The Consultant Becomes The Client

August 14, 2015



My service on the board of the Stillwater Public Library continually provides lessons big and small that I apply to my professional life. (This is ground I’ve covered before, too.) Recently, we’ve gone through a process to interview and select a project consultant. As a guy who’s usually on the consultant’s side of the table, it’s fun and informative to be the client for a change.

Based on my experience both as a consultant pitching ideas and projects and as a client fielding those pitches, I’m sharing these simple tips to make your next presentation (and mine!) go more smoothly. Whether you’re trying to get the boss to sign off on your new idea, get that prospect to give you the business, or even get the job you’re interviewing for, I hope these tips make things a little easier.

Be smooth. If you’re not on your game, you’re not going to be comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, how can you expect the people you’re talking with to be comfortable with you? If you’re cool, confident and collected, you’re somewhere between 30 and 90 percent of the way to success. So get your act together and have your message and your mission down pat (whatever that means).

Be honest. A corollary to being at ease is being honest. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t immediately have an answer for something. Don’t be shy about giving others credit where due rather than hogging it for yourself. Don’t pretend, in the words of Outkast, yo sh– don’t stank. People want to hire a partner, not an actor.

Be flexible. Clients change their minds all the time. They’re human. Be ready to dance — and do it gracefully. Remember what we said in the RFP? “Changed it.” Remember the target launch date? “It’s moved up.” Remember the thing the CEO wanted? “She wants something else now.” Remember how we said we’d save questions for the end? “I have a question now.” Roll with it. If you get flustered in the presentation phase, how on earth can you handle the actually-doing-the-work part?

Be quiet. Okay, so this might make more sense with, say, a new-business prospect than, say, a potential employer. But put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s sat and listened to spiel after spiel. Slide after slide. Budget after budget. What if you were to just ask a few good questions and then shut up and listen? You just might get a better understanding of what they need help with. And who do people like to have around? Other people who help solve their problems.

Be memorable. Yep, that’s my final piece of advice. Just find a way to be unforgettable. Easy, right? That’s what they pay you for.