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James Hance
Marketing Designer & Copywriter
St Petersburg, Florida
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Ten (or 11) Tips for Presenting Your Portfolio

Graphic designers, illustrators, photographers and architects sell their services to potential clients with their portfolio presentation. What is the best format for a portfolio presentation? Knowing your audience will give you a clue.
Written Apr 09, 2009, read 10605 times since then.
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Presenting your strengths and capabilities which differentiate you from the competition is important in any presentation. Here are some ideas for presenting a great portfolio of your work.

  1. Tailor the presentation to address the specific needs of the client. You can do this by having several portfolios for several types of projects you are pursuing, or a portfolio which can be edited and re-ordered (such as a loose leaf binder, presentation boards, or a PowerPoint presentation). Presentation boards 12” x 18” can be displayed on a presentation board or passed around in a conference room environment. The type of presentation should be selected for the size of the group to which you are presenting, the availability of electronic presentation tools, and the nature of the work being presented. Interactive creative work cannot be shown well in photos, so the work will sometimes dictate the media of the presentation.
  2. Create and distribute “mini” portfolios in PDF format which can be emailed to clients. It is best to stick to a letter-size format so they can be easily printed out by the recipient. These portfolios can be posted on your Website, and you can have several for different types of projects you want to undertake.
  3. Showcase a single project on each board or page, show the “before” and “after,” or present your work as a “solution” to a problem, and include a testimonial from the client. This shows that you are results-oriented, and helps the viewer understand why your work is appropriate for the problem it was intended to solve.
  4. Categorize you work. If you are a photographer or illustrator, group your work in categories such as: people, product photography or illustrations, architecture, etc.  If you are a graphic designer, create separate sections for industry (real estate, tourism, financial services), clients, or types of work (Websites, publications, advertising, marketing collateral, corporate identity, etc.)
  5. Tell a story. Your portfolio might show the progression of your career, or be a creative work of its own showcasing your creativity, various talents and skills.
  6. Present your 3 LCDs, or lowest common denominators. These are three “specialties” you have, or unique selling points, with examples of your work, and a success story page or board for each specialty. Introduce your 3 LCDs on one board, then use most of the portfolio to showcase each of your LCDs in three separate sections which include your work, your success story, and types of similar projects which you want to pursue. At the end of your portfolio, summarize the work with references to your expertise in each of the LCDs. One presentation I did focused on Web design, Publications and Branding. Your three LCDs might instead focus on three "case studies" of your work. Three seems to be a good number, as most people can remember three themes when they are repeated throughout a presentation. You can use your portfolio pages to further discuss your unique approach to each of your specialties, or your philosophy or guiding principles which set you apart, and how these apply to the project or client you are pursuing.
  7. Show original thinking. Clients are interested in what you add to the creative process. Note your role in the work on each project represented, and be prepared to explain what the project is, how it started, and why it was a success. This information could also be included in the format of the portfolio.
  8. Focus on your expertise. By focusing on 3 LCDs or dedicating your entire portfolio to a certain kind of work, you prove you are a successful expert in a specific field with substantial knowledge, skills and experience.
  9. Address the specific requirements of the particular client you are meeting with. If you know beforehand that your audience is interested in a highly specialized skillset, tailor your presentation to the exact requirements they seek, and use headlines and captions which use the EXACT language used. This is important in pursuing contract work where contractors are invited to answer an RFP (request for proposal, or presentation). Mimic the exact style and vocabulary of the client you are pursuing. As a successful presenter, you need to know the client, speak his language, and be a “good fit” for the client and the work being pursued.
  10. Thank your audience, make eye contact, and give your audience a sample of your work. A leave-behind can be a page which summarizes your presentation, showing several examples of the work which was presented, with appropriate contact information.
  11. Rehearse and practice your presentation several times. Show up over-prepared. Make sure you can show your portfolio of work within a specific timeframe, and that you are prepared to improvise in the event that your audience does not want to see a “canned” presentation. Boards and presentation books are a good format for a variety of situations where you might have to quickly move to examples which directly answer questions and concerns from your audience. A printed or static portfolio version can also be a handy alternative in case your canned computer portfolio presentation fails for any reason. Be prepared for the unexpected, which can include power outages, an impatient audience member, forgotten power cord, or an impromptu presentation in the elevator. The better prepared you are for the unexpected, the better you look in any situation. Smile, and enjoy sharing your work and your passion.

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Comment on this article

  • Illustrator 
Barcelona, Barcelona Spain 
Laura Catalan
    Posted by Laura Catalan, Barcelona, Barcelona Spain | May 09, 2010

    Hello James! these tips are incredibly useful. I specially like what you say about showing the client that you have put a creative effort in the project, that it didn't come out of the blues but instead it is a problem you solved graphically. Many thanks for sharing it!