Presenting design work like Mike Monteiro

Alexander Skogberg

On April 28th I got a spot at Mike Monteiro’s workshop Presenting Work Like Your Life Depends On It. Presenting design work and holding presentations in general is a crucial overlooked skill they don’t teach you in school. So, let me – with the help of Monteiro – tell you some things that can be really useful.

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When I started working as a consultant and UX Designer back in 2011, I was just 24 years old and incredibly naive. I expected clients to blindly trust me and take every claim I made for granted. 

“After all, why wouldn’t they?”, I thought. I had studied for five years, gotten a job at a well-known agency and the client had signed a contract agreeing to pay my high hourly fee.

However, too often my design ideas were turned down. Sometimes I knew that they needed more work, but quite often I was flabbergasted and couldn’t figure out why my work was questioned or ignored.

In retrospect, there were at least three reasons for my design work not being accepted.

One, my work probably wasn’t as good as I thought.

Two, there were larger internal political struggles at hand that I had no control over.

Three, I didn’t present my design ideas well enough.

Since I’ve always been data-driven in my design process, I naturally got better at backing up my design choices. Still, I was coming up too short, too often.

A few years ago, I came across Mike Monteiro’s book Design Is A Job when I went through the A Book Apart series. It took my breath away! I recognized so many scenarios and errors I’d made. I took it to my colleagues shouting “This is a manual for working as a consultant!”.

I learned a lot from Mike’s book and even more when I saw his presentation 13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations at From Business To Buttons in 2015. Therefore, I was delighted to learn that I had gotten a spot at his workshop the day after From Business To Buttons 2017.

I won’t repeat exactly what Mike Monteiro shared with us, but I thought I’d share my experience – with lots of input from Mike – on how to hold a great presentation in general.

Here’s what to think about:

1. You’re more important than your slides

This might seem like a given, but you shouldn’t be dependent on your slides. Make sure you know what you’re going to talk about by heart. Nice slides should just be the icing on the cake. You are the presentation, the slides are secondary.

2. Work the room

Don’t sit down or hide behind your laptop when giving a presentation. Stand up, get your hands out of your pockets and move around. Use your body language for getting attention and showing some attitude.

3. Include the participants

People have chosen – or been forced – to listen to your presentation. Thank them for coming, and explain why they’ve been summoned or why they’ll benefit from listening to you. Encourage them to ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask them questions during the presentation.

4. Be entertaining

Presentations are too often boring. Make sure to be enthusiastic and put on a show. Don’t be afraid to crack a few jokes, include a funny GIF in your slides or tell a relevant anecdote as long as you have enough substance. There’s a fine line between being funny and just being silly.

If you look at presentations and talks from popular conferences such as An Event Apart, you’ll see that most speakers have a great sense of humor. Have a look at them, and watch some stand up comedy on Youtube for inspiration.

5. Keep your slides lean and varied

It’s easy to have too many slides with too much content on each of them. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings or ask someone else to help you do it. You’d be amazed how much text can be shortened or removed completely without hurting the presentation at all.

Don’t forget that content doesn’t have to be all text. Try conveying your message with charts, photos, illustrations and video clips.

6. Be prepared for technical failure

Internet connections go down, adapters go missing, sound systems malfunction and projectors can be time-consuming to set up.

Always do a soundcheck well before your presentation starts, bring your own adapters and have a backup version of your slides that doesn’t rely on Internet access for its content.

7. People love anecdotes

One thing I’ve noticed when holding presentations throughout the years, is that people love to hear a good relevant anecdote. If you can tie a personal story to something you’re saying, it can bring a lot of credibility to your presentation.

Anyone can find facts and relevant work from other sources, but a personal experience makes you feel even more like the expert you hopefully are.

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