Curating design presentations that resonate
A guide from one young creative to another as we find our way in this phenomenal industry.
Crafting and delivering design presentations is a skill in itself. We often see leading or senior creatives give sensational lectures, and are enthralled not just by their work but also by their words. For some, many years of experience in the industry has nurtured this skill and some others are born with an innate talent for showmanship.
So it seems like it requires an almost fervent, theatrical approach that is grounded just enough by methodically placed statistics and a well designed solution. And what I mean by that is simply to “tell a captivating story”.
Master storyteller, Robert McKee believes that “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today”. His words have always resonated with me, and being an avid reader, it became very natural for me to rely on the bedrock of storytelling every time I’ve had to present. Each time I have been delighted by how well my professional audience connects with them.
And so I put together a little guide of how I use the power of storytelling to enhance my presentations. These are tips from personal experiences and lessons from mentoring junior designers, so take what you see value in. Moreover, this is but one of many many ways designers can showcase their work, and so tread with an open mind.
Finding the story behind your presentations
Stories are entertaining because they take us on a journey of vivid imagination. For creatives, that’s essentially what we want to do with our presentations — take your audience on a journey of how the product, service or experience is positively improved because of your solution.
Start with finding the story behind your presentations. This shouldn’t be hard since we designers are trained to create killer narratives! So in order to do this, let us first break down a story into two essential components.
Stories revolve around people. These people come from different backgrounds, and have particular needs, wants and emotions. Stories build on their unique life experiences to make the audience feel more connected.
Remember the target market you’re designing for? They are the “characters” of your story. Use them as the crux for your presentation. You are aiming to solve a challenge they face and so their emotions, needs and wants become the driving force for your pitch. Throughout the presentation, I like to draw parallels to how my characters are feeling through this design journey. I emphasise on why my solution improves their experience rather than why it benefits the company.
Now this does not mean that I’m discouraging you from listing facts or quoting numbers to show your client the value of your design solution. Statistics are great to seal the deal and I use them all the time.
But the way I see it, it is time for presentations to become more human-centred. We create brilliant design solutions for people and many a times fail to display that sense of empathy in our presentations.
A better product or service will naturally enable the company to make more sales. And I show them why by focusing on the real people using the product or service and how my solution improves their experience. Deliver that with confidence, and a client can automatically see the benefits for the company.
In this part of curating my presentations, I go back to the design process of when I actually designed the product, service or experience. My user research, user journey maps, personas, interviews and brainstorming notes tell me a lot about my characters and I use that information to lend a human centred approach to my presentation.
Here is an example of how you could start your presentation by focusing on your characters. I recently re-designed the waiting experience at a Melbourne hospital’s emergency room. The solution was an immersive digital experience that would help patients and staff feel less stressed and more relaxed. This slide was the first page of a successful presentation to this client.
I began by reminding them what waiting at an emergency room can feel like for patients ( the characters of my story ). This allowed them to empathise with the target audience even before we began talking about the challenge or the solution. Throughout the presentation, I referred back to this slide.
Stories have a changing dynamic and that’s what keeps it interesting. Every story you’ve read or every film you’ve seen has a plot twist and the way your characters react to this turn of events leads to an eventual happy ending.
( Think happy stories, and not the ones where someone dies in the last scene leaving you heartbroken and questioning your whole life).
So let’s draw an analogy here. Everything that happens before the plot twist is the current situation of the client’s product or service. The plot twist is your brilliant solution. The happy ending is how the users and consequently the client are benefitted by your solution.
Using this analogy allows me to create a story-journey to show the client why they need my solution. To create this story-journey, I have a framework of questions I write down answers to:
What is the current situation of the product / service? ( Before the plot twist )
What does it need to be better? ( Introduce the plot twist )
What is your solution ? ( The core of the plot twist )
Why does the client need your solution? ( Reaction to the plot twist )
How does it help their users achieve their goals or improve their experience?
( Introduce the happy ending and iterate how your characters feel at this point of the journey )
Visualisations and prototypes of the solution ( The core of the happy ending )
Conclude by driving the “happy ending” home.
Here are two examples from the same successful presentation I pitched to the healthcare client.
Introducing the plot twist : What do they need to improve the challenge of a stressful emergency waiting room? I give them an intangible answer as I lead up to my solution.
Reaction to the plot twist : After I spoke about my solution for an immersive digital experience, I showed them why they need my solution. Why my solution will work over others ideas they may have seen.
Driving the happy ending home
Stories have impactful endings that leave you feeling all sorts of good things
( Again, think happy or inspiring stories ). You want your clients to feel like they have found a winner when you end your presentation. So it’s important you end powerfully by emphasising the value of your solution for the users. It’s almost like the slogan for democracy — for the people, of the people and by the people. After all, good design is user-centric.
Thanks for reading till the end if you made it. As young professionals, pitches and client presentations can be scary. This has been my way of navigating them with confidence and I hope you found some value in it. If not, at least inspiration for creating your own methods.
I’ll see you out there.