Thursday, 24 April 2014
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Clients also judge on presentation skills

Some designers love the cut and thrust of a lively presentation to a client, while others just plain hate doing it, as Adrian Berry explains

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Well, here I sit. On grubby, tired, foam-filled seats in a room that is so dull and lifeless in its decor, that even the pot plants have given up hope. Which is a shame really, because I was looking forward with a certain sense of civic duty, and not without a little trepidation, to my jury service. Largely, though, I have sat, waited and contemplated.

The subject of my contemplation? How important presentation is in putting over a point of view in a coherent, engaging and confident way. This was highlighted for me acutely in the stark surroundings of a courtroom situation, where a person’s liberty or incarceration may depend on the outcome of how evidence, for and against the accused, is presented, where a subtle and well-phrased argument can sway the minds of 12 interested yet disparate minds making a real difference.

I’ve got to say they weren’t that impressive, but a diet of courtroom dramas may have raised the expectation levels somewhat. Who knows how long they had to prepare, or what experience they had?

Still, it got me thinking about what the designer has to go through during the course of a project. Every new job is a challenge to create the best for the client and then convince them of its value.

As such, design as a career is unusual in the demand that it places upon the designer as ’public orator’. I think most graduates are probably surprised at the amount and level of presentations that have to be ’performed’ during the course of even a fairly small project sometimes speaking to resistant and even hostile recipients, sometimes to large groups of professional people, sometimes trying to win work and sometimes in the media.

The designer is required to fit into many challenging roles as the face of a project, and I don’t think any amount of presentation practice at college can prepare you for the real thing. The first showing of ’paid-for work’ to an expectant client, who unerringly arrive en masse for their own security, can be an intimidating prospect.
Even when ’just’ presenting a phase of work, in unfamiliar surroundings and with unfamiliar equipment, the designer’s ability to engage the audience with the work, think quickly in response to challenging questions and generally add to the overall experience of the work, can often make or break a job.

A nervous presentation may undermine the value of great creative work and distract the client sufficiently that the work is not the focus

Some designers love the cut and thrust of a lively presentation. By nature we can be an opinionated bunch opinionated, of course, about something for which we have a passion: our work. We want our clients to love and buy into what we are presenting sharing the enthusiasm we feel for the work we have created. Coherent and well-prepared presentations help to give clients confidence in the work that has been completed, can endorse its intellectual rigour and ultimately smooth its progress through the stages, especially if the work is challenging and pushing the client into new areas.

Other designers hate it. What could be worse for them than having to put their head above the parapet, talk publicly about what they have created, or win the approval of a client. Nerves affect all of us, but sometimes nerves can overcome an unconfident or inexperienced presenter to an extent that they are rendered unusually incapable, struggling to effectively underpin and endorse their work. A presentation in this case may actually serve to undermine the value of great creative work and distract the client sufficiently that the work ceases to be the focus the lack of confidence in the presentation creating doubt as to its integrity.

A good client will hopefully recognise great work when they see it and, if the relationship with the designer is a good one, the problem is diminished. I am not saying that good work does not speak for itself but design and its challenging and subjective elements sometimes need to be strongly pushed and eloquently defended.

Importantly, the ability to maintain a ’distance’ to disassociate criticism of the work from criticism of the personal, to remain objective is key to helping move a project forward. This can be very hard to do, particularly if you have been working on something very closely. If a little bit of your soul has been wrought over the course of work, then the critical comment of a client can seem like a dagger to the heart.

So if you want to be able to present well, take all opportunities to have a go at it. Fall on your backside, literally and metaphorically, in front of groups of strangers. Embarrass yourself with Powerpoint. Get flustered trying to answer tricky questions, and to loosely quote from that bible of modern management, the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you will find that ’from the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success’.
Watch and learn.

Adrian Berry is a director of Factory Design

Adrian Berry’s presentation tips

  • Engage the audience with the work, think quickly in response to challenging questions and add to the overall experience of the work, as this will often make or break a job
  • In order to remain objective ensure that you disassociate criticism of the work from criticism of you personally
  • Take all opportunities to have a go at presenting. Fall on your backside, literally and metaphorically,in front of groups of strangers. Get flustered trying to answer tricky questions you will discover that success grows out of disaster

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