6 Guidelines and 3 Steps to a Solid Presentation

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6 Guidelines and 3 Steps to a Solid Presentation

By Jon Lopkin

Selling your skills and winning the trust of a client can all come down to how you present your designs and how you present yourself.

Before diving into the 3 useful steps for creating a solid presentation, let’s look at the seemingly trivial items often overlooked by the most novice and fearful freelancers all the way to the seasoned pros who present on a regular basis.

1. What are you wearing? Seriously! How you look during a presentation is important. You don’t want to distract from your work by wearing neon pink pants that say HOTNESS across your rear. No one in the room should be focusing on that wrinkled, coffee stained shirt. Look “presentable.” You should be able to define what “presentable” means based on the brand you want to portray.

2. Location. Have you thought about where you will be presenting? If it’s not in your regular office space then it’s a good idea to find out what the environment includes. Do they have the right dongle for your computer? Does your presentation rely on stable wifi? Is your computer fully charged? Did you pack an extension cord in case the outlets are far away from where your computer will sit? You should answer all these questions when scheduling your presentation.

3. Get Organized. These possibly unknown environmental factors mean you should arrive at your location early to properly set up (account for parking, stalled subways, etc). Arriving late starts the meeting off on the wrong foot. I always like to move the files I’m presenting to my desktop so they are easily accessible. Digging through folders and letting your clients see random folders titled “nude selfies” could rub some clients the wrong way. If you’re showing anything in a web browser, hide your bookmark bar (Shift + Command + B in chrome) and close unnecessary tabs. Shut off your email app (mailbox, mac mail, etc), and chat app (hipchat, slack, etc). When your client sees how prepared you are, she will respect you as a professional and trust you as a designer. As a designer you plan, you organize, and you clean up messes. Think about your presentation in the same manner.

4. Up or Down. Find out if you’ll be standing or sitting during the meeting. Practice speaking when you’re sitting vs. when your standing. What feels more comfortable? I like to stand because I’m soft spoken and it helps me project. I also think better when I pace around a little and can work the room.To note: It might be weird to present standing up if it’s just you and one other person. However if you’re presenting to more than 4-5 people I would say it’s acceptable. Obviously this needs to feel organic, but it’s worth testing out which position allows you to command the room better. Regardless if you’re sitting or standing, if there’s one person, or many, make eye contact with everyone in the room. Eye contact helps build trust.

5. Online. In an age where everyone is always accessible and telecommuting, it’s also highly likely that you will present remotely via GoToMeeting, join.me, Skype, or other online meeting tools. Many of the same rules apply here—make sure you’re properly prepped with reliable wifi, organize your desktop view and have your deck ready to go.Remember, if you’re sharing your screen, your client can see everything you’re doing! Don’t check email as soon as they start talking. I’ve seen this happen, along with embarrassing iMessages that appear. It’s also a good idea to test out how you sound prior to your meeting. Too echoey? Try another room with more soundproofing.

6. Make a Note. Jot down what you’re going to say. I always like to write my notes  the old school way with pen and paper. An article posted in “Psychological Science” states that taking notes by hand helps you remember conceptual information better than typing notes on your computer. Once you’re done writing down your notes, practice out loud to yourself and ideally others.

Now that you’ve thought about where and how you will be presenting, let’s set up the actual presentation deck…

Step 1
Tell a story. It doesn’t need to be funny or make people cry. Regardless of what you’re presenting, it just needs to resonate with people and flow. A clear beginning, middle and end will help convey your message.

Don’t end your presentation with: “And yeah, that’s it.” Confidence in your idea and reasoning will sell your design decisions. Simply having the word “Thank You” or “Questions?” as the last image in your deck lets your audience know that your presentation is over and it’s their turn to talk.

Step 2
Use visuals in the background while speaking. Don’t just write the script of what you’re saying. Use minimal words.

The first slide is what you will be judged by first. I loved this opening slide by Stefan Sagmeister, at a recent talk he gave at Boston University.

It’s a good idea to also start off the presentation with expectation setting. Display where you are in the project in relation to the end point, i.e. Round 1 of 3.

As a designer, your deck should be designed based on the format on which you’re displaying. Think about the aspect ratio. Most projection screens or high def TVs are 16 x 9. Landscape documents will lend themselves better to this layout, rather than portrait. Depending on the room size it’s a good idea to bump up your type so that it’s easy to read every word.

Step 3
Provide some key takeaways and/or action items. 3-4 Takeaways or Next Steps is always a nice end point to any presentation. People tend to like numbered lists (wink wink).

Since this post is about presentation, it should be mentioned that I don’t believe conceptual designs should ever be sent first via email or other presentation tools like Invision. As a follow up to the in-person or online presentation, an email recapping with an attachment of the slides makes perfect sense. However, when you email your designs and write out a description of your reasoning, it takes the control out of your hands. Clients won’t read the email first. They will jump right into looking at the visuals and make assumptions and judgments without knowing the background and story. There. I felt like I had to get that off my chest.

Other references and resources on presenting:
13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations by Mike Monteiro
Toastmasters International-Boston Meetup Group


jon lopkinAbout Jon Lopkin
Jon has 11 years of experience working in the design field and currently runs the design side of Find & Form. Starting his career in the publishing industry as a print designer, Jon transitioned into digital, working with and contracting for agencies in Boston, New York, and DC. He then established his own brand identity and interactive design studio for 2 + years. Jon left his solo practice in 2012 to co-found Find & Form with his 2 business partners.

Find & Form is a design and development studio that specializes in building digital commerce apps for business leaders. Jon lives in the South End with his wife, smiley daughter, and smelly french bulldog.


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