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These 5 tips will help you nail your next design presentation

4 min read
Brittany Anas
  •  Oct 26, 2020
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You know how ineffective design presentations go: The presenter crams what seems like an entire quarter’s worth of research onto each slide and then proceeds to speed through the presentation. Look out into the audience, and eyeballs are either glazed over or squinting at the slides. No matter how innovative the designers’ ideas are, the presentation just doesn’t sell them.

On the flip side, a standout presentation feels like a keynote speech. It doesn’t just engage the audience, but it excites and inspires everyone listening, including important clients and internal stakeholders.

From your A-plus ability to empathize with an audience to your understanding of efficient design, you’re brimming with potential to be an exceptional presenter. The only thing you need to know is how to effectively deploy these intrinsic skills. Thankfully, Nick Hahn, InVision’s director of design systems consulting (and Steve Jobs-level presenter himself), has stepped in to share some of his best presentation tips. Read ‘em and knock your next one out of the park (or Zoom room).

Be a storyteller (and rely less on data-filled slides)

Nick constantly fields questions about how many slides a person should use or how much content to put on each slide. “I tend to err on the side of ‘the less content per slide, the better,’” he says. That way, you can control the narrative and bring in engaging storytelling elements.

Let’s say you’re presenting to a VP, and you’re trying to communicate why a particular internal process is difficult—but the VP doesn’t participate in the process every day, so they don’t automatically empathize with the challenges. Instead of relying on assumptions, tell the story from the perspective of the designers or engineers who are experiencing the problems. For example, rather than simply saying, “This change will solve X problem,” explain the pressures your users are under or what roadblocks are in their way.

Data, bar charts, and numbers can help tell this story, but often they can bog down slides and distract from your overall message, Nick says. It’s helpful to have a strong statistic to hammer home a point you’re trying to make. But when you weigh your presentation down with graphs, you’re asking your audience to sift through the noise and find the most important information. Make it as easy as possible for them and only tell them what they need to know.

Think of your presentation as a public speaking event

A quick way to lose your audience is turning your back to them and reading from the slides, prototype, or freehand you’re presenting. Some of the most compelling presentations that Nick has watched have included plain black screens with a few words or images on each slide. The presenter clicked through and smoothly told his story. To achieve this, think of your presentation more as a public speaking engagement in which you’re delivering a keynote speech, Hahn says. Everything you show on the slides is an accessory to what you’re saying.

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Have empathy for your audience

Empathy is a guiding principle in design, and it applies to presenting, too. Say a company hired you as a consultant to come in and address a product’s flaws. It’s important to know your audience.For example, what if the person who needs to sign off on your ideas is the person who originally designed the product? You probably wouldn’t win fans coming in hot with a strong critique. Rather, Nick suggests using a more diplomatic script, like this: “You’ve told me you want ‘X’ to happen. I’ve observed how things are happening now through the lens of the user and they are having a difficult time achieving ‘X’ for this reason and that reason. Let’s now fix these things so that we can achieve ‘X’ together.” When you take this approach, it’s not only collaborative and inspiring, but you’re more likely to garner support than presenting a narrative like “you screwed this up, and now I’m going to fix it.”

Practice makes perfect

A comedian regularly selling out arenas wouldn’t show up on stage and perform with material she’s never tested before, Nick points out. Similarly, as a presenter, you want to see what lands and what doesn’t, then tweak your presentation. If you’re working on a product you need to present in, say, two weeks, start presenting a few days in with a peer or a manager you feel comfortable with. At this point, you may just be presenting the problems you’ve uncovered. Then, a few days later, practice your presentation again, this time adding on possible solutions. Keep broadening your circles. These practice presentations allow for critiques. When it comes presentation time, you’ll feel more confident and have a more polished presentation, Nick explains.

Don’t begin with building your presentation 

When you start building a presentation, resist the urge to begin in Freehand, Google Slides, or whichever presentation program you use. This tip is one of the best presentation tricks Nick has picked up during his career. In fact, it’s  one he wished he learned even earlier. When you go straight to the presentation tool, you’re tasking your brain with two considerably different tasks: 1. Weave in a narrative, and 2. make slides presentable. Instead, Nick recommends opening up a document and taking a freeform approach: Type out what you want to say in your presentation. No edits at this point. Just let it flow and empty the information from your brain. Once you’ve got all the pieces there, you can start organizing your information: Break it into sections and then whittle it down. From there, come up with headline bullets that can turn into slide headers. That way, you’ve got an engaging narrative that syncs up with your slides.