How to be a better speaker: presenting and pitching tips

10. Avoid reading a script word-for-word

Of course, engaging an audience is far easier said than done. There's debate as to the best way to deliver a presentation. Some design slides to outline the parameters and then speak off-the-cuff; others memorise a speech, practising until it flows naturally. Most agree that reading a script word-for-word usually sounds stilted and awkward.

To help work in a bit of spontaneity without losing the structure of your talk, Tony Brook recommends using keywords as prompts, while Niemann tends to remember which points he wants to deliver with which image.

11. Don't rush it

Rod Hunt's Multix Personal Utility Vehicle advertising campaign

Rod Hunt's Multix Personal Utility Vehicle advertising campaign

For award-winning illustrator and regular lecturer Rod Hunt, the key is not to rush the delivery: "Face the audience, speak up and project yourself. Also, try to take natural pauses," he advises. 

Also, fight the urge to hide behind the lectern. "I prefer to use a radio mic and progress the visuals with a remote so I can walk the stage," he adds.

Niemann agrees: "People have a tendency to talk too much when they're nervous. Public speaking helps you learn to say less, which makes for a stronger delivery."

12. Connect with your audience

Whatever your method, the ultimate aim is to connect with your audience – and this, in particular, is where all designers can learn from the best public speakers.

"When I do a presentation, I grossly over-prepare," says Niemann, who was first invited to talk by AGI after emigrating to New York from his native Germany, and was nervous about his English.

"Being comfortable with an audience, on stage, is really important in terms of speaking to a client," adds Oberman. "You have to understand and care about the content, be able to answer questions effectively, think about something differently and respond to what you're getting from your audience, whether they're sitting in the dark in a lecture theatre or on the other end of a table in a pitch situation or client meeting."

13. Overcome nerves with practice

Sagmeister & Walsh's animated identity for cloud software brand Fugue

Sagmeister & Walsh's animated identity for cloud software brand Fugue

Nerves and anxiety are two of the fastest ways to undermine any presentation – or destroy an interview – so what's the best way to overcome them? Again, there's simply no substitute for solid preparation and practice. "Practice is everything," admits Jessica Walsh, partner at New York design firm Sagmeister & Walsh.

"I started out speaking to smaller audiences before going to larger conferences and speaking in front of thousands of people. This helped me test out what people responded to and also helped me gain confidence."

14. Invest in the right tech

On the technical side, Niemann recommends the Presenter Display in Apple's Keynote software. This enables you to see your current slide as well as the next one, plus your notes and a timer. "I've never needed my notes, but knowing they're there is really fantastic," he says.

"Handwritten notes only work if you change them as you talk – but I'm focusing on what I say. And all it breaks down if you've forgotten to shuffle your cards. Then everything's lost."

15. Have mulitple backups

The Story of my App: Christophe Niemann's visual essay for the New Yorker, describing the challenges of making interactive app, Petting Zoo

The Story of my App: Christophe Niemann's visual essay for the New Yorker, describing the challenges of making interactive app, Petting Zoo

The best advice is to prepare for any situation that might go wrong. Always have at least one backup of your presentation; email your talk to the organisers in advance; do a practice run to test for potential projector or lighting problems; and double-check the quality of your images and videos.

If something isn't working, give yourself time to change it. "I bring everything," Niemann laughs. "Even if the people at the venue tell me they have every adaptor, I bring it nonetheless."

16. Approach it like a design problem

Finally, if it all goes wrong on the day, just stay calm. After all, the biggest secret – says Niemann – is that nobody was born talented at speaking. "It's just a lot of practice," he smiles.

"That, and seeing your presentation as a piece of design. Once you tackle it as a design problem, it's actually not that hard. It just takes time."

This advice first appeared in Computer Arts magazine. Subscribe here.

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