How to Present Creative Work

Tips to succeed in communicating your ideas to people.

Really…? But why?

Have you ever thought why was Pablo Picasso able to become really rich and famous while alive when Vincent van Gogh's work became commercially successful after he was dead? What's the reason, as both of them were genius artists?

Illustration by unDraw

Recently I have had a couple of chats with my colleagues and some friends that work for the top tech companies and realized that working as a designer or creative industry specialist in a modern environment usually requires something more than just doing a great job.

And guess what, communication and how you present or sell your creative work is a golden key.

Picasso was really advanced in communication, he knew how to present himself and sell his work to the audience. On the contrary, Vincent van Gogh had an eccentric personality and unstable moods, suffered from mental issues, and sadly committed suicide at the age of 37.

After mixing and analyzing all of these facts in my brain, I've decided that it's a good time to look at some presentation courses. To be honest, it's quite hard to find a course specifically for designers or creatives, most of it is just typical corporate boring courses where they teach you things like where you should stand during your presentation or that your pockets should be empty during your speech, etc.

Luckily, one of my colleagues recommended me a course in London, hosted by D&DA, curated by Tom Evans. I must admit that it was exactly the presentation course I was looking for and want to share some outputs and my thoughts from it.

Selling the idea

First of all, it's good to understand how to identify the idea and how it is different from execution.

First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.
— Napoleon Hill
Illustration by unDraw

Imagine, that you have an idea to visit Egypt and discover there a secretly hidden pyramid with a mummy and lots of treasures inside. You plan your trip, decide to make it on top of a camel, where you pack all of your bags, maps, and inspirational stuff.

The Idea here is the hidden pyramid with treasures. The Execution is the vehicle we choose and the journey we take there.

So, the Idea is the Destination. Everything that isn’t the Idea is Execution.

Ok, hope it's clear, but what's next? How to sell it? Let's take a look at the magic Five "Knows how to…".

To significantly increase your chances of selling the idea you have to:

  • Know your Content
  • Know your End user
  • Know your Audience
  • Know how to put on a Show
  • Know how to Collaborate

Know your Content

Put your cards on the table!

First of all, you need to know your subject really well and know what you are presenting.

Illustration by unDraw
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
— Plato

Plato was a really wise man, be honest like Plato. If you don't know something then try your best to prepare.

It's all that simple.

Secondly, develop a point of view. You have to understand Why you do what you do. It's much more important than you think, and it should be the truth. If you lie to yourself, how do you expect others to believe you?

Frame your work in what you believe from the inside.

Here are several questions that may help you to bring some clarity to your work, presentation and life in general.

Illustration by unDraw

Ask yourself:

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What’s your goal?
  • How is your work connected to your goal?
  • What’s driving you to create this piece of work you’re presenting?
  • What’s its role in society and how does this piece of work help people?
  • How does your work resonate with the values of your company?
  • Does your work help your company achieve its goals?

In addition, take a look at "The Golden Circle" model popularized by Simon Sinek. And remember, that people would buy "Why you do" rather than "What you do".

Among others, there's also a good technique that helps to get to the core cause-and-effect of a problem, called "5 Whys".

Hopefully, at this stage, you could clarify many aspects of your ideas, activities, and presentation. Now it's time to structure your story.

Think about:

  • How do I present?
  • What exactly do I present?
  • When do I present it?
  • Who will be there?
  • What are the key sections, signposts, punctuation points of the presentation?

Know your End User

It's crucial to keep in mind and involve a human perspective when you solve the problem using different popular iterative methods and frameworks, like Design Thinking.

I strongly believe that it's a good practice to use the Human-Centered Design approach. People are not stats.

Illustration by unDraw

On top of that, you should demonstrate that you deeply know your user. Include some evidence of that intimate knowledge to your presentation, use your personal story to build that connection and trust between you and your audience.

Tell something about your family, friends, close relatives, etc. It could be some joke or problem or lesson learned. The main goal here is to show that you understand and care.

Know your Audience

Apparently doing proper research about your audience is the first thing.

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.
— Abraham Lincoln

Use all the available tools like Google, Linkedin, Facebook, your personal network and find out more information about interests, preferences, professional background, achievements of people you will present to.

Illustration by unDraw

It's true that every person in a room is for the reason. Try to target people whos reasons and motivations are aligned with yours as closely as possible. Make it narrower and more personal.

Think about:

  • Who is in the room?
  • What makes them resonate?
  • What do they want to hear?
  • What are their names?

Bring them with you!

Create an environment where people feel the idea and can follow it. In addition, use nurturing language. These phrases may be useful:

  • What if…
  • Imagine if we could…
  • Let's create…
  • Perhaps we even…
  • Why don't we…

Also, avoid words and sentences that may give a feeling of indefinite outcomes, like:

  • It might…
  • We hope you like it…
  • Maybe it will get lots of PR…
  • People might buy it…
  • We hope it will work…

Everything you say should be in a confident manner and tone.

Know How To Put on a Show

It's show time!

The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way is the one that achieves madness.
— Mick Jagger

To start with, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How will you show the work?
  • What will you bring?
  • Where will it be?
  • What will they remember?

It should be something that has engagement, experience, resonates with people in a room. It's a good time to express your creativity, be unpredictable, start sentences that you are not sure how they gonna end.

Illustration by unDraw

At the same time keep it simple, use spoken language, instead of the written one.

Remember to maintain eye contact. It's recommended to use a so-called 50/70 rule. You should give around 50% of eye contact while speaking and 70% while listening. To avoid staring at people and make them feel uncomfortable, try to hold eye contact for about 4 to 5 seconds.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe and leave gaps while you are talking. Usually, people sense time with their own individual perception. In other words, you may think that everything goes really fast, but the audience may feel this tempo as normal or slow.

Try to find your balance, practice presenting something to your friends with a fixed timing and ask for their feedback. It will help to adjust your sense of time.

Finally, make a deck. As a designer or artist, you should have a good feeling of balance, knowledge of color theory and typography.

People like pictures and images as it usually gives a much stronger informational message than a regular text. Use this advantage and don't make your deck look like a Wikipedia page.

According to many recent studies, people can't multitask. Our brain can solve or process only one task at a time. So, when you are talking and there are lots of text or bullet points at your deck, people will try to read it and stop listening to you. But when you just give a strong image or some simple focal point, it will support your speech giving more visual experience. Just keep it nice and simple, and use text when it's really needed.

In case you need to present or sell something without your presence, make a separate deck that will work without you. It should communicate and send a clear message to your target audience when they receive it via email, or messenger or some other informational channel. It's like a self-sufficient and independent presentation.

Know How To Collaborate

When we present an idea, it's quite normal to have some positive expectations. However, there's no guarantee that everything goes as planned. Sometimes, people just don't like your message and you have to find a way how to iterate and improve it. It's ok to take a step back, improve and move on.

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.
— Elon Musk

One of the most challenging parts here is working with feedback. You have to unpack the "No" and get to "Yes".

Ask the following questions:

  • Why "No"?
  • What is the core reason behind "No"?
  • How do I reach "Yes"?
  • What are the needs, goals, and expectations of people you are presenting to?

Negotiate everything. In addition, it is useful to buy some book or take a negotiation course and learn fundamental techniques that will increase your chances to get to the "Win-Win" outcome.

Illustration by unDraw

In the first place, separate people from the problem and focus on mutual interest, trying to be objective as possible. Insist on using objective criteria, like numbers and facts and get rid of the emotional aspect.

Additionally, it could be useful to use different anchoring and distraction techniques.

For example, imagine yourself somewhere in the Middle Eastern bazaar where you want to buy a beautiful cashmere scarf. The asking price for the scarf is $100, you offer to pay $50, then the seller lowers down the price to $80, you don't agree and offer $60, the seller refuses and lowers down the price again to $75. Finally, you offer your last price of $70 and he agrees.

The deal is closed and the anchor here is $70. Usually, the anchor in negotiations is something in the middle of the most unrealistic and optimistic expectations.

Another good but risky technique is creating a distraction.

For example, you can make a mistake in your deck on purpose, so someone will notice that. A person will feel smart, valuable and experience a sense of commitment when pointing out at mistake helping you to fix it.

Be wise, it should be some really minor mistake though, that won't make you look incompetent.

On top of that, learn how to collaborate better, instead of competing, avoiding or accommodating.

Sum Up

Think about how you can leave some positive or motivational feelings at the end of your presentation. It could be some quote or call to action or a story.

Illustration by unDraw
Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.
— Gandhi

Make the people you are presenting to, feel that they get a huge value and have spent their time efficiently.

They should leave a room with a feeling of gratitude filled with sensible thoughts and a will to act.

Good luck, my Friends!