So you spent the last month on that perfect design, working in Axure or Fireworks and developing screen after screen of wireframe. You know the design. You’ve iterated it with several users and developers to work out the bugs. You have hundreds of hours invested in the design. Then comes the day to present it to the stakeholders. In the space of one short hour, your design is essentially misunderstood, torn to shreds and you spend the better part of the hour discussing minute details such as button placement that have little to do with the overall functionality or usability of the system. Has this ever happened to you? If it hasn’t, you might be the exception as a UX Designer or UX Architect.

Presenting design is a subject that lacks substantial coverage in the field of UX. But, it is perhaps the most crucial moment in the process because it serves as a “gateway” – a gateway your design must pass through before it can go on to the next stage in the development process. I have sat through hundreds of hours in UX meetings – perhaps thousands or more – over the past 5-7 years. And, I’ve learned a few things about presentations in the process. Most of them have been due to the mistakes I or my team made.

Since there is so little written on this subject, I’d like to start the first of a series of posts on the topic. This first post will simply outline what I see as the basics of presenting design. It’s not a full-proof plan. But, if you aren’t doing any of these things and aren’t seeing success in your presentations, these elements are worth considering or adding to your repertoire.

You’re a salesperson. So Sell.

You might think of the term “salesperson” differently than I. You might even have a negative perception of the term. But let me assure you, salesmen exist in all industries. Consider a master of presentation – Steve Jobs – he was not only a businessman, entrepreneur and a CEO. He was a salesman. And when you walk into a room full of stakeholders with your design, you just became a salesperson and are charged with selling your design to the stakeholders. They are probably people who will not appreciate your “genius” or “brilliant design.” In fact, they most likely will not understand the process that went into it or the complexities surrounding the design. Your job is the same as a used car salesman’s job – you need to show and tell them why this design is an improvement and why they can’t live without it. Does your presentation include that? Have you thought this through prior to walking in the board room? If not, keep reading.

Why should a UX presentation be any different from any other presentation?

Prepare and rehearse your presentation. Would you walk into any other presentation without putting together your main points, a set of slides or other types of presentation materials? If so, then you should study up on the fundamentals of public speaking and presenting. If not, then ask yourself why a UX presentation should be any different from any other presentation. How you present and put together the material will shape the audience response. An unorganized mess with you flipping through wireframe after wireframe will leave the stakeholders confused and asking the questions that are impertinent and will fail to push the design forward. If you have to put together slides, then do so. But use proven techniques in slide design. Nothing bores people more than slide after slide of text. There are more than a few good books on the subject of presentation and slides. Try one of the following:

Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery

However, you choose to organize your presentation, you should organize it into a coherent set of messages. In a future post, I will share some of techniques that I have used successfully in the past to include video demos of prototypes and how to share with developers (a different breed in their own rite!).

The rule of threes.

In Carmine Gallo’s book, Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, she writes of the rule of threes. What she means by this is breaking down a message into three segments and she devotes an entire chapter to this subject. Presidents have used it, CEOs use it, the United States Marine Corps has researched it and it serves as a foundation for great presentations. What it essentially means is to break your presentation into three primary points or messages and ensure all of your content supports one of those three points. It is essentially the three-act scenario famous plays and stories work off of and it has been proven we handle three points better than two or four. So take your presentation and break it down into three points. What are those points? What are the three things you would like to highlight in your presentation? Use those as a foundation for the entire presentation. See Gallo’s book for more on this. It’s a great resource.

What is the summary or tagline?

Finally, you should prepare or open with a summary. Make it a summary free of jargon or buzzwords so that someone can actually understand what you are conveying or attempting to convey. Consider this summary or “tagline:”

“We have developed a dynamic design that seamlessly integrates key business knowledge and information giving you the ability to leverage key assets for greater organizational efficiency and improved workflow.”

Excuse me? What are you building? Trust me – I have heard plenty of taglines like this. They mean nothing to no one and the person who wrote it doesn’t even know what it means.

Let’s try again:

“We have designed a system that helps you easily track your customers’ personal preferences and information. It has a beautiful interface and an integrated mobile app that will sync to the cloud so your sales staff always has the right information with them.”

Much better. And it follows the rule of threes. I doubt a person would argue the latter statement is more comprehensible and saleable that the first. It is simple, says what it means and aptly summarizes the design. The summary gives you a starting point, allows you to integrate the rule of threes in addition to setting up the selling points and enabling you to have better recall of your own presentation despite rehearsing it. You should have such a statement ready and use it in the beginning of your presentation. I have had CEOs leave presentations so they could attend another meeting. Get your tagline up front and then hit on your major three points. Treat your presentation like a news article where all of the content is in the first paragraph in case the story has to be cut down in size. If the CEO leaves 10 minutes into your presentation and you have prepared your statement and content, he will leave with the basics.

Keep these 5 points in mind as you put together your presentation and I promise you will see an improvement. Presentation – in itself – is an art, not just design.

My next post will focus on specific presentation formats for UX designs. It’s another topic that has some coverage, but not enough to help in the presentation process.

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