they don't want to feel like you're not "getting it."
Keeping these points in mind means clients will be much more likely to feel like they're getting what they need and want out of a project.
Careful listening and mild sleuthing can be invaluable, but ultimately, if you need to know something, just ask. We always send our clients a set of "homework questions" up front, with questions about the background of the company, its product, what they're worried about, what goals they have for the project, etc.
Answers to these questions provide both hard facts, as well as insight into the person answering them. Are they detail-oriented or more big picture? How will they be defining a successful outcome to the project? Knowing these answers up front can help keep you focused on the right goals throughout the project, rather than scrambling to catch up at the last minute.
What's Your Strategy?
Just as each client is different, each designer has their own ways of communicating with others. What's your strategy?