What I Learned from Attending Mule Design’s “Presenting Work with Confidence” Workshop at Design Week Portland

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure (and luck) to be one of 20 wannabe extroverts in Mike Monteiro’s Presenting Work with Confidence workshop during Portland Design Week. Yep, you read that right: 20 introverts arrived at Outlet PDX (a wonderful, visually stimulating little gem of an event space) to learn how to be more comfortable and confident while presenting to a crowd.

For most in this group, just showing up was a small victory. Once settled into our seats, Mike gave us plenty to chew on and practice as we each gave a prepared presentation, not once but twice. (In my case, I had to come up with a presentation on the fly since I had the good fortune to join on a last-minute ticket transfer.) Presenting back-to-back gave each of us the opportunity to get feedback and incorporate it in real-time—something that is harder to do than you might imagine.

Before we dove into earning our “workshop graduate” stickers, Mike took us through 13 ways designers screw up client presentations. I’m not going to list them here for two pretty good reasons: 1) Anyone who designs or creates (graphic designers, web designers, interaction designers, video developers, content strategists, etc.) should attend this workshop, if nothing else than to meet Mike Monteiro (he’s a living design legend and you can’t put a price on being able to tap into his experience); and 2) Because that stuff is most certainly copyrighted and I don’t want to get into a litigious battle with a company named Mule! 😉

So, instead, I will cover my top seven workshop takeaways.

Top 7 things I learned:

1.    Get off your bum!

If you’re not standing up owning that room, then you’re inviting someone else to do it. It’s that simple. Stand with strength and confidence or sit with weakness and doubt.

2.     Be clear with your expectations.

As Mike pointed out, there’s no such thing as feedback class. So if you don’t take time to tell the stakeholders at your presentation what they should focus on and what type of feedback you want, it’s easy to end up down a rabbit hole. For example, if you’re showing a logo design, start the meeting by telling the branding team that you’ll be looking for feedback on whether or not the proposed logo design accurately reflects the new brand identity. That will keep you from getting into an unnecessary discussion about fonts. You already know that Papyrus died with the pharaohs.

3.    If it’s obvious, don’t bother.

I bet many of you have sat through website presentations that go something like: “Here, in the upper left corner is the logo. Front and center is the promotional marquee. In the upper right corner we have the search box.” Don’t tell people what they can already see or what we all know to be pretty standard (even if you can’t see it). Instead, tell them why it’s important to show consumers interacting with your product (or whatever is actually unique and important to your client).

4.    Don’t read to your audience.

There’s nothing worse than sitting through a presentation listening to the presenter read from the slides. If you’re not adding anything to the presentation, why are you giving it? The slides are there for visual support. You are there to deliver the message.

5.    Do pretend that you’re having a conversation.

All of Mike’s tips were helpful, but for an introvert like me, this one really struck a chord. By approaching the presentation as a conversation that you’re leading instead of a performance you’re giving, it’s easier to relax and focus on what you want to communicate.

6.     Don’t be defensive.

Be thankful that your audience is engaged enough to interact and provide feedback. Take the input graciously and say, “Thank you.” It’s ok to correct incorrect assumptions, but don’t be defensive. You’ll not only look bad, you’ll also shut down any further interaction.

7.    Remember, you’re the expert!

Possibly the biggest—and most empowering takeaway—was when Mike stressed that we are the experts. If you’re up there presenting, then you were selected to do the work based on your experience and merit. Don’t forget that. Stand your ground, and stand behind your work. Know and live your truth.  And as Mike says, “If you don’t know why you’re doing it, don’t do it!”

Yes, I recommend this workshop…

…and that’s the box I ticked on the (rather entertaining) post-event survey. It was incredibly valuable to practice my presentation skills and get immediate, actionable feedback. It was also very useful to see a variety of presentation styles, and hear the live feedback on those, too. If you’re someone who must present your work or ideas, I highly recommend this workshop. I also highly recommend meeting Mike Monteiro—you’ll most definitely leave the experience feeling smarter. I did!

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