9 golden rules for talking about your design work

Being able to talk confidently about your work in any situation – while pitching, public speaking, during an interview, over a beer – is a fundamental design skill that differentiates the good from the exceptional.

Here are nine top tips from some of the creative industry's finest designers for winning around any audience, whether it's your dream client, employer or a 3,000-strong crowd at a conference...

(And if these aren't enough, check out our 18 golden tips for presenting your work.)

01. Don't panic

"Be confident and relaxed: this will make you likeable," says Spin co-founder Tony Brook, who hosted London's 2013 AGI Open conference and designed the event's branding, as he explains in the video above.

"I find walking around helps, like I'm talking on the phone. And address the audience, not your belly button," continues Brook.

"Try to enjoy the experience," agrees illustrator Rod Hunt. "Remember that you've been invited to speak: people want to hear what you have to say."

02. Make it relevant

Make sure your message is relevant to your audience. "Understanding who you're speaking to is so important," says Pentagram partner Emily Oberman. "You need good material, good work, good energy on stage, an interest in your audience and an interest in the work you're doing."

02. Craft the underlying structure

One of the most time-consuming parts of preparing a presentation is designing the structure that supports your narrative. It can be incredibly simple, but the audience will soon notice if it's not there.

"I try not to jump around and say things like 'I'll talk about that later,'" says Christoph Niemann. "For an audience, it's very confusing."

04. Use humour wisely

The best speakers are engaging, clear and interesting – "And if you're funny too, then that's a big bonus," says Jon Burgerman, whose Hand-Cam video above offers an insight into how the artist draws large scale murals, shot at the New York UsTwo studios in July 2015.

Oberman agrees than a level of wit can help you relax and connect with your audience. "I know I can reach people with it," she says, "and we can all understand things together."

05. Don't over-rehearse

There's no substitute for practice. Get used to delivering your presentation aloud and ask for feedback, but leave room for a little spontaneity to keep the audience engaged. "Try to remember roughly what you're going to say and then improvise a bit," suggests Hunt.

06. Have a back-up plan

Make sure you have options, adds Brook. "Technology is the source of most of my anxiety. If your talk is in Keynote, bring a PDF back up. Ask your hosts what they have. If it's a presentation we'll bring runout as well – sometimes it's good to be paranoid."

07. Never overrun your allotted time

"That is a real no-no," says Brook. "You'll piss off the organiser and all your fellow speakers."

Hunt agrees: "On a practice level prepare, practice and time your talk. Or, as my dad used to say: 'Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance'."

08. Consider cultural differences

Some crowds are quiet and reserved; others will cheer at every point you make. With experience comes the ability to better read your audience, but consider them from the start.

Do your references make sense? Will that one-liner work on the other side of the world? Are there any cultural sensitivities to be aware of?

09. Emotion has the biggest impact

The most effective way to reach people is through emotion. Humans remember feelings, so think about how you want your narrative to affect viewers.

"Engage as many senses of the audience as you can – sight, sound – using different media: still, video, audio," advises Karlssonwilker's Jan Wilker.

The full version of this article first appeared inside Computer Arts issue 240, a self-promotion special. Get up to 55 per cent off a subscription to CA here.

Liked this? Try these...

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.