While looking to inspire the creative designers around me, I decided to compile these presentation tips I’ve used over the years to help sell my work internally and externally. Whether it’s been to other creatives, to the account team, or to clients, these tips have proved priceless in ensuring everyone understands exactly what my creative vision was, regardless of the project.
It all comes down to purposeful storytelling — engaging your audience while making sure your message is understood. This way, they more quickly agree it’s right for the brand, and I’m more likely to see it move forward.
As much as we want and wish for everyone to just get it, the fact is simple: not everyone sees what we creatives see in our own work, and expressing our purpose through presentation is not something we can avoid. Because, believe it or not, presentation is EVERYWHERE:
- It’s how you dress
- It’s your body language
- It’s telling your team about an awesome idea you have, and not sitting on it
- It’s how you explain design decisions, and share the context behind your idea
- It’s how you pitch or sell your work, and how you express your passion
- It’s choosing how you do it all: Keynote, InVision board, Principle Prototype, excel sheet, word doc, or simply with hands and words
- It’s how you share your work with the world; posting on dribbble, putting together a portfolio, etc.
As a professional, the presentation of yourself and your creativity is everywhere, and these I’ve mentioned are only named a few. That’s why it’s important to consider your presentation, and why I’ve assembled my favorite tips to help you in every presentation moving forward.
You’re only as good as your presentation.
We’re way better at communicating things visually than we are in a room full of strangers wearing suits. And that’s ok, it’s what makes us awesome.
But here’s the catch…
Without a story, some sort of presentation, or an extra effort to communicate your idea, it will never fully exist as anything. An idea will die before it ever exists, a client will never buy off, your creative director will never choose that logo option you love. You’ve only created art.
#1) No one knows the story better than you.
Every idea you sketch, color your choose, pixel you push, they’re all a calculated design decisions bringing you to a rock solid solution. However, a solution is not enough. It needs to be a story. No one can explain that story, and the why better than you. The story you tell continues long after your first internal review, client presentation, or even once the website goes live. Take note of your internal dialogue, thought processes, and decisions throughout the life of a project.
Believe it or not, the script for your presentation is written long before you’ve even realized you needed one.
#2) Get over yourself. No one cares. Really.
You hate being in the spotlight, admit it. We all do. There, we said it. Now that we’ve cleared the air, understand that no one cares about how nervous you are. Honestly, everyone is probably a little nervous. No one cares about how uneasy your stomach is, sweaty your palms are, or how you spilled your cup of coffee on your lap rushing into work. Everyone is there with tunnel vision for only 1 thing…to hear what you have to say. No one is expecting you to F*ck it up. And if you do, no one will probably even notice. Deep breaths…you got this, and if you don’t, the only way to get better is by doing.
#3) Be human. Keep it conversational.
Ever speak to a customer service representative who is reading off a computer screen? Or listen to someone talk about something in an almost robotic fashion? Ever want to pull your hair out because of it? Yeah, don’t be that person. Want to keep people from tuning out? Keep a conversation going. Keep them involved, make them feel like they’re a part of it all. Be human.
We humans are riddled with mistakes, so don’t worry, no one is putting this expectation on you that everything has to go according to plan. Sometimes even asking a simple question mid presentation can go a long way… “Does that make sense, Let me know if I’m speaking too fast…”
“We’ve gone through a lot so far, do you guys want to talk through any of it or would you like to keep rolling?”
Sometimes opening up the floor for others to speak may yield a more casual and comfortable result. Sometimes making it a bit more comfortable for everyone can be the difference between a room full of naysayers, and a room full of advocates.
Consider your clients your friends, and speak to them as such. If you’re not respectful and clear with your friends, you need new friends. Or better yet, your friends need a new friend.
#4) It’s ok to not be the “smartest” person in the room. Being the know-it-all isn’t the most prized position either.
Ever run into the know-it-all? The one-upper? Ever find these people annoying? Don’t be that person. Speaking is important, but listening is essential. Have you ever been met with a question mid meeting that you can’t answer? Have you ever made something up or bullshitted something right on the spot? If so, it’s ok to not know. “I’m not sure to be honest, let me touch base with the development team after the call so I can get you an exact answer.”
“Let me regroup with the team after and chat through timing so we can get back to you.”
Stay humble. It’s approachable. People want to listen to approachable people, not super-duper expert experts.
#5) Explain it like they’ve never seen it. Believe me, they haven't.
We all fall into this inevitable trap of being so close to something day in and day out, when we leave out even the smallest detail, it can send a whole room into a tailspin. A tailspin that prohibits individuals from TRULY understanding what is in your head. Deep breaths here… ready for me to blow your mind…THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT BECAUSE THEY’VE NEVER SEEN IT, AND CERTAINLY NEVER DESIGNED IT. Their knowledge lies in your verbal articulation. It sounds so trivial but really, OVER EXPLAIN THINGS.
Giving someone the opportunity to dismiss information they already know is a lot easier than trying to explain your decisions after they’ve provided their feedback and still don’t entirely understand.
You’ll thank me later, I promise.
#6) Don’t tell someone what they’re looking at. They know. Tell them why they’re seeing what they’re seeing.
“This is the masthead. It’s a photo of a couple in the park. I like parks. And it has nice lighting.” Thank you captain obvious, you didn’t need a phone call or a 90 min in-person meeting for that. Clients, your supervisor, or those signing your paycheck care more about WHY they’re seeing what they’re seeing over what it is they see.
People are intelligent creatures, they can figure out what they’re looking at. (Usually.) Maybe the photo of the couple in the park you chose for your masthead evokes an emotional response that you want to give to your core users. It feels right for the brand. See what I did there??? Explaining the why behind your every decision will lead to a more sound presentation, but also a more convincing point of view. Listening to why you want your “buy now” buttons to pop is way more entertaining to listen to than listening to you explain that they’re pill shaped with a 40px radius and a slight drop shadow because it looks cool.
Clients want you to sell shit or raise awareness. Not make pretty pictures. Tell them why your choices will move the needle on what matters.
#7) Know your content.
This probably goes without saying, but if you refer to one of my previous tips (#5), I’ll go ahead and explain it like you’ve never seen it!
Walk into your meeting prepared. Take notes on important points to hit. Rehearse. Find an office buddy and do a dry run in the kitchen over lunch. Avoid writing out exactly what you’re going to say. This never comes off as being conversational, it’ll sound like you’re reading; every time.
Even worse…if a client interrupts you or throws you off your rhythm, good luck finding your spot again. Bullet points, index cards, print outs with little annotations, whatever works for you. For everyone it’s different. Just know that one day you’ll be like Don Draper and walk into a meeting and crush a presentation without any prep time. I’ve never watched a single episode but even I know about how impressive his presentations were. Like anything, the more your practice the better you’ll become, and the less time you’ll need to prepare.
#8) Find your safe words, and find them fast.
Like, literally, actually, really, you know, honestly. The list goes on. Do a quick google search and you’ll find more than you care to read. The fact of the matter is we all have safe words that we resort to when we’re nervous, thinking about what to say next, or just out of things to say. Some are worse than others but admit it, you’ve been behind that girl at Starbucks with the broken iPhone screen taking a selfie dropping the word “literally” 3 times in every sentence. Yeah. What a shame. Moral of the story, learn what your safe words are.
Just being conscious of the words you resort to can help clean up your presentation. Ask a co-worker for feedback, record your presentations and listen to them. Be open to feedback. The best advice I ever got was at the conclusion of my first presentation in front of our companies’ CEO was …“You use the word “like” A LOT. Never be afraid to fill a room with silence.” It’s true. Sometimes a simple pause goes a long way. Pause, gather your thoughts, and move on. It’ll give your audience a moment to digest information as well. You don’t have to fill silence with safe words. You’ll sound more intelligent and prepared if you can master this subtle art.
1. No one knows the story better than you. Own it. Explain it.
2. Get over yourself. Nerves force us to over think. Deep breaths, and crush it. Remember it’s not that serious.
3. Be human. Consider your clients your friends, and speak to them as such. Even if you’re only pretending.
4. Don’t be Mr. Know-it-all. It’s ok to not have all the answers.
5. Explain it like they’ve never seen it.
6. Explain why you made the decisions you made. No need to recap what someone is looking at.
7. Know your content.
8. Get rid of your “safe words” or redundant tendencies
You’ve come this far. Don’t stop now.
Continue the story and make that dribbble post, add another device render to your case study, animate that interaction state. The story never stops. Is your portfolio ever fully up to date? You know the answer is NO. One day you’ll look back as an evolved version of yourself saying “Oh man, I actually presented that.” How you tell your story changes everyday and you’ll continue to present something in a new way. If you’re uncomfortable with it being your first time, suck it up buttercup, it’s always going to feel like the first time.