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Toastmasters (Design Edition)

It simply amazes me time and again how people who claim to be communicators are completely incapable of communicating to their peers in a public arena. What in God’s name to do you do in a client presentation? How is it that you can get ideas across in a visual format from an outside source to a marketplace, and you can’t do it when you are talking to me? A complete frickin’ mystery.

I will now use my design brain to attempt to bring about change, by providing these helpful tips for presenters everywhere. Please bookmark this page.

1. Make sure your talk addresses the conference theme. Your talk should have its own theme within that theme. Begin by stating the premise of your talk, then make all the points throughout the talk to support that premise, and wrap it up by returning to your original intent, or proving your point in such a way that we all say, “Aha. Now I see.” Your talk should have a point, and at the end of it, we should be able to understand what that point was.

2. Do not include images of your own work unless you are doing a show-and-tell all about yourself, or unless examples of your own work support your premise.

3. If you are doing a show and tell about yourself, be sure to provide more information than we would see in a Design Annual. Tell us the funny stories, the problems you overcame, what you were thinking, what the client thought. Consider limiting your presentation to a handful of work which you go into in-depth, showing sketches, process, rejected comps.

4. Know how much time you have and tailor your talk accordingly. Practice at least once. Run through the images, saying your text to yourself with an eye on the clock, and edit edit edit until the talk easily fits into the alotted time.

5. If you’ve never spoken before or are unsure of your material, practice in front of someone else. Find out if your talk made sense and if you engaged their attention.

6. Know your material well enough to be able to speak while looking at the audience at least most of the time. Try to speak as though you are speaking to one individual in a passionate and engaged manner about something you actually care about. Modulate your voice. Do not read other than for cues of what to say next.

7. Never ever, ever project the same words you are saying onto the screen. Key words as pointers, yes; the complete text, NO.

8. You’re a designer! Use images to support your message. This can be diagrams, charts, emotive pictures, sketches, photos of people or places … I don’t know, you’re the fuckin’ designer, do for yourself what you do for your clients.

These are just a few things written off the top of my head. I encourage anyone to add more: especially those people, like Debbie Millman, who really are good speakers and may have some tips for others.

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ARCHIVE ID 2747 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Jul.17.2006 BY marian bantjes
dan’s comment is:

Great advice. Thanks Marian! I thought I was doing well and had followed, or tried to upheld all your points at some stage when presenting, but then I got to number 7 and realised I was guilty of talking and having the same text on display - oops! I do have sympathy for those presenting as I've found presenting design and talking about it far from easy when its to a design crowd.

Anyhow great to see someone is keeping them honest and making sure at this level the presentations are what they should be!

NB. Why they succeed at client presentations I’m guessing is the clients don’t see through the ‘bullshit’ as easily as designers..? Not that designers are smarter – just they use or see/know of the same talk that’s used.

On Jul.17.2006 at 04:27 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Speakers at graphic design conferences, more often than not, seem to be there simply to show off their portfolio.

And, for better or worse, audiences seem to accept that.

"Why they succeed at client presentations I’m guessing is the clients don’t see through the ‘bullshit’ as easily as designers..?"

I'd say 'yes'. The bullshit is necessary and part of business/sales. But you can't bullshit a bullshitter, so save that for the clients, and give your fellow professionals the benefit of the doubt. In otherwords, speak to your peers as peers...not clients.

On Jul.17.2006 at 11:28 AM
Bone’s comment is:

Most agreed.

I found that HOW conference presenters can tend to be the same way. In Chicago last year, I was deeply disappointed that i could not gain entry to Brian Collins' presentation. The description alone by my colleagues was inspirational.

Other presentations though (some by really creative leaders of some global design agencies) were hardly anything more than statements strung together as a primer school student would describe events in the "First Day Back" classic, "What I Did on My Summer Vacation."

I recommend that anyone interested in improving their presentation skills to visit and read Presentation Zen.

It is an excellent site that not only lays out various methods of presentation and how to best use them but it also will critique and compare presentations of some of our most public presenters.

I found this presentation by one of your fellow Canucks, Dick Hardt, via an entry concerning The Lessig Method.

While the root subject matter is quite technical, his introduction is so approachable that when he gets to the stuff that would make most viewer's eyes glaze over, you find yourself actually interested in the topic.


- Bone

On Jul.17.2006 at 12:32 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Bone, that presentation is Marian's point #7 nightmare.

On Jul.17.2006 at 05:31 PM
Tom Michlig’s comment is:

Point #2 reminds me of HOW in Atlanta a couple years back. I was still young and impressionable ;) which would explain why I would subject myself to a David Carson presentation (especially since I had seen him before). I don't remember the point, other than "Hi, I'm Me, and here's the cool stuff I'm working on now, for NIN, thank you for your time. Did I mention my work for NIN? It's cool". Ahh, the design attitudes of the turn of the century. Seems like a long time ago (thank goodness).

On Jul.18.2006 at 09:40 AM
schwa’s comment is:

i took a public speaking course once and learned one valuable thing (like your #1, marian): when giving presentations, tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them. expectations are set and narrative threads are pre-woven! yeah!

On Jul.18.2006 at 10:39 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:


Dick Hardt’s talk isn’t the nearly-contrapuntal masterpiece of Lessig’s famous presentation on IP but it doesn’t violate Marian’s “7. Never ever, ever project the same words you are saying onto the screen. Key words as pointers, yes; the complete text, NO.” Neither presentation merely projects the script or the outline. They play the words on screen and our visual expectations against each other and use the words on the screen to emphasize the verbal presentation and expand on it rather than allowing two parallel presentations that diffuse each other.

BTW, anyone who hasn’t watched/heard Lessig’s IP talk should do so. Not only is it interesting as visual/verbal rhetorical structure but the Lessig’s message is more important than anything that’s been said on Speak Up.

On Jul.18.2006 at 12:26 PM
Josh’s comment is:

I would love to hear a talk on this.

Failing at Design: The intimate details of butting heads, raised voices and lost messages.

Tooting your own horn is so '90s.

On Jul.18.2006 at 05:43 PM
laura’s comment is:

I had the same impression from the HOW Conference.

Ironically, there was a great presentation on presentation design given by Julie Terberg. One of her examples was contrasting slides from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - fantastic - the Microsoft slides were busy with too much information, the Apple slides were clean, held a single concept and were so much more impactful.

On Jul.24.2006 at 10:14 AM
Ben Weeks’s comment is:

I still remember the bruce mau lecture where he responded to a question with a straight face and, "I'm moving on ... a vector."An Andy Kaufmann moment. nice one bruce-ski :)

On Aug.20.2006 at 02:28 AM