Did you communicate your message clearly?
That's the question all designers are challenged to answer effectively throughout their careers. Each project you work on will have moments that depends on your ability to communicate in the right manner at the right moment.
Whether internally with teammates and management or externally to customers and clients, how you communicate will play a huge role in your ability to progress forward in your career.
Throughout the program, this challenge presents itself in different forms. Crafting a clear script for a user interview is no different than building an intuitive interface. Both should be easy to use and meeting that criteria will allow each artifact to communicate with the intended audience successfully.
Presentations are just a form of the communication challenge. However, it's not the presentation artifact alone that's being tested here. Successful designers must be willing to present their work, offer an opinion, and weather the criticism that will ultimately arrive.
- No more than 10 slides
- No more than 20 minutes
- No text smaller than 30 point
While I believe most would agree with the text size rule, presentations are given in too many different situations for the other rules to be applied as universal standards. Like most things, context matters.
My guidelines that follow take into account audience and context, as few scenarios are alike when presenting. Best practices won't turn you into the perfect presenter, but they will help you establish confidence in presenting the work.
Greater than the parts
Presentations look like the easiest thing in the world to do — stand in front of a slideshow and talk to people. In that regard, presentations are similar to acting because it takes a lot of effort to make something look very simple.
As a presenter, you must know the material. Your mastery of the content is the base of your confidence, but confidence alone won't hold the room for most people. To fill the gap, the quality of your presentation matters.
Great presentations are equal parts of visual design, motion design, and theatre. Pull any part of the combination away, and you're left with something significantly less appealing.
Let's look at three specific ways these individual ideas combine when delivering presentations.
Setting the tone
From the moment your first slide displays on the screen, expectations are set for everything that follows. Lackluster visuals make it harder for you to communicate, which is why the visual design of your presentation matters.
Remember, the goal is to communicate with the audience about a topic more important than your color palette. If you are presenting to a client with a defined style — align with it by adopting elements like color and typography. Your presentation will feel familiar, and the focus can shift back to the message.
In instances where there is no defined style to follow or align with — use your own. This means that you should have or develop a personal style that you can easily apply should you be required to present to others.
The key in either instance is consistency. Regardless of how long you are speaking, it isn't forever, so you are operating with limited time. Keeping your type and color palettes simple will help everyone involved focus on your message.
From there, the basics of information architecture take over, but it is helpful to remember the following keys to displaying information on screen:
- Text styles displayed at consistent sizes. Labels, headlines, etc.
- No large paragraphs on the screen. Ever.
- Tightly edit or limit the amount of text displayed on the screen.
- Charts, icons should be simplified where possible.
- Limited amount of information placed in the bottom quarter of the screen.
- Photo usage is highly encouraged.
The platform you pick to use for your presentations matters far less than the items listed above. Google Slides, Keynote, and Pitch all have different strengths, but none of them can help you if your working with a poorly constructed presentation.
Power of pacing
Content isn't a constant in presentations because that content is in continual motion. Too often, text and image travel through the room before the audience can comprehend what they have seen.
If the audience is struggling to keep up, it's impossible to communicate with them.
If the audience ever struggles — that's our fault.
To remedy the issue, it's important to apply some motion best practices with the visual principles covered earlier:
- Text should be on screen long enough to be read aloud.
- Load multiple bullet points in a sequence to reduce cognitive load.
- Use specifically designed section slides to introduce new themes.
- Avoid flashing elements! (Causing a seizure is not cool.)
When you are finished with your presentation's initial build, zoom out, and study the information density. Consider using images and colors to lighten the overall tone of your presentation to be heavy. Providing an oasis for the audience will allow them to reset and engage with your message.
All the style and pace in the world won't convince someone to pay attention to your presentation. Whether the audience is big or small, only a compelling narrative will draw their full attention.
To ensure you are prepared to be in front of an audience, ask yourself if you're presentation has met the following criteria before you begin:
- If someone leaves after the first minute of my presentation, would they understand what I am talking about?
- Does the presentation contain sufficient supporting evidence?
- Have I discussed who benefits from the items or issues I am covering?
- Is there a clear next step for my audience to take after my presentation?
- What is the weakest section of this presentation? What would happen if I removed it?
Even the most straightforward narratives can be sidetracked by poor organization. To eliminate this issue, I create a loose outline of my story on paper before I touch any presentation software. Paper works fine, but I like post-its or note cards to reorder the information quickly.
Once you arrive at a suitable outline, then you're free to begin working on the platform you'll ultimately use to deliver the presentation.
When you are finished, the story that drives your presentation should answer the following questions:
- What is important?
- Why is that important?
- Who is it important to?
- What do we need to do to get started?
Most presenters will address those targets, but the most effective ones do so with great clarity and brevity.
While all the guidelines listed above can elevate your presentation, there are other factors that should be considered before investing your time. Namely, who are you presenting to and where will you be presenting.
The tight, information-focused approach you would use for a client meeting would make a terrible Ted talk. Similarly, humor and emotion can be employed to great effect in the right situation. The key is being aware that the posssibility is present.
Every presentation you lead will not be a standup performance, but they also won’t all be product updates. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to stretch your skills into new directions.
Resources for review
Please use the following items to guide your exercise attempt:
|Presenting your research||New Pragmatic|
|How not to present your findings||Danae Paparis|
Length: Two-to-three hours to complete.
You'll work on dozens of projects throughout your career, and each will have a point where it is time to bring your team or client up to speed. The goal is always the same, communicate quickly, clearly the important stuff, and why it is important.
The past several exercises have been focused on the research and development of a potential solution to the remote learning challenges being faced by schools. With a treasure trove of information collected and produced, you have more than enough to create a compelling presentation.
Follow the steps below to complete this exercise.
Part one Prepare a non-digital outline of your presentation. Your outline should address the four key questions covered in the Storyteller section. Upload a photo or scan of your work to display progression.
Part two Create a digital version of your presentation. Great platforms to consider using include Google Slides, Figma, Pitch, or PasteApp. The quality of your portfolio will be measured based on the Pacing and Tone guidelines listed in the material above.
Part three Record a two-to-five minute video of yourself practicing your presentation. Loom does a great job of allowing you to record both you and your screen in the same shot.
Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to any assets produced in this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.
Up next Interface Exercises