Presenting your work is a huge part of working in design. Even the best designers still need to pitch their ideas and sell their work. For many of them, that's part of the fun.
Throughout my career so far, I’ve given presentations to a range of audiences in a variety of situations. The overarching lesson I've learned along the way is an obvious one: Preparation is key.
But preparing the right way isn't as obvious, and looking back on both good and bad presentations has defined how I approach every new one. Here are my personal tips on how to give a successful design presentation.
Set expectations and provide an agenda when possible
When you call a meeting or create a series of meetings, be clear about the expectations and purpose of the meeting. Doing so ensures everyone involved is aligned from the start, and will mitigate unnecessary commentary throughout the meeting. Here are a few questions to consider:
Is this an optional or required meeting? Or is it required for some and optional for the rest?
Is this a formal meeting with a set agenda? If so, send the agenda a day in advance so people can use it to prepare.
What assets need to be prepared ahead of time for the meeting? Do you need a team member's assistance to prepare them?
Is this an appropriate space for participants to voice their concerns, ask questions, or provide feedback?
What are the desired outcomes, including any deliverables or action items, to come from this meeting?
Answering these questions for yourself and for your team before the meeting will eliminate wasted time, focus your team and increase the likelihood of a successful meeting (and, hopefully, decrease chances of another follow-up meeting).
Given our current circumstances, many of us are still working from home and experience what we’ve come to know as “Zoom Fatigue,” a feeling of burnout from overusing this tool (or others similar) as a form of communication. If you can provide an agenda of who is presenting what, with an allotted time if necessary, you'll help presenters be on point and keep participants on track.
Cater your presentation to your audience
This is one of the most critical things to nail down before a presentation: Who are you presenting to? You will need to tailor your presentation to your specific audience while considering the context of the meeting.
For example, say you’ve designed a new landing page for your client. If you’re presenting your design to a group of designers, you should be OK to use design-specific jargon, talk about specific color choices you made, or explain proposed micro-interactions on the page.
However, the way you present that same design would be different if your audience is a project manager and a group of developers. If you start talking about avoiding “widows” and “orphans,” or going in depth about the perceived hue and value of a color, your audience might get lost.
This applies even more if your audience is a stakeholder such as the VP of the organization, or a C-level officer. It’s likely that important figures high up on the chain of command aren’t going to care about why you decided to left-align the button versus center-aligning it. They’re interested in how your design will help the company reach their goals.
Understanding your audience should influence your decision on what topics to cover, how in-depth to go on those topics, the content and arrangement of your slides, and how much contextual setup you’ll need to do.
Anticipate your audience’s questions and answer them before they ask
An excellent presenter is someone who anticipates their audience’s questions and answers them in their presentation. Doing this immediately builds your credibility and saves everyone in the room time.
For example, when presenting that same landing page to a group of designers, you can explain the different layout variations and lockups you explored, why they didn’t work, and why your final design is a better solution. Assuming your audience was listening, you won’t have to field questions about whether you tried doing it this way or that way.
And when presenting to leadership, you might mention the key business objectives your project is trying to solve and how specifically your design is caring for those items.
Provide context for your decisions
We spend so much time with our designs that when we present them, we forget that our audience may not have as much context as we have. They may not even know the questions to ask or the measure of success without understanding the information that shaped it. That leaves them with the option to take your presentation at face value, which might not play in your favor.
For example, understanding your user is critical in designing a useful and delightful product. While working on a consumer-facing product, it might be important to know your target demographic’s age range, income level, needs and goals, etc. If you’re working on a B2B product, you may have multiple persona types to design for. If your audience doesn't know your target user, they won't understand how that user influences or limits your decisions, leading to undesired feedback or questions that derail your presentation.
It's equally important to go over the assumptions and hypotheses that shaped your design. Design assumptions can be statements you build your design upon, and you may be seeking to validate or invalidate them. Your design hypotheses should highlight what problem the design is trying to solve and how it might do so. When you bring your audience in on this thinking, they are more likely to buy into your story and root for a positive outcome.
If possible, you might even introduce a storyboard in which your persona completes a specific task to paint a clearer picture for your audience. Bring us into your story by whatever means possible and we'll not only be more engaged, but more invested in the result.
Spend the extra time to level up your presentation design
Small details can make a big impression when it comes to presentations. One simple way to make your work more tangible (and get your audience more excited) is by introducing movement or interactivity into your designs.
For example, when presenting a series of wireframes, you may consider linking them together to create a simple prototype to show off your work. The result is much cleaner than moving your viewport around in Figma, and makes it easier to understand your designs. If you’re presenting high-fidelity work, you might take the time to animate your designs to better illustrate micro-interactions.
My last tip is to clean up your file to eliminate potential distractions during your presentation. Before presenting my screen in a meeting, I always make sure there are no extraneous notes or discarded designs around my art board that might distract my audience, and I like to hide my Figma UI whenever possible to help my viewers focus on my designs.
That’s it! Now go forth and give those dope presentations!
I'm Terri Lee, a designer, poi lover and podcast enthusiast from Austin.