← Blog

Owning that presentation as a designer

“Be the presenter you would want to listen to” — Cath Daley

UX/UI Design
7 minute read

When you were in school, did you dodge eye contact with your teacher? Does the mention of “presentation” send a shiver down your spine? I, like many, have my fair share of fears in presenting in front of groups. I would create extremely text-heavy PowerPoint slides, and I narrated word-by-word from the slide like a robot. You can imagine how my audience might have reacted. In another instance, I memorised the presentation script without grasping the topic well. Fear paralysed me, and I could not recall a single word when I was summoned to the podium. Never in my life had I wanted to grab an invisibility cloak more than at that moment.

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have access to a public-speaking coach during my university, who alleviated my Glossophobia. We worked through my presentation blunders and transformed them into strengths. She instilled a confidence in me that I never had before. Through practice and reflection, anyone can become an orator. As designers, it is important to master presentation skills since we articulate our thought processes to individuals who may not necessarily comprehend our craft. This article aims to offer advice on enhancing your presentation skills.

Gather inspiration

“Be the presenter you would want to listen to.”— Cath Daley (Leadership Coach, Coach Mentor, Speaker, Author, Persuasive Presenting Trainer)

Always be on the hunt for inspiration through others who do things exceptionally. This person does not necessarily have to stem from a big personality. It's good to ask yourself a few questions before choosing someone:

  1. Does this person present their topic in such a way that when you look around, no one is looking at their phones?
  2. Does the speaker have the ability to break a challenging topic into a digestible format?
  3. Does the person express personal examples to which you could relate?
  4. What was your opinion of the person’s body language? Did the hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions appeal to your emotions?
  5. How did your inspiration handle the Q&A?

In my second year of university, I was awe-struck by a particular professor’s lectures. His slides were aeons ahead of typical PowerPoint slides. Students always wondered how he implemented such creative animations, which were not feasible via PowerPoint. The professor piqued our curiosity and managed to churn out a high attendance rate. If you are wondering which magical product the lecturer used, you can check out PowerPointLabs. It is an open-source project that creates engaging presentations.

At this point, your imposter syndrome might creep in. You might think that you will never be as good as your inspiration. But hear me out! Your inspiration has confidence because they have put in hours and hours of practice.

Know your audience

As UX designers, we need to deliver a fantastic experience to our listeners. It will be a losing battle if you are unaware of your audience's needs. Despite your eloquence, if the audience cannot wrap their head your presentation, they will fail to connect with you.

Get inside your audience's mind and ask yourself:

  1. Who are they? What's in it for them? Understand the basic profile of your audience. Their goals and motivations can set a direction for your presentation.
  2. How much does the audience know about the topic? If they are new to it, consider presenting high-level information. On the other hand, if the audience is knowledgeable about it, they may expect to learn more specifics.
  3. What are they hoping to take away from the presentation? The response will be the north star in devising action items for them.
  4. How many people will be attending? Based on the number, you can think of which mode of interaction will be appropriate.
  5. What kind of concerns do they have? Address them and reduce any obstacles that might be there.Nailing this phase of your presentation preparation is like conquering half the battle. Keep in mind that the audience is on your side. They look up to you as the subject matter expert. Treat your presentation as a conversation that you usually have with your peers. That can help channel your anxiety into enthusiasm.


UX/UI Design Bootcamp

12 weeks · part-time

Spend 12 weeks learning live from industry experts in a micro class. Learn-by-doing with practical case studies and publish your portfolio! 

Research the topic

Now that you are familiar with your audience, the next step is to have a thorough understanding of the topic. Think about the outline of your presentation. What topics will you be addressing? Don't be afraid to share personal stories of how you overcame a challenge and your takeaways. Anticipate questions that might be thrown at you so that you are better prepared. Remember to get your presentation outline validated with another pair of eyes.

Get creative

Your audience will have a short attention span, and they are more likely to skim through your content rather than read every word on your slide. Arming yourself with this knowledge and gathering notes from your inspiration, I recommend putting your creativity to the test. My current team delivered a presentation on our software project. We used Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) concepts. We brainstormed ways to translate tech-heavy topics in a simple format for non-tech folks to comprehend. We made use of props to demonstrate the technical concepts. Throughout the presentation, we checked in with our audience and asked questions to make the session interactive. We rewarded participation, which motivated others to join in. We used fewer texts and more visuals to ensure that we were not inundating our listeners with information. As a result, people hung on every word.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Practice creates confidence. Confidence empowers you.”— Simone Biles

Now that you have prepared and planned your presentation, the next step is to put all the planning into execution. We can break the practice session into three phases:

  1. Practice with yourself. My goal at this stage is to get the content right during the speech. I repeat the practice until it becomes second nature to me. The content in the slides acts as my guide in retaining the points in my memory. Gaining an understanding of your content is vital; otherwise, there is a risk of forgetting and freezing during the presentation. Knowing the topic can steer you back to the key points, even if you deviate from your default script.
  2. Gather a mini audience. In the second phase, I run through the presentation with my peers. Your peers can offer valuable advice on your tone, speed and body language. The more seasoned you become in presentations, the more you will be able to identify how you come across.
  3. Dry run. If possible, go to the place where you will deliver the presentation. Play with the instruments that you will be using on the scheduled day. Familiarise yourself with the environment. Practising your speech should be less overwhelming this time since you have done it plenty of times with yourself and your peers. During my internship at Autodesk, I first practised with my manager. After that, there were a couple of dry runs where all the interns practised the speech. The more we rehearsed, the more confidence we gained in showcasing our project.

Backup plans

What if there is a technical issue with the projector? What happens if the remote clicker stops functioning? What if you get distracted by a person's buzzing phone? How do you handle that? How do you react when someone interrupts you during your presentation? It is common to feel nervous when things do not go according to plan. To reduce the nerves, list all the possible scenarios that can deviate from the original plan. Identifying potential problems can help you craft backup plans and mitigate them.

Embrace calm and have fun

It is not the end of the world if your presentation does not meet your expectations. As time passes, people will hardly remember or care about embarrassing incidents. Embrace mistakes, learn from them, enjoy the process and turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Closing thoughts

I hope these tips will armour you with the skills you need to create a killer presentation. One only gets better with practice. In the meantime, think about a topic you are passionate about. This topic does not even have to be related to design. Do you love video games? Do you enjoy a Netflix show? Prepare a speech on it, and you will be amazed that you have evoked the orator in you!