Professional Design Practice :: Lesson 6 :: The Presentation

So you find yourself pitching for a job and have come up with an ingenious solution to a fiendishly tricky design conundrum, and all you want to do is get on the phone to the client and sing it to him from the bottom of your lungs. Slow down there pardner.
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To convince your client of the barnstorming excellence of your proposed solution, more often than not you’ll need to take him through things step-by-step in a presentation. Presentations are important to get right, and represent the ultimate test of your communication skills. Many a fine idea has been admonished or dismissed through poor presentation. Gulp down the words below to ensure this doesn’t happen to yours…

First Things First

The presentation is the moment of truth. The moment when the designer must bring all his communication skills to the fore and convince his audience that what he’s showing them is the right response to the brief. Many designers find presenting to clients nerve-wracking, which is understandable given that client decisions can at times mean the difference between shopping for food that week or going back to Mum’s for dinner.

Presentations can feel momentous and even daunting, but persevere and over time they’ll become easier. Image used with permission of © Tim Phillips.

Being nervous isn’t perceived by others as being half as bad as you’d think, and it’s good to keep in mind that nobody expects designers to possess statesman-level oratory skills. The main thing when giving presentations is to be yourself. If you’re a smooth sort of person that’s wonderful, but being rough-edged or a little awkward is equally fine, if that’s part of your personality. Just don’t try to be smooth if you’re not as you’ll more likely than not tie yourself up in knots with the effort of it all. Be yourself, and be passionate and confident about what you’re presenting.

No one expects designers to be accomplished orators of Steve Jobs-level prowess.

All in the Preparation

“There is no such thing as luck. There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe” — Robert Heinlein

Be prepared and leave nothing to chance. Image used with permission of © Victor Chang.

Another important ingredient in the presentation is preparation. Spend time on every little detail before the big day, and be sure to have each component or topic in place, and in the order you want to present them. From there, keep things simple and structured and take your clients, from beginning to end, through your creative process. Avoid making assumptions about what your clients know; you may have worked, lived and breathed the project for the past fortnight but your audience won’t have. You might begin by restating the brief, explaining the developmental process and ending with a compact summary. Presentations really needn’t be any more complicated than that.

Adrian Shaugnessey, acclaimed designer and writer of ‘How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul’ states

The great immutable law of making a design presentation is this: tell your audience what you are going to show them and then show it to them. That’s all there is to it. Don’t tell them what to think about what they are going to see, just tell them what it is that they are going to see. Try it. You’ll be amazed.

This is sound advice. To reiterate what I stated above, you may have become used to your solution, but your client may have just been presented with something, to his mind, daring or even downright shocking. He’ll need time to digest things, and, after explaining what you’re about to present and presenting it, you can help this digestion by keeping quiet.#### A Visual Reference of What You might Include in Your Presentations

Taking a lead from Shaugnessey, follow this visual reference guide for simple, effective presentations. The images comprise brief, project development and final execution of the visual identity for the Folkestone Film Factory.

Imagery courtesy of © Playdontplay Creative.

It’s not What You Say it’s the Way that You Say It

I wrote above that ideas can be rejected based not on their inferior quality per se, but more on the way they are presented, and the illustration below demonstrates how, by utilising creative ways of thinking, we can often turn decisions favourably in our direction. This isn’t to contradict my other point about being yourself throughout presentations, but being aware of the micro-climate of each presentation you find yourself involved in and employing the communication skills necessary to resonate with each client will certainly do your cause no harm at all. Back to the example:

Writer and producer Albert S. Ruddy, on being approached by Peter Bart, an executive at Paramount Pictures, agreed to work as producer on the forthcoming “The Godfather” movie. At that time a best-selling novel, the Godfather script had nonetheless managed to accrue certain negative associations based on the belief that it glorified the Sicilian mafia. It had been touted to and rejected by various Hollywood studios, and was back in Paramount’s in-tray when Ruddy agreed to take the job on. The only hurdle to clear was the approval of the then-head of Paramount Charles Blühdorn, who reserved final approval of producer and director on all motion pictures passed. Blühdorn was a volatile Austrian industrialist who talked candidly about getting involved in the film business more for the fun of it than the money. A meeting was set and Ruddy flew to New York to meet Blühdorn. “Whaddaya wanna do with this movie?” Blühdorn enquired in his inimitable and brusque style. Ruddy knew that if he began to discuss the novel Blühdorn would reject the project out of hand, so instead went on to expound “Charlie, I want to make an ice-blue, terrifying movie… about people you love.”

Ruddy flew back to Los Angeles with Blühdorn’s blessing.

Your rhetoric and planning will have to be polished, but you’ll need also to present great work. Image used with permission of © Thom Fougere.

Top Presentation Tips

  • Prepare thoroughly
  • Speak factually, coherently, distinctly and not too quickly
  • Intersperse your speaking with appropriate pauses to allow your audience to absorb the information
  • Be as articulate as possible
  • Argue convincingly, objectively and fairly
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Don’t speak for longer than your audience’s attention span allows
  • Don’t use PowerPoint

Aim to make coherent, well-structured and memorable presentations. Image used with permission of © Southtyrolean.

In Sum…

Thorough preparation and solid planning are vital for the effective implementation of good presentations. The work you present also has to be up to scratch. Ultimately though a lot rests on your personality. Throughout your presentations strive to come across as reasonable and likable, maintain eye contact with the members of your audience, speak articulately and passionately about your work, listen to comments and attempt to answer any questions put to you as best you can. Your clients, prospective or actual, need to be convinced that you are the not only the right designer for the job, but are also going to be easy to get along with. The more you satisfy clients of this important criteria, the more you’ll be trudging back from the supermarket laden with food from all the well-paid jobs you’ll have won!

Don’t, through lack of preparation or confidence, allow stage fright to overshadow your presentations. Image used with permission of © Linus Gelber.

Spending time on preparation, being yourself and showing first-rate work will help you turn out confident performances time and again! Image used with permission of © Linus Gelber.

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