2021/04/12 My breakdown of “Mike Monteiro: 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations” (and how it applies to testers)

Today I’m going to be talking about a presentation I found on YouTube, titled “13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations”, by Mike Monteiro (@Monteiro on Twitter).

It is aimed at designers, who he classifies as “anyone who puts anything on the web”. So why, as a tester, who doesn’t put content on the web, not only watch it, but blog about it?

I had seen a previous video of his – Fuck You, Pay Me, and found him to be an interesting speaker, so I thought give it a shot.

I’m glad I did, as a good chunk of what he says could be applied to testers (or developers, or many other roles which require expert knowledge).

If you want to watch the whole thing yourself (and I would encourage you to do so), you can watch it below. It is just under an hour long, which isn’t always easy to spare.

If you would like a breakdown of his presentation, with me referencing sections that I feel would apply to testers, then keep on reading.


Quality is not enough

Mike asks do good thing comes to those who wait, that quality rises, that the making was enough, and our place is in front of a screen.

Does good design (testing) sell itself?


Mike says that for collaborative environments, beer on tap, a ping pong table, for all of that, there is one thing that will hold true.

If you stop paying people they stop coming to work

Which is a fair point. We aren’t volunteers, doing our jobs for charity. We have bills, rent/mortgages, food, and other thins to pay for, and for the majority of people, it is work (whether from your main job or side hustles) that allows us to do that.

To do this, Mike needs four things:

1. Get work.

2. Do work.

3. Ensure quality.

4. Get paid.

Mike says that he needs the above four things to happen to stay in business.

But Mike, isn’t that sales?

No matter what you do, this is about how to make the argument for your work. How to put your work in front of a client, a boss, a manager, or an investor. You are always having to be convincing someone of something. That your work is good, that you made the right decision, and matching to those decisions to their project goals.

To achieve this, Mike says that there are only two steps needed to make that happen.

1. Do good work.

2. Persuade them it’s good.

Without both of them happening, it fails.

Take either of these out of the equation, it falls apart, which is how you know it’s an equation.

If you don’t do step 1, in Mike’s words, you are “pushing swill”. And if don’t do step 2, it doesn’t matter how good your work is.

A good designer (tester) who can sell good work is more valuable that a great designer (tester) who can’t.

The former helps the money come in, whereas the latter is someone who is a cost, a burden, on the company.

The myth that good design sells itself is a myth, and destructive. And as testers, the same applies to us. We could do the greatest testing in the world, but if no-one knows what we do, how it benefits someone, we will be overlooked.

Selling is one of the last and toughest skill designer picks up, so tough that some designers convince themselves it’s a skill they don’t need, and leave it to someone else. But by letting someone else sell your work, you have to be happy how they sell it, and you can’t complain that someone isn’t selling it the way you would sell it.

As testers, if we can’t put across our thoughts and understanding on a piece of work, how can we expect someone else to do it in a way we are completely happy about?

Mike then has a jokey line, pretending to be someone else “Oh, but my boss won’t let me.” You boss is a choice. Make better choices.

Selling is a core design skill.

You should be able to explain every single decision you have made on this project, and to be there to answer any questions, to receive feedback, and the look in their eyes each time they see it. To be there when they say “change X thing”, rather than someone writing that down and passing it along, to ask “What are you hoping to accomplish by doing that?”, as it is in your toolbox, and only you know to ask that question.

Mike then asks the audience how many of them have had an account manager (and my mind jumped to test lead attending a meeting that I didn’t attend) return from a client presentation with a list of changes without any context, and half counter to the project goals. But then the designers roll their eyes, and get angry. And they should be angry, that somebody didn’t do their job right. Except that person was the designer (tester). You had somebody else doing your job, so you don’t get to complain about how they did it.

If we aren’t involved in the right meetings or conversations, we aren’t able to ask the right questions, to challenge things we know to push back on.

After the introduction that goes on for 15 minutes, Mike goes onto what 13 mistakes designers make during client presentations.

1. You are not there to be the client’s friend

You aren’t hired to be someone’s friend. You are hired to solve a business problem. You are the expert at what you do, and you are uniquely qualified to solve their problem. By hiring you, they acknowledge that 1. They have a need; 2. That you can solve it. You have been brought in to add your expertise to their own, not to be their friend.

Happiness is a side-effect of good design (testing), not a goal.

Your decisions should resolve around helping your client achieve their goal, not to be their friend. Never conflate helping a client achieve a goal with making them happy, as they can be happy later after the work launches and all their work is met correctly.

Work you didn’t sell is no better than work you didn’t do.

Clients have this amazing way to ask you to do things that run counter to their goal. Your job is to convince them not to do those things, that’s what they hired you for. They hired you to meet a goal. In the end they’re going to be better served if you see yourself as the expert they hired. You need to present yourself as the expert they hired.

I’ve been on a project where when I ask what they expect from me, they simply responded with “testing”, because they don’t know what is involved. They expected a tester to turn up, do something, and then at the end say they are finished. And it made me realise how we don’t share what we do enough, and help others understand not only what testing does, but how it helps them.

Avoiding confrontation is increasingly expensive.

By avoiding uncomfortable conversations now, is going to result in an even more uncomfortable conversation six months down the road, which could get people fired.

We’re service professionals, and sometimes service professionals have to deliver bad news. A dentists has to tell you, that you have a cavity every once in a while. Your mechanic has to tell you if your brakes are faulty. Your accountant has to tell you if you owe more taxes. Could you imagine what would happen if these professionals tried to hide the truth because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings? That you wouldn’t want to be your friends? They have a job to do, and that job comes with ethical responsibilities. And so does our job. We’re hired to solve a problem to the best of our ability, not the best of the client’s ability.

Imagine if, as testers, we knew about a bug in the code, or even something wrong in the requirements, and we said nothing, and left it until it became obvious and needed a large amount of rework. How could we be trusted if it ever came out we knew and just didn’t want to upset anyone? Or that testing was going to take longer than we planned, and telling them right at the end compared to as soon as we worked out we can’t do everything asked in the time we have so far?

I wouldn’t be able to trust those testers again, and I wouldn’t want to work with them, as I would be doubting everything that happens with them forever.

2. Not getting off your ass

The client should never have to guess who is leading a presentation. It should be obvious from the moment they enter a room, who is in charge. Let them know it is your room, and to make them feel welcome in that room. Your first job when you or the client walks in, is to inspire confidence. Not only in your work, but also in the client that they hired the right person. Every interaction you have with them is an opportunity to reaffirm their decision in hiring you.

Mike suggests standing up, so your voice carries better, you’re going to look like the authority in what you’re talking about, can work the room.

In a remote world, I don’t know how many people would stand up to present, though that is when having a standing desk would be a boon, if only for the voice, and not risk looking to casual or unfocused sat in a chair.

But Mike, I’m a shy and quiet person.

Confidence is a part of the job, and Mike says how the meek may inherit the world, but the rest of us have to work for a living. He then continues to quote George Carlin, they’re meek, we’ll take it back.

Confidence isn’t about YOU

Confidence is about THEM

It’s about making your client feel better, making them see that they’re in good hands. That the big cheque they wrote has the right name on it. It’s about their insecurity, not yours. They have one shot at doing this project, and they worked hard to get that budget approved. You confidence is about putting them at ease, as the more they trust you, the more inclined they’ll be to let you do your job, and to not interfere with how you do it, and to trust your decisions. Especially the hard things that they don’t want to hear.

I know that when someone is confident in what they’re saying (and it could all be an act for all I know), I am more likely to believe in what they’re saying, to trust in them, and be opening to hearing what they say.

Humility is increasingly expensive.

You can sit quietly in corner and speak in a low, hushed voice. But you need to be ready to do another couple of rounds of revisions, because the client wasn’t confident in what you showed them. Because you wasn’t when you presented it.

Have you ever been in a meeting where you wanted to push back on something you disagreed with, and eventually was proven right, but at the cost of a large amount of time?

3. Starting with an apology

Every time you apologise for something, you are freaking the client out. “Oh my god I wrote these people a big cheque. I gave them a whole year’s budget. Every time they come in here they apologise.”

Apologies are expensive.

Every time you apologise, you are asking your client for a reason to distrust you. You are putting a future job in jeopardy, as this gets around. No matter how much you hope to present at that presentation, by the time you get in the room, whatever you have on you is the perfect amount of stuff. So never apologise what you aren’t showing, it doesn’t discuss. Any resetting of expectations should have been made before the meeting ever happened.

You can apologise for human error, like forgetting a power adaptor, or spilling a drink on yourself. But never apologise for the work.

The best way to fix a meeting is to cancel it.

If you don’t feel like the work is up to spec, cancel the presentation. Don’t have a presentation of work that you can’t stand behind. But you can only get away with this once in a project, no more.

I have been in far too many meetings without an agenda, a plan, or real reason to exist, but it goes ahead. Regular weekly/daily meetings are the worst for this. I feel like my time is wasted, and it only demotivates me.

Shit runs downstream.

Apologies run upstream.

By the time you’re in the room, you need to be ready to present strong, and exude confidence, where the confidence is for their benefit, not yours. Your client probably answers to somebody higher up, and the minute you start apologising, they will begin picturing themselves apologising to their boss, and that isn’t a good feeling.

I’ve heard the saying of shit runs downstream many times before. But I hadn’t considered the idea that if I am apologising for something on a piece of work, it is unlikely that the person I’m apologising to, is the end of the line. They will need to then apologise to someone else. My lead to my manager. My manager to the project manager. The project manager to the stakeholder. The stakeholder to the oversight committee for all projects. And now I think about it, it is terrifying and a large amount of pressure. But instead of apologising, if I can explain why something is the way it is, I’m justifying myself, rather than putting myself, and everyone above me in the chain, at the mercy of others.

4. Not setting the stage properly

You have gathered all these incredibly busy people together, and they have other things to do, so let them know why they are in the presentation. Let them know why they’re a necessary and important part of this conversation. People like feeling needed, and hate having their time wasted. So every single time you gather people together, you need to be able to answer two things:

Why are we here?

When can leave?

Start the meeting by thanking people for their time. Let them know what their roles will be, why they’re here, what you’re showing them, and what kind of participation you need from them. This is your opportunity to make them feel like experts, and they will love that. Let them know what stage of the project you are in, how you got to this stage, and what the decisions that come out of this meeting will let them get to the next stage.

Everyone’s favourite part of the meeting is when it ends. Let them know what it will take to get there. If you are looking for any approval, start the meeting by saying what it is you’re looking for. The minute you get it, the meeting is over. Close your laptops. You are done. There are no more agenda items. Never give clients time to unmake a decision, especially when it is in your favour.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been in too many meetings where the agenda was missing or unclear, and when an hour is booked out, they feel obliged to use the time, rather than cut it short. Thankfully, more and more meetings I have been in are ending early and giving the time back if it has got what was needed. But not enough start how Mike suggests.

5. Giving the real estate tour

This one is initially VERY focused on designers, as he gives a mock example of a bad walkthrough through a site, where every option on the page is named, in order from left to right. But stick with me, it will get more relevant for us as testers.

You’re selling a house by talking about sheetrock.

You don’t need to explain what they can obviously see in front of them, explaining every single thing you can see. You don’t sell a house by talking about sheetrock. You get it by making the buyer picture themselves in the neighbourhood, their kids in the playground. You sell the benefits of the work, how it matches the project goals.

We don’t need to show a giant Excel sheet with all the tests we will do, the steps involved to accomplish them. They won’t care. But you could say how you will be doing lots of testing on page load times, as they specified they need them to load quickly. Or to pass accessibility guidelines. They trust us to know how to do these things, but knowing we are looking at what matters to them, validates we are, which goes back to the whole confidence piece earlier.

Work like a scientist.

Present like a snake-charmer.

While every decision should be made with the benefit of data and good research, people are irrational creatures who do not make decisions based on data and research. The data and research is what YOU need to make your decisions. People make decisions based on stories, figure out how to tell it.

Have you ever been swayed by something because of how it was told to you, rather than what was being said? If so, then why would you try to sell what you want without a story?

6. Taking notes

If you are giving a presentation, you are giving a presentation. Find somebody else to take the notes. They are undoubtedly important, but somebody else can do it.

That is all Mike says on it, and for me, it is a case of giving information, rather than receiving it. If I’m wanting to give my best and sell the story, get the outcome I need, I don’t need to be distracted with taking notes. If no-one else will take them, there is a bigger problem!

7. Reading a script

You need to convince a client that you are excited about the thing you are showing them. A presentation is a show. You are speaking to a room full of people, whose livelihood probably rests on your shoulders, and the project you are doing could be the difference between them getting promoted and fired. You need to get these people excited, and the best way to get them excited is to get excited yourself. Show some passion in your work. Tell them because you cannot not be telling them these things. They are bursting out of you.

When I get excited, it shows. Many years ago I applied for a place on a management training program, which helps people get trained to eventually become managers in the company. I made it to the final cut, but I was unsuccessful. When they spoke with me about possible alternatives, we ended up talking about IT, and my passion came through, without faking it or meaning to. They told me that management wasn’t for me, because I lacked that passion. But IT, that is where I belong (and they were right!)

Without promotion something terrible happens… nothing

PT Barnum

You are walking into a presentation with a quality object to promote. But make no qualms about it, you are promoting. You are promoting you work, yourself, and most of all, the client’s idea and that their idea will succeed. Because if you’re not, then you run the risk of the client wondering if the idea is even good enough to be working on, and that’s a conversation that should have happened way before the project. The last thing you want going through a client’s mind is “Even the people I wrote a big cheque to aren’t excited.” Have your facts straight, your homework done, your data at hand. Know why you have made the choices you have made, but work all of them around a compelling and interesting narrative that you know it well enough going in.

As part of this, as you may have worked out from the citation of the quote, Mike references PT Barnum, which these days may make you think of the musical, The Greatest Showman. I’ve not seen it, but I’m aware of it. The idea of making a presentation, a meeting, a walkthrough to something exciting, even when it could be something incredibly dry, appeals to me. But I work with people who can be hard to engage, to get excited, and it can be tough when you think, if I can’t get anyone interested and excited in what I’m doing (testing the new thing), why should I care about it either? And that can lead to a downward spiral of caring less, which gets others less engaged, and going down and down until you wonder why even do the job or show anything off at all?

8. Getting defensive

You are not your work, and your work is not you. Your work is not an extension of you, and it is not your personal expression. It is work product made to meet a client’s goal. The client is free to criticise that work, and they are free to tell you whether they believe it has met those goals or not. You are free to present evidence to the contrary, but you are not allowed to get upset about the criticism. This is a job.

Good people do bad work.

There’s a difference between defending your work, and getting defensive. The latter is personal. It is when you see the criticism as a criticism of yourself. Good people do bad work sometimes. Bad people do good work sometimes.

We can all have bad days, and those are the days when it can be hardest to not take things personally. I know I would struggle not to, no matter how much I watch this, or tell myself not to. This is because I see myself as a tester, and that is part of who I am. By having my work criticised, I see it as I have failed in some way.

I need to train myself not to think that. Easier said than done however, and it will be a long road.

This is a great time to keep your mouth shut

When the client starts critiquing the work, listen to what they are saying. Don’t feel like you have to defend everything they’re saying right then and there. You also don’t have to promise them anything then and there. Sometimes it’s best to sit on it for a while. When the client is giving you feedback, this is a great time to keep your mouth shut. Just listen. A quick reply will always look defensive. Let them finish with what they have to say, and then reply with “That’s interesting feedback, let me think about it and get back to you.”

If they wanted immediate response, I’m not sure how I’d best handle it. I’d try to say that I want to get back to them afterwards with more specifics to what they wanted, rather than something that could be incorrect.

9. Mentioning typefaces

Similar to number 5, initially it may seem that as testers, why would we care about typefaces? But this one is a deceitful title, and again moves onto more fitting analogies and detail.

Stop asking for permission to do a job you were hired for.

No matter how much research you do, you’re never going to be the expert in the thing the client does, in the same way they aren’t the expert in what you do. So when you’re presenting their work, present it in terms that relate to their needs. Talk about how the decision you made match up against the goals of the project, and then have the client judge those decisions based on the matter experts they are. If you ask for their feedback on something, don’t go crying when they go giving, and saying “They don’t know anything about this.”, they warned you, they told you that.

This isn’t about typefaces, it’s about boundaries. The more you bring up the tools of your trade, the more it looks like you are asking for approval on using those tools. Keep your clients focused on the big picture. The goals of the project. You’re going to need their help on meeting those.

It’s got me thinking about how in past projects we would say what we would use to make testing happen. Do they need to know? Do they care? Or do they need to know we will test what needs to be done in the best way, and give them confidence in the finished article?

10. Talking about how hard your worked

The worst feedback you can ever get from a client is “It looks like you worked really hard on this.”

You’re not getting graded on effort.

Stop using your work like a timecard. The irony of what we do, is if we do it looks like it was effortless, which is frustrating as it looks like it always existed. And the client is probably irritated they probably paid you for 30 hours, when it looks it took about 20 minutes. Which it did! They just didn’t see the other 29 hours and 40 minutes it took to getting the 20 minutes of good work at the end. A presentation is a terrible place for a sausage making demonstration, don’t show them how you got there. You will come across as a defensive unsure person who needs validation.

11. Reacting to questions as changes requests

Sometimes the client want to know why, they’re looking for your reasoning, and when you reply to their completely valid question to change the thing they are asking about, you are opening a huge can of worms. What was just a question, just became a problem. Now something that could have been handled by answering a simple question, became a giant maw of doubt. Your confidence in you just dropped, and every decision you made on the project is open to being revisited. Because if you are so quick to give up the ghost on one question, just because they dared to ask you about it, what kind of house of straw have you built for these people? And you may be offering to change something that was right, just because they asked.

Change requests creeping into work can be far too easy, but asking why they want the change is essential. Are they wanting to change something because they don’t understand it? Or that they think it doesn’t help them towards their goal and objective for the piece of work? I’ve seen change requests come in simply because the requirements weren’t scrutinised enough early on, and the only way to update it, is with a change request.

12. Not guiding the feedback loop

Anything that helps you do your job is part of your job.

Most clients have no idea what feedback you’re looking for, and there’s no reason they would, because they don’t do it every day, nor trained in it. Because guiding them towards the right kind of feedback that helps you do your job is part of you job. Before you call this presentation, know what kind of feedback you are looking for, and guide the presentation towards those goals, towards that feedback.

For me, this goes back to number 4 and setting the stage properly. If you aren’t clear at the start for what it will be about, how can you expect to get the feedback you want?

13. Asking “Do you like it?”

This is the worst question you can ever ask a client. All the work you have done has gone down the drain. The client is no longer viewing you as an expert, their equal in expertise, the person they feel comfortable writing a cheque to, you are now reduced down to a small child showing their dad a picture of the cat, and hoping they deem it worthy of putting on the fridge.

Hopefully the mix of me using Mike’s words, as well as my own personal experiences and thoughts on it has given you thought, and that just because something is labelled as being for designers, it can apply to testers as well (or developers, or other roles, though I can’t speak for roles I don’t do).

Also, almost 4800 was a hefty thing to type, and if you managed to read it all, I appreciate it 🙂

One thought on “2021/04/12 My breakdown of “Mike Monteiro: 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations” (and how it applies to testers)

  1. I immediately think of Dilbert on tech demos:
    “The software isn’t 100% complete.”
    “If it had a UI, you’d be seeing something here……. something here….. and sometimes something here.”
    “And then you’d be saying, ‘I gotta get me some of that.’ Any questions?”


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