Why Presentations in a Pandemic are so important

It is amazing how not having the “physical” face to face interaction can change how we feel about presenting to each other.

Through the looking glass

People have found the current pandemic a blessing or a curse. For some the chance to work from home means they can concentrate better on their work, without the distraction of a busy office. For others it means less of a chance to socially interact and to get validation on the work they are doing.

What was once our own choice of how we work, has been taken away from us, to be replaced with an uncertain future of communication. The rise of Zoom, to sit alongside Skype and Teams has made the transition easier in some ways, but has also created new situations for us all to navigate.

It is amazing how not having the “physical” face to face interaction can change how we feel about presenting to each other. We are all “on show” and this can be stressful and in some situations lead to a more difficult flow of conversation, where clarity of information and decision making are lost.

We are all different, we all have the parts of our jobs we love and the bits we find hard (or even hate!). So with everyone having to use the same portal to communicate it can be a tough for everyone involved in a business.

Image: Vince Fleming.

Fight, flight or fright

The role of a designer covers a lot of different aspects of a creation and production process. From blue sky thinking to problem solving, all whilst maintaining consistent and confident reasonings for these thought processes. So when it comes to presenting this information in the current situation, it can be hard to stay focused, be confident and clear

with what you are presenting. 

Sometimes a presentation can be a barrage of information, which floods the recipient with too much at one time. Sometimes the presentations lacks focus and wanders off into a flight of fancy, or worst of all the presentation is not communicated at all, due to the lack of confidence of the designer.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to go through a couple of different presenting scenarios, with an aim to help structure and focus the desired end results, whilst hopefully giving some confidence to designers needing to communicate in these difficult times.

Image: Jonatan Pie

Scenario A – Internal

Presenting to your fellow designers and colleagues within a business should be the more comfortable scenario, but for many this is the more intense situation to handle. It is easy to feel judged and / or have fears of “imposter syndrome”,  as these people will have a certain amount of the same information as you, and therefore may have already made their own decisions internally.

But in fact, having a certain amount of common information and understanding is fantastic, as it means that you can make some assumptions of their understanding, which can mean more focus can be put onto the “variables” of a presentation.

Establishing what the base line for the conversation is, is probably the most important decision to make before starting to create a presentation. The easiest way to do this is to list the topics to be presented and organise them into a loose agenda. The order needs to be logical and linked together or the presentation will seem disjointed and random.

Try to find common links and subjects which naturally sit next to each other as this will enable an easier flow of communication. Often using the development timeline can help a presentation stay logical, as the internal team will all have this in common and be using this to help them stay connected to the process.

The subject matter of a presentation can also determine how you talk to your audience. For example, when presenting a colour concept you may stump for a more “mood” orientated style, where striking imagery and minimal wording are utilised to offer a sense of the style of the colours chosen.

So curating the perfect images is vital. Remember your colleagues may challenge your choices, so make sure you are confident in your choices. Don’t throw an image in just because you “like it” or “it fits the space on the board”. Have good reasoning for everything, from the colour balance of the image, to the framing, to the positioning within the board.

You need to tell a story with these images, either though a chosen theme or through the hue and saturation. So don’t skimp on time to choose images. It is probably the most time consuming part of a design presentation, but done correctly, can create a memorable impact that cannot be understated.

Even when creating this type of presentation, there needs to be a conclusion. So make sure that you have made clear and conscious decisions on the end result. In this “Colour” example I would recommend you have a defined palette ready to present.

The final part of this kind of presentation is make sure you are ready to react to the inevitable questions you will be asked, so have your research ready (and in a presentable format). This may include colour fabric swatches, prediction books, market colour research or even sales analysis on current collections.

It is important to think of every angle and consider your response, so that you are not put in an awkward position when challenged. Think about the people you are presenting too and put yourself in their shoes and mindset. What would they say? How will they react?

Image: Gabriel Benois

It is important to think of every angle and consider your response, so that you are not put in an awkward position when challenged. Think about the people you are presenting too and put yourself in their shoes and mindset. What would they say? How will they react?

Scenario B – External

Presenting to outside partners can be more of an unknown quantity, so taking a more in-depth approach is going to harbour better results. This (of course) will take more time and effort, but considering that external presentations are normally to people without the knowledge you and your colleagues have it is worth doing the work to get their buy in.

As per “Scenario A”, planning and structuring the presentation is vital to communicating the idea, although there is a one small difference here. Clarity of information and “showing your workings” is the most important factors to remember, as you will need to show not just the result, but how you got there. So all that research that you will have done to get the conclusion, needs slotting in to explain your thought process.

Although this can seem as “having to justify” what you do, it does in fact show that you explored a variety of options and ideas to get to the end result. It is easy to assume that everyone in a meeting understands all the details and terminology, but often this is just not the case, so “feeling” out the participants level of understanding is tough and sometimes can be a fluid process through a meeting.

People, in general, will not admit when they don’t understand something, but this can sometimes mean they disconnect from the presentation and loose focus on the end result. So your job is to make sure all is clear and understood throughout the presentation. Sometimes this can mean slowing down or even stopping on a board to clarify a point, before moving on.

Unfortunately, what this can mean is that presentations can be long and drawn out. But, remembering that the concentration span of most of us is diminishing rapidly as we move to an on-line world, you need to find ways to streamline presentations and keep them engaging.

This could be done simply by sectioning out the presentation, so that it is bite sized subjects and discussion points. Give a contents list of the boards, so they know where you are in the presentation and summarise the reason for the sectioning of the presentation.

Then it is more a matter of creating a flow of an introduction to each section, with the research, reasoning and then the conclusion. This means what was once a long and drawn out presentation becomes a series of manageable discussion points.

Remember the aim of a presentation is to get a conclusion, a decision, an agreement. So to give confidence to those around you, will always drive a project forward and give it the best chance of success.

Image: James Wainscoat

Living apart but moving as one

Being a designer is not just about the creative ideas and how well you can interpret a brief, it is about the collective communication of those ideas throughout a business, to enable all parties to do their part in the larger project. Therefore having structure and a willingness to prepare for meetings is just part of the job of a designer, so don’t shy away from it, embrace the chance to be the lens that all others look through.

In times where “physical” face to face meetings just cannot happen, the reliance on well structured and focused presentations can only increase in importance. The need for better community orientated presentation skills will naturally evolve with business’ needing to rely on stronger presentation skills, and clearer ways of communicating.

So rather than waiting for things to get back to “normal”, maybe we would all be better set looking to evolve how we work together and build processes that enable clearer communication.

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