#35: Design Process: Presenting Your Ideas


You’ve done all the research, completed all the sketches, and rendered out all of your very best ideas. Now what? Now comes the presentation…
Presenting can be a scary and vulnerable endeavor. Most people have trouble with this area, especially if it is to a group of people. But presenting your ideas is like the bow on the package that is your project. After weeks of cultivating and implementing your process, from research to rendering, you are finally ready to show your client what you’ve been cooking up. It should be exciting! But, it is not easy for everyone. By the time we get to the presentation phase in the process, we have grown attached (but hopefully not married to) our ideas. We want what we are about to present to solve the problem(s) that the client has laid out (or that you discovered in your research). When you are presenting your own work and your own ideas you can feel pretty naked.
Whether it is to clients or to coworkers or supervisors, there are a few tricks to presenting well: Connect, Be Confident, Have Structure, and Tell a Story. Even if you never present to a room of people, even if your presentations are over Skype, FaceTime, or in an email, considering these four areas will help you sell your ideas.
But, let me clarify, presenting is not something that [only] outgoing people are born with and that only they can do well. Presenting is actually a crucial design skill, one that you can be good at with intentional practice. I say this to assure you that it although it is not easy, that just like any other design skill, presenting well can be learned.


Much like an interview or a resume, presenting is not just about selling your work or your ideas, it is about selling yourself, and connecting with the client. First of all, before you even begin to present, thank everyone for their time. Even if it is a meeting that everyone in attendance is required to be there for, thank them anyway. It will immediately put them at ease and make them feel like you actually care that they came.  Second, you must to be able to make connections with those who are in the room watching you. Especially for larger presentations, learn who will be there ahead of time if possible and try to relate portions of your presentation to them to draw them in and let them know that you care about them personally in relation to the project. Continually allude to the goals of those you are presenting to and how you were able to reach those goals with your design solutions. This tailoring of the pitch, or presentation, to those who are sitting in front of you (or reading your email) is how you will maintain the attention of your audience and give them confidence in your work. Lastly, and the most important in relation to connecting, is you must make eye contact.
Eye contact is a non-verbal way to persuade your audience to see things your way and to understand and connect with you.
Eye contact helps you focus and will keep you from fumbling. Avoiding eye contact makes you seem less-believable and less-authoritative. Maintained eye contact is an invitation for your audience to engage with you and actually absorb what you are saying to them. Connecting with your audience via eye contact also forces you to slow your speech and helps you stay calm and collected. Connecting with your audience is the best way to hook them and keep them on the same page as you.

Be Confident

Above all, you must be confident in your skills and in your ideas. When presenting in person, one of the most obvious ways of being confident is to stand up, literally. Make it very apparent that you own the ideas and the concepts you have been asked to create. Actually standing up immediately shows via basic body language that you know what you’re doing, and assures them that you can lead them through the presentation. Another key to showing confidence is to use phrases like “this will work”, and “this looks like this because”.

Try to never say the phrase, “I think”. Those two little words can completely derail your momentum in a presentation and will cause you to lose a client’s attention and eventually their trust.

You never want the client to question if hiring you was a good decision. You were obviously hired or chosen for a reason, someone trusts you and trusts your design ability, to solve their problem and you need to see yourself as the expert that they hired. Give them reasons for every single thing you did and they will trust you. Even in email presentation, using words like “this will” and “I know” will show them why what you did will benefit them and solve the projects’s goals, without any doubt. Being confident allows you to push aside misgivings or fears you might have because you know that you know what you are doing, and your client will be able to tell. Prepare your structure and plan what you will say throughout the presentation. Knowing the answers before the client can ask the questions will take the pressure off of you and allow you to exude confidence. Confidence will be your sharpest, most powerful tool. Even if you don’t know the answer at times, if you are confident on the outside regardless of the way you feel on the inside, you will be able to convince the client that you are “legit”.

Speak with conviction and inspire people to believe in your ideas and they will.


Have Structure

Even the most seasoned speakers and presenters have some sort of structure. Structure doesn’t have to be a perfect outline or something you have to memorize word for word. In a presentation, structure is just a guideline that will ensure that you hit the important points you need to make.
Structure gives you assurance that you won’t get lost or forget what comes next and the fear of the unknown disappears.
In the book “How to sell without selling”, Douglas Davis references seven steps to nailing a client presentation that I would like to share as well:
  1. Insight: Share your most relevant observations from your research.

  2. Therefore: Explain the conclusions you’ve come to based on the insight.

  3. Concept: Articulate the design concept by revealing your actual idea in a few sentences.

  4. Execution: Communicate how the concept will conveyed in the project/design you’re creating. 

  5. Benefit: Reveal the reason why you’re executing the project in this way and how it will relay the perks to the consumer.

  6. Message: State the takeaway for the consumer based on the project you’ve described. 

  7. Objective: Reiterate the goal that was outlined in the initial client brief or project assignment.
Something else I would like to add to this is related to your conclusion. When you finish a presentation, don’t end with a question like, “So what do you think?”, or a statement like, “Well, that’s it.” These kind of conclusions feel weak and unprofessional while being completely unhelpful. Ending with a strong statement like, “And that is why this logo will give your company the brand presence that you have been striving for…” etc. will leave them feeling great about all that you have expertly presented to them. You want to conclude with a phrase that will let them know that you are trustworthy and now all they have to say is “yes”. 

Tell a Story

In the midst of the presenting of your ideas, I challenge you to be a storyteller. Find a true story, or create one about the client’s desired target audience. Give them a name them and walk the client through a day in the life of that person and describe how they will encounter or interact with your client’s product or service.
At this point you have already given them all the reasons and research for all that you have designed, now is the time to tell them how all of these amazing design decisions will actually do their job in a real world situation.
Everyone likes a good story, and stories sell ideas. People will always respond to and be more interested in a story than they will in research and data, so sell with a story. This is where you have the opportunity to develop your design idea and really walk them through all of your decision-making. In reference to the seven steps listed above, the storytelling comes in between steps 3 & 4, after explaining your concept, you tell a story that illustrates how that concept will speak to the audience and then you can approach step 4 and talk about all of your design decisions.

Side note: When explaining your design decisions, don’t get lost in the details. In other words, tell them why you chose color XYZ but don’t tell them the name of the Pantone swatch, or tell them why you chose the kind of typeface or font you chose, but don’t bore them with the name of the font. Most clients don’t care, and they won’t remember anyway; if they care, they will ask. Save that stuff for your design friends after you’ve won the client over.

There are lots of other tips and tricks, methods and mentalities that I could talk about more in depth that will take your presentations from successful to awe-inspiring, but I feel like these four areas are really key and are so basic that they will be the foundation for building up to you never being nervous to present ever again. I hope that you will try to implement some of these tactics and let me know how they work out for you! Design is a wonderful world, I hope you’ll join me here. Because design matters. 


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