“What am I looking at? What am I supposed to do with what you’re showing me?” These simple questions from the executive across the room sent shivers down my spine. A sinking moment when I realized that I hadn’t connected with my audience what-so-ever. I had wasted the time of this executive and, worse yet, I potentially introduced confusion into a room full of people. My younger self, overly-confident in my design skills, was quickly sobered by my weakness as a presenter.
That day I delivered a weak presentation. Since then I’ve watched others do the same. What I’ve noticed through these experiences is that there’s usually one fatal flaw that sets these well-intentioned deliveries up for disaster — poor introductions.
When presenting work, you want to tell a story and you want to bring people along with your way of thinking. Part of doing that effectively is acknowledging that your audience members are all starting from completely different places. Consider what your audiences’ days have been like up to the point of your meeting. Engineers may have been heads down in code for a number of hours. Executives may have had back-to-back meetings, each requiring critical decisions. Client service team members may have been dealing with complex customer issues. Diving directly into the minutiae of your work in the midst of this cognitive dissonance will rarely result in a clear, shared understanding of what you’re covering. You must reset your audience.
I’ve found that covering 3 simple points before starting your presentation helps set the stage to get the most from and for the people in the room:
Re-state the problem
God-willing, you are working on a design for a clearly-stated reason. There is some problem in the world that you and your team have been tasked to solve. Restate that problem for the group. Give them the necessary context for the conversation and bring focus to the outcome you’re striving to achieve.
State what you’ll be showing
Designers tend to show various types of documents. Wireframes, visual designs, flow diagrams, journey maps, the list goes on. While us designers understand the purpose of these artifacts fairly intuitively, that’s not always the case for everyone in the room. Be explicit about what you’re showing and how it illustrates a solution to the problem you’ve set out to solve.
State the type of feedback needed
Direct your audience to focus on specific types of feedback you need. You could be looking for feedback on content, feature set, process flows, layout and hierarchy, anything. Different stages require different types of feedback and your job is to help your audience understand what’s helpful at that stage. This maximizes the group’s brainpower and keeps the discussion relevant and effective.
Design is a leadership position. Through the nature of our work we help drive the process of bringing products and features to life. We are asked to take problem statements, conversations, ideas, and wishes and boil them down into people-ready experiences. You’ve put in the work—do it and your team a service by setting context and expectations before presenting.