How to crush your next business presentation as a designer

4 min read
Sierre Wolfkostin
  •  May 30, 2019
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Every designer, no matter your role, must at some point give a business presentation. And whether you’re presenting research data to your team or project proposals to the C-suite, it’s important to think about how you’ll be delivering your message.

As a product designer at Domino’s (yes, the pizza company!) that specializes in bringing new products to market, I’m often tasked with exploring new design solutions and presenting their value to the business. It’s during this presentation phase that I see a lot of fellow designers run into problems—mastering the art and science of giving a business presentation is arguably one of the most important skills a growing designer can develop.

To help you get started, we’ll be going over the ins-and-outs of creating an effective design presentation, including:

  • Nailing down the process
  • Telling a great story
  • Developing your narrative
  • Guiding your audience
  • Selling design

Follow the design process

Crafting a presentation is no different from designing a product: you have to build empathy with your audience, draft out lots of ideas, and then test and refine those ideas until you have a finished copy.

When I first start drafting a presentation, I don’t begin by pulling out Google Slides or PowerPoint to create slides. That’s too high-fidelity.

I don’t begin by pulling out Google Slides or PowerPoint to create slides. That’s too high-fidelity.

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Instead, I begin by talking to the target audience members—conducting informal user interviews, so to speak. They might involve scheduling a quick meeting (subject line: upcoming presentation for ______), or simply a just chatting over lunch or coffee. The purpose is to learn about your audience members’ goals, expectations, or even doubts about the upcoming presentation. Understanding them will give you a strong foundation on which to build.

For any good presentation, most of the work happens before you enter the room. For truly important meetings, you should do as much legwork as possible to know how each stakeholder will react. There should be few surprises by the time you present.

After getting to know your audience, you can follow the standard design process to craft the presentation:

  • Ideate: Start brainstorming on how to communicate your message. Sketch out ideas for presentation flow and the content of individual slides.
  • Prototype: Bring your best ideas to the deck and create slides.
  • Test: Show your deck to coworkers with strong communication skills to get valuable feedback.
  • Evaluate: Find themes in your feedback and determine what works and what needs to be brought back to the drawing board.
  • Repeat: Do this as many times as it takes until you have a finished presentation.

This process will take anywhere from hours to a few days, depending on the length and complexity of your presentation.

Trust the design process: it applies to so much more than digital products.

Tell an interesting story

Everyone loves a good story. They’re how we pass along tradition and important lessons—and how we convince others to follow great ideas. So to make a good presentation, think of it as a compelling short story.

Stories have a few defined stages:

  • Introduction. Introduce the topic of your presentation and explain why it’s relevant to your audience. For example, you could have an inspirational cover slide showing a glimpse of the topic, an agenda slide detailing what you will cover, and a background slide giving context for the presentation.
  • Journey. Describe the highlights of what you did, and the process you followed to get there. This could take the form of a single overview slide or, for longer presentations, a series of numbered slides walking step-by-step through your process.
  • Peak. The most anticipated moment in your presentation. These slides normally describe the results or business impact of your activities.
  • Resolution. Wrap up your presentation by describing what will expect next. For example, you could have a slide laying out next steps and summarizing what you’ll be focusing on in the future, given the context of the presentation.

The timeless structure of a story—especially an interesting one—will help captivate your audience and keep them attentive to your main points. Use it to your advantage.

Involve your audience

Figure out how to present your ideas in a way that speaks to your audience.

Pitching a new feature to a manager? Show how it aligns with her mission and helps to achieve her goals. Pitching a new product to a company board? Focus on what they care about, usually raising revenue or reducing costs.

Remember that even though you may be knowledgeable, you’re not supposed to be the most important person in the room—just the most effective. Your responsibility is to enlighten your audience to how your central message or idea can play a role in their own journeys and stories.

Choose a single theme and repeat it often 

A clear theme is part of every compelling story. This will help you communicate your main presentation points and tie together all of the elements of your presentation.

Before starting to prepare your presentation, ask yourself: what am I trying to convey? Maybe it’s just overall confidence in your product; maybe it’s your design’s ability to improve KPIs like conversation rate or user satisfaction scores. Whatever you determine, maintain focus on this element throughout the presentation. Build it into your story’s climax and repeat it often until it sticks.

For example, say you’re proposing a redesign to increase the conversion rate of a website. To create a theme around this:

  • Mention it in your title slide (ex: Redesigned signup for increasing conversion rate up to 15%)
  • Delve into the importance of conversion rate to the business (i.e. introduction)
  • Describe how you explored increasing this metric (i.e. journey),
  • Demo any final prototypes that show the potential of your proposal. This is where you’ll hit your “peak.”
  • Use a combination of text on slides and verbal emphasis to drive home the theme and make it stick with your audience.

No matter what you’re selling, you’re still selling design 

As a design practitioner, you’re in the great position of being in a truly exciting and rapidly-evolving field. You get to work with cutting-edge practices and methodology. But great excitement comes with great responsibility, and these technological changes put the onus on you to educate and advocate for design.

As you move through your presentation, remember to highlight the points that are fundamental to modern product design and explain how they create value for the business.

For example, let’s say you want to pitch a design change to increase the user satisfaction of a mobile onboarding experience. Instead of just describing the change on a slide, walk the audience through a prototype and highlight the design principles or usability heuristics behind why it works. Just like your theme and “business impact” statement, repetition is key.

As with any skill, mastery of presentation takes time. So get out there and practice! Any upcoming presentation, large or small, or an opportunity to test your new process and tips for creating effective presentations.


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