Design is a mixture of art and business. Dealing with clients and walking them through decisions can be intimidating, especially when presentations are not high on our list of capabilities. As designers, a fundamental part of our work is in presenting our ideas as clearly as possible to allow for appropriate and valuable feedback. This can be from peers, project managers, or ultimately the user. To be truly effective in communicating our work to an audience, proper presentation is a must. Whether presenting project proposals to company executives or giving a talk to a class of freelancers, thinking about how you will be delivering your message is as important as the message itself. Here are some basic tips to get you started.
Know Your Audience Before You Meet Them
Meet your target audience before stepping in front of them.
Schedule informal user interviews or chat over coffee with people who fit your audience’s persona and position. Are they other designers? Freelancers? Company stakeholders?
Do as much pre-work and research as possible to understand their interests, expectations, goals, and reactions to what you will be speaking on. You don’t want there to be any surprises by the time you present.
Now that you know your audience, it’s time to build the presentation.
Crafting the Presentation
The process of building a presentation and designing are very similar. Depending on the presentation, it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days. But here’s where to start:
This is where you spark new ideas. Through creative activities like brainstorming you can work out how to communicate your topic, sketch thoughts for the flow and develop content for your slides.
The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible, so you can then trim the number down to the most practical and innovative ones.
Pro Tip: Set time limits. This part of the process can take hours because it’s a free flow of thoughts and doesn’t truly have an end. So be careful not to waste time.
This step involves creating an early, scaled-down version of your presentation to reveal any problems in your deck.
Whether using Powerpoint, Keynote, or other presentation software, get a quick overview of the look and flow of your deck. See the slide order makes sense and the appearance fits your audience.
“By taking the time to prototype our ideas, we avoid costly mistakes such as becoming too complex too early and sticking with a weak idea for too long.” – Tim Brown, Chair Member at Design Firm IDEO
Present your findings to others to get valuable feedback. Gathering information from your potential audience early in the process can help to shape your presentation and support any necessary changes with evidence.
Quickly test options and be ready for any audience questions/comments.
Filter feedback, determine what should and should not be brought back to the board. There are a few methods that can be applied when evaluating ideas. Let’s focus on one, the Pass-Fail Evaluation Method.
This can be applied when evaluating a large number of ideas within a short period of time. It’s based in terms of “accepting” or “rejection” questions. This will help to eliminate ideas that don’t fit within the presentation and for the audience.
The questions can include:
Does the idea comply with the topic of the presentation? (Yes/No)
Does the idea speak to the audience? (Yes/No)
Is the idea something the audience can understand and accept? (Yes/No)
The more ideas are given, the longer this method can take. It is necessary to avoid eliminating good ideas and trimming the ones that don’t work.
Do this process many times until you finalize it.
Your presentation should have the build of a classic story:
State the topic and explain why it’s relevant to the audience.
Highlight your process and the steps followed to get there.
Describe the results or impact of your activities.
Wrap up by describing what your focus will be in the future.
“You don’t always need to be the most important person in the room. Be the most effective.”
Get the Audience Involved
Determine the best way to communicate with your audience.
Pitching to a Project Manager? Show how your ideas align with the company mission and how they will achieve their goals.
Speaking to a room full of budding freelancers? Focus on what they care about most, getting more clients!
Depending on your setting, you may be able to ask a “show of hands” question to get a bit of crowd participation. But above all, be able to flow with the mood of the audience.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
I know the nerves are real. Your heart may start beating faster as the moment arises. But remember, your audience is there to see you. They blocked off time in their schedule to hear you speak. They are interested in your perspective and hope to take something valuable with them after your talk. So be open, challenge yourself, and give them something to remember.