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How to speak publicly about design without throwing up

How to speak publicly about design without throwing up

The opportunity to easily and inexpensively market yourself is a liberating perk of this tech-infused age. Between social media and web-based advertising, getting the word out about your work and expertise is nothing more than a click away.

While technology can be beautiful, it’s important to maintain the human element of your business’ presence. In a market that lets you conduct business without ever having to meet in person, getting your actual face in front of other actual faces can be a significant advantage.

One way to do that? Seek out opportunities in your area to speak about your strengths and help people associate a face with your design.

It’s intimidating, but you should do it anyway


Photo courtesy of Marcella Bona

It can be intimidating to stand up in front of a crowd, sure, but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you can do for your business. By getting in front of an audience and sharing your knowledge, you’re not only spreading the word about what you do, but you’re also showing potential clients that you’ve got the confidence to stand in front of them and talk about it.

Giving a good presentation is definitely a fine art, but let’s just hammer out the basics. As long as you’ve got a solid product to present, you can spend the rest of your prep time pumping yourself up and polishing.

One of the most effective ways to eliminate error is to build a template, right? You can easily apply this to giving a presentation, and it’ll remove that lost-at-sea (and probably seasick) feeling that comes with speaking to a group of people.

Create your template


Photo courtesy of Mary Crandall

Fortunately, you know your topic. You know design better than anything else, and you’re enough of an expert to become an important resource for your audience. Find a facet of your work that will benefit your listeners, that you can expound upon for a specified number of minutes, and you’ve got yourself the perfect topic for your very first design presentation. (If you’re into self-high-fives, now’s a great time!)

One of the most basic ways to approach a presentation is to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. There are more complex ways to approach a speech, but we’re not here to be fancy today, right?

Create an approachable and accrediting introduction. Tell your audience about yourself and your business, tell them why you’re qualified to talk to them as an expert, and then walk them through your points. This way they’ll know what to expect, they’ll be prepared to take notes if they want to, and they’ll know you know what you’re talking about.

Next, you’ll take them through your main points. Three is a solid number, but you’re not married to it. If four or five feel better for your topic, go with that.

Finally, you’ll get the chance to wrap things up with a conclusion. Remember to briefly review your main points and (super important) present the audience with a call to action. Tell them how and why they should apply your information to their own lives.

Flesh out your topic


Photo courtesy of Mary Crandall

Now that you’ve broken your topic into three main points, you can use this time to show off your knowledge. Isolate the most important things your audience needs to know and share them with enthusiasm. This is the perfect time to use anecdotes and specific examples to relate to your audience and help them feel comfortable with the subject matter.

Let’s talk about visuals here, for a moment. A slideshow presentation (on something like PowerPoint or Prezi) can be a good way to gently guide your audience through your speech… but please don’t rely on it as your cue card.

Put your main points on the slideshow, as well as any information that may contain statistics, numbers, or information that might be hard to for the audience to remember from just your words. Use the slideshow as a guideline. This is your business… no one knows it better than you. Look at the slide to keep yourself on track but rely on your expertise in design to fill in the blanks.

Put your topic to good use


Photo courtesy of Cameron

Your presentation now has all of the important parts needed to become something living and breathing. But what’s the point if it can’t go out into the world and join the crowd? You’ve got to put some sweet duds on that thing.

Although a conclusion might seem like an afterthought, this important step deserves serious thought and attention. This is your chance to call your audience to action. How are you going to convince them to use this information? Not to mention, how are you going to get them to come back to you and your business?

For your conclusion, go through your previous main points for a feeling of finality and to help the audience review. The real challenge here, though, is to use your last few minutes to convince the people listening that they need to and can use your information. List applicable resources, like websites or apps… anything they can use to put your words into action.

Don’t forget to add your online contact information. Your Twitter handle, Dribbble, or website are all important to list. Make it easy for others to share your message through their own social media outlets.

Finally, plan for a few minutes of Q and A with your audience. Hopefully, your presentation has inspired a few questions, and you’ll have yet another chance to showcase your expertise in design.

A few tips and reminders


Photo courtesy of Kat N.L.M.
  • Humor is helpful in a presentation, but only if it comes naturally to you. Stick to what you know; humor sometimes falls flat, but straight-forward always gets your point made.
  • Try to find an analogy or theme to work throughout your presentation; it will provide both entertainment value and a tool to help your audience remember information.
  • If you have a blog, it’s a great place to post your slideshow. Audience members can refer to your presentation whenever they need to… and hopefully share it with friends and colleagues.
  • Reward yourself when it’s over. If this is something you’re nervous about, a carrot at the end of the stick is a great motivation!

Above all, remember: The fact that you’re in front of an audience means that you’ve accomplished something huge, even if you’re scared… even if you feel more nauseous than brave. An okay presentation is 500 times better than no presentation at all. Your design knowledge is valuable. It’ll carry you through your presentation, all the way to the applause.


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