Welcome to my article where I tell you all to pretend to be a 55-year old woman named Karen. Intrigued? Hopefully. Who in the hell is Karen? Karen is a 55-year old woman who is a registered nurse and is on her feet for up to 16 hours a day. Pretend to be her. Seriously.
I found out I was going to be the lead designer on a large website redesign for a very reputable and respected organization that specializes in the treatment of venous insufficiency. A company that treats varicose and spider veins using customized treatment options on a per individual basis. They hang their hat on being an organization that is “Patient First.” The bottom line: they’re the leaders in the industry, and their patients trust them.
So we started a long journey of discovery, workshops, strategic research, user experience design, development, and everything else that it took to get this large web build up and running. At any given point throughout the project we were dealing with a team of doctors, internal designers, directors of marketing and sales, etc. The point? Everyone at the table spoke a different language, not literally, but from a level of comprehension.
Failed. Failed again. And, again.
So here we were. Our first client presentation. We had spent countless hours digging into site strategy, coming up with an overall approach, and wireframing the entire site experience. It was sound. I felt confident. The team felt confident.
We finished walking everyone through it and… crickets. It wasn’t received nearly as well as I would have guessed. But hey, it happens. It’s the name of the game, and you shake it off and move on. It just sucks when you feel like hard work goes down the drain.
A few weeks later it was time to present again. We made all the revisions to the UX, and this time we were presenting designs. How could they not get excited this time around? We had gone into some preliminary art direction, along with some design comps for the first few key pages of the site.
After having finished presenting to a room with the CEO, a few doctors, and some other key stakeholders, it was yet another not-so-great presentation. I loved the way the site was coming along, but I don’t know. Something felt off. It was as though the room wasn’t understanding the language I was speaking. Didn’t understand our process. Wasn’t impressed with where our heads were at. (Sigh).
This wasn’t my first rodeo when it came to presenting to clients. In fact, presentation skills are a toolset I’ve always had an interest in sharpening. So, I knew I was articulate and I knew I hit all of my important points. I wasn’t getting overly technical, and I wasn’t spending time being the philosophical art dweeb who spends 20 minutes talking about the typeface. I put together 8 helpful tips for presenting here.
How could I be any more clear? Why was our client team seemingly so hard to please?
So we have a 3rd presentation, only this time with even more to show. I focused on every word I said and how I said it. I simplified my language to make sure everyone understood. I stripped out any excessive speak. I pretended I presented it to a room full of people who never saw a thing. And…you guessed it, yet another not-so-great presentation, again. WHY?!?!?!?!
Creating a language everyone understands.
So I went into a hole for the next few weeks designing nearly every remaining page within the site experience. I knew between myself and the rest of the team we had thought through literally every detail. Our decisions were pressure tested. The work was sound. But why the hell weren’t the presentations going so well? I wanted some validation from the clients. I needed to feel like all the hard work was paying off.
Here we were for a 4th time. However this time we had an enormous amount of pages to go through, and a slightly irritated and time-pressed client team ready to hear me bore them to death with pointless speak.
I refused to have that happen again. So, I started off my presentation with
“Guys, I’m going to try something a little different here. Bare with me, it’ll be different for me, but maybe it’ll help everything make a bit more sense for everyone.”
I gave myself the “out” right off the bat. Bold move. But whatever, it needed to happen. You can’t feel embarrassed if you mess up after having prepped the room with the thought you might stumble. HAHAHA.
“My name is Karen. I’m a 55-year old female who is a nurse. I spend the entirety of double shifts (16 hours) on my feet several times a week.”
I saw everyone’s eyes and ears perk up. I was on to something, and I knew it. I felt it.
“I have some pretty achy legs, and to be honest I’m starting to think something is wrong. I know my Mother had bad varicose veins, but I feel like I should at least talk to a doctor. This can’t be normal, and I’m starting to worry.”
I made that up on the spot. Literally right there. Not a second to think about it. You’re probably asking, how? The how was easy. I was already so immersed in all the upfront strategy, that I knew nearly every user type coming to the site. So coming up with a persona on the spot was easy. It was like I knew the words to say. I felt like Eminem in the movie “8 Mile” after he had just won a freestyle battle, and the crowd was going nuts. Except, maybe just a tad less cool.
So, for the next 45 minutes I walked through nearly 15-20 pages of a website. However this time I did it differently. I presented through the eyes of an actual user. I walked them through a hypothetical yet realistic user journey. As soon as I finished speaking…“This was fantastic. This was very clear for all of us. The work is impressive.” Validation!!! Finally, I got it. We were getting somewhere. Check out the finished product.
Role playing made my presentation easier. I wasn’t doing the whole, “Okay guys, let’s move on, here is the about page.” blah blah blah. BORING. The presentation becomes a very transactional conversation at that point. But this time role playing as a made up persona that represented over half of their site traffic seemed to have been a language they understood. It made my presentation so organic, timely, and efficient. I even finished early, imagine that. I wasn’t getting hung up in seemingly useless details.
Every client and every project you work on will have a “55-year old Karen.” Maybe her name isn’t Karen and she probably isn't 55 years old. But there will be a target. There will be an audience, and if you don’t use them as the cornerstone of your entire design process, you’re going to fall flat on your face. HARD. Similar to how I did, maybe even worse. But more importantly, understand that when you have different people in a room, you need a unifying language that they all will understand. And I can say with nearly 100% certainty, the more connected you are to their main audience, the more they’ll understand you. The more they’ll trust you. No one knows the business better than your clients. So, harness the things they’re most familiar with and use it to sell all of your great thinking.
Thanks for stopping by.