Crafting Design Presentations
How a public speaking workshop helped me run my next design review
Are you a designer who loves to sit at your desk and solve complex problems? You also do a pretty good job presenting at design meetings with a smaller audience. However, when the opportunity comes to present to a larger audience, you get intimidated?
As I progress in my career, I find myself speaking to larger audiences more often, such as at customer sites, town-halls, conferences, and meetings with stakeholders. Though I really enjoy talking about design, presenting to a larger audience makes me nervous. I start speaking fast and wonder if what I am saying makes sense to the listeners. Sometimes I don’t pause at all, my mouth is dry, and my hands are shaky.
One of my goals this year was to improve my soft skills as a designer and be better at presentations and public speaking. After doing a bit of research and recommendation from friends, I discovered Magnetic Speaking. At the beginning of the first class, the instructor Raitis Stalazs borrowed Jim Rohn’s famous quote and told us:
“Don’t wish public speaking was easier, wish you were better.”
Raitis walked us through a 7-step framework for creating and delivering a compelling presentation that:
- Captures the attention of your listeners
- Keeps them engaged
- Sends them home with a clear and concise message
- Makes ideas and points into attention magnets
- Creates value for listeners using left- and right-brain information modality
I couldn't help but think about how relevant the seven steps would be for a design presentation, where we present designs to stakeholders that care about user desirability (designers), business viability (product owners/leadership), and technical feasibility (developers).
In this post, I will list out the seven steps that Magnetic Speaking taught us and how I have been applying them to my design reviews.
The first two steps are groundwork that I do before the review:
1. Set Audience
The first step to building the right presentation is to identify the audience. If we build a presentation for everyone, no one will benefit.
Before presenting at a design review, it’s important to know who the audience is so I can tailor my presentation for them. Am I presenting to a group of designers? To the leadership team? Or is it to product managers and developers in my scrum team?
2. Set Goals
Second is setting the goal for the presentation. At the end of the presentation, what would you want your audience to do? What would they need to think? What do they need to feel to do what you want them to do?
Identifying the goal of a design review is a good starting point for framing the presentation. Is this review for a feature that needs to be redesigned? Am I trying to convince my product manager and developers that the current flow is a pain point? Or is it a future looking exploration I did and the goal is to inspire my team to build it?
Steps 3–6 are the blueprint for how to craft a presentation that is simple, easy, and fun.
3. Create Agenda
Keep your persona in mind and group the information that you want to present into buckets or themes. Grouping information makes it easier for the target audience to consume the presentation.
I start my review by setting an agenda for the meeting and stating 2–4 main themes that I want to cover.
4. Create Intro
An intro should typically be about 15–20% of the entire presentation. Raitis mentioned that an audience can typically be classified into four distinct thinking types. This concept is derived from Bernice McCarthy’s learning styles and notes that people with different learning styles learn by asking particular questions — Why, What, How and What If.
At the bootcamp, we were first asked to pick a topic. And present it by hooking the audience with a rolling question like “How many of you have…”. After a show of hand, we were asked to introduce the topic by answering the Why, What, How, and What If’s.
While presenting designs, I start by stating why I am there and why it is important. For example, “in this meeting, I’d like to chat about the flow since we got feedback about usability issues….”
After stating the why, I answer the what and how by mentioning what I am going to cover and how we will run this meeting. “I want to walk you through the pain points in the current flow, and then we’ll look at two potential solutions that addresses the pain points. After looking at the two options, we will open up for feedback on both options.”
Next is answering the what if. Mention the objections and consequences that users or stakeholder might have. You could frame this by saying “I know some of you might think…and I want to assure you that…” or “Often I hear users….” This hooks the stakeholder into the presentation because they know that you care.
Lastly, I let the audience know about the type of feedback I am looking for. This makes them pay attention to the presentation and know what’s required from them.
5. Build Body
The body is typically about 70% of the entire presentation. Raitis used a framework called the SEED formula to make the presentation content valuable to listeners using both left- and right-brain information modality. SEED stands for Statement, Evidence, Emotions, and Demos.
Statement and Evidence are for the left brain. With Statement, you share your opinion. Then, you back it up with an Evidence that can be logic, science, statistics, or history.
The right brain process the Emotions where you engage your audience with stories, examples, analogies, and metaphors. Lastly, you conclude with a Demo of the product or concept.
For the body of the design presentation, I iterate the problem statement. Next, I cite statistical insights or feedback from user research that provide evidence to the problem statement. For example, “Out of the 10 user research sessions, 8 users could not figure out how to accomplish the task” or “During my last few customer visits, I saw users struggling with….” I cover how this problem affects user’s experience of the product and emphasize on the delight and pain points. Mention how this affects the business as well.
After building up the statement with evidence and emotion, I present my solutions with a prototype to point out how this flow is impactful and meaningful to both the user and the business.
6. Create a Strong Closing
Wrap up the presentation by answering these questions:
- Why was I here? And why is it important?
- What did I cover?
- How to move forward?
I conclude the review by restating why solving the problem is critical, what was covered, and then ask for feedback. Feedback is a critical part of the design review and can be asked during or at the end of the review. I end the meeting by clearly stating the path moving forward. At the end, don’t forget to thank your audience for their time and feedback.
The last step for a killer presentation is practice. To quote Bruce Lee: “Practice makes perfect. After a long time of practicing, our work will become natural, skillful, swift, and steady.”
Presenting in front of a large audience can sometimes be nerve-wracking, but practice makes you more confident.
I like to practice my design review deck before presenting to my team because it helps me revise the content, time my presentation well, and feel more confident.
Presenting to a large audience can be overwhelming since you feel the spotlight is on you. A few other personal takeaways that has helped me be more confident during presentations are:
- Believe in what you’re saying. Do not downplay your statements by using phrases such as I wish or I hope. Believe in what you’re saying and use phrases like “I believe…” or “I challenge you to….”
- Anchor your audience. Use body language and movement to anchor listener’s attention.
- Calm. Down. Sometimes I speak as fast as I am thinking, which leads to me getting out of breath fast. As a result, my audience has a hard time registering all the information I presented.
- Pause. It’s okay to pause while presenting and focus on your thoughts. A three seconds pause is not a big deal. The audience will still listen to you when you continue speaking after three seconds.
- Smile. Do not look grumpy, even if you’re having a bad day or if you didn’t have your morning coffee. Let your audience like you and feel warm towards you.