Presenting to an International Audience: Tips and Lessons Learned.
Public speaking can be intimidating for any professional, but presenting yourself and your ideas to an international audience is more crucial than ever for a designer. CEO of ochi.design presentation agency, Ihor Hulyahrodskyy, talks about his experience of speaking at the largest presentation conference, Present to Succeed 2023, which took place at the end of April in Sofia, Bulgaria. Discover his tips and stages of preparation for international speech and get prepared for your next presentation.
Presentations created at ochi.design helped raise more than $300 million in investment capital for fast-growing tech companies all over the globe. Stunning, right? But here’s the thing: talking about presentation design in front of a massive crowd? That’s my personal challenge. Let’s be real; captivating a large audience is no walk in the park: you’ve got to deliver a powerful message, forge a connection, and make a lasting impression.
Here’s what you need to know when preparing and lessons that I learned from my first international delivery:
Ovation is earned in preparation.
When it comes to a successful presentation, improvisation, and last-minute slides just don’t cut it. If you are not a professional speaker, the audience will definitely sense your poor preparation, and Instagram is a click away from winning the battle for attention.
Preparation process is often overlooked, but it’s more impactful than it seems. It allows to identify the weak and strong spots of the presentation, test audience engagement, and boost speaker’s confidence.
But where to start?
First, we define the presentation’s goal, audience, and context. Basically, answering the questions: “What am I trying to achieve with this presentation? Who is the listener, and what do they want? How, when, and where it’s going to happen?”
[Context] I knew that there would be approximately 1000 people physically and 3000 online in Sofia.
[Audience] The listeners are mostly entrepreneurs and corporate employees: marketers, sales, and mid-level managers. They present ideas daily, educate, report, and persuade colleagues, superiors, and clients. They understand the power of a good presentation and want to be able to create better slides themselves. However, they face a challenge – they do not notice or are afraid of fonts and do not know how to organize texts. And that’s why their slides look unprofessional, inconsistent, and incorrect, so the key message gets lost easily.
[Goal] My goal was to explain how to choose fonts, pair fonts, and use fonts to create slides that are both effective and gorgeous.
When we know the context, audience, and purpose, we can formulate the main idea. This a simple and clear idea that we will carry through the entire presentation. My main idea was: “Typography is what gives your words a voice. Important not only what you say, but how you say it.” And around this idea, I built the presentation using real-life examples, humor, and practical tips that the audience can apply today.
The next step is to develop a structure. Consistent and well-thought structure helps maintain logical flow, keeps all our thoughts in a heap, and guides the audience toward the goal of the presentation. Usually, speeches are built according to a common sequence:
1. Meet the speaker. What area do you specialize in, and why should the audience listen to you?
2. Introduction. What will the presentation be about, and how does it relate to the listener?
3. The problem. How is it currently? And what will happen if nothing changes?”
4. The main part. How do we solve the problem? Key ideas, examples, counterexamples.
5. Conclusions. What do they need to remember?
6. Additional benefit. Resources and lifehacks.
7. Call to action. What should they do after the presentation?
Of course, this structure is quite general, and some elements may be added/deleted. For example, the host can very elaborately and deeply introduce the speaker, and this automatically removes the need for an “about the speaker” slide from the presentation.
But your presentation will not have the necessary weight without an introduction and a defined problem or challenge. And if the audience does not understand its importance, and how it applies to their lives, they won’t care much about the presentation.
The foundation of a strong presentation is built on relevance.
The biggest enemy of presentations (especially when you’re presenting to people who aren’t well-versed in design!) is irrelevance. People need a few seconds to make a decision: to listen to you or not. And if they are not interested in what you are talking about, they can simply leave the room. Therefore, the presentation should touch the lives: the examples should be relatable to them, the language should be familiar, and the main idea should be such that they can take it home.
Consider fonts as an example. They are ubiquitous; surrounding us on road signs, restaurant menus, and store displays. However, we often fail to consciously pay attention to them, both in our daily lives and in presentations. While my audience cares about the message, storytelling, and color of the slides, they tend to overlook the typography and its organization. And this is surprising, because when have you seen a business presentation without text?
People remember a presentation that evokes emotions.
Humor serves as a powerful tool in public speaking. It effectively breaks down barriers between you and your audience, reinforcing the main message and transforming your presentation into an engaging experience. Of course, you don’t want your entire presentation to seem like a stand-up comedy with excessive wit that may overshadow the intended message. But well-placed, and appropriate jokes can be a valuable asset, relieving tension and capturing attention.
In my presentation, I drew a comparison between the ‘voice’ of fonts and the voices of our office colleagues. One font spoke with the baritone of a boss, tinged with sarcasm and a penetrating gaze. The other font resembled the voice of a new intern, uncertain about their place in the office and unlikely to stay for long, yet, whose presence was undeniably fun, with a possible invitation for a post-work beer.
Examples infused with humor are well remembered, bring a touch of humane to the presentation and, as experience shows, generate plenty of positive feedback.
We create slides with our audience in mind, not for ourselves.
The purpose of slides is to visually enhance and reinforce the information conveyed during the presentation. And presentation allows us to structure the information in the mind of our audience. Therefore, slides should not be overloaded with text that the speaker needs to remember. Instead, important points can be included in speaker notes, allowing the slides to be visually appealing and easy for the audience to grab.
A simple rule works here: the more you take away, the more you highlight what you left in.
This slide looks like a perfect slide for a speaker - you can just read the whole thing. But for the audience there is too much text on and is difficult to digest. People simply won’t know what to do - listen to the speaker or read what is written on the slide.
This slide serves as a visual aid for a the speaker, rather than repeating it word for word. It can live, but does not communicate the message well enough.
These slides convey the idea by being a rule and its application at the same time.
Important note* the slides sent by email and the slides you show during the speech are different. Some work well as send-outs after the presentation, while others – are presented live or in person.
Slides designed for public speaking have significantly lower amount of text and convey only the key message.
Sandout slides can have more text to include additional details, hyperlinks. As there’s no speaker to explain everything slides must have enough information to work on its own.
Avoid the urge to cram all your knowledge into a single presentation.
Just as with humor, it is crucial to strike a balance and avoid trying to tell everything you know. You are more than just the content of this particular presentation, and your knowledge extends far beyond what can be conveyed in a brief time frame. Don’t overcomplicate things as it may sounds arrogant, or foggy. Utilizing complex terminology does not add credibility or authority to speakers; instead, scares audience away.
Design jargon can be incomprehensible to those who are not seasoned in the field. Therefore, it is beneficial to set aside such terminology for the duration of your speech and strive to discuss design using common language.
Imagine you are pitching a concept to your parents or friends who have little knowledge of the industry.
- Focus on using clear, concise phrases that effectively communicate value.
- Address the specific needs of your audience, avoiding unnecessary details.
- Incorporate real-life comparisons into your presentation that are relatable to everyone.
During the unveiling of the first iPod, Steve Jobs did not simply state that the device had 5 GB of memory. Instead, he captured attention by describing it as “1000 songs in your pocket”. This approach made a profound impression and the phrase became a quote.
Designers often fear that if they refrain from using design terminology in their presentations, they will not be perceived as experts. However, it is the ability to simplify and make complex or technical information relevant that truly showcases expertise in the eyes of the listener.
Rather than disregarding the timing of your presentation and attempting to squeeze all your knowledge into it, it is more effective to keep the presentation concise and allow time for audience questions during the Q&A session. This gives people the opportunity to ask any specific questions they may have, providing you with an additional chance to be of greater assistance to them. Pro tip: Preemptively brainstorm potential questions in advance, and you can even ask for assistance from a chat tool like GPT for additional insights.
International conferences encompass more than just presentations.
For me, as a Ukrainian creative professional, it has become increasingly crucial to engage in international events. These platforms provide an opportunity to not only raise awareness about the ongoing war but also to proudly showcase Ukrainian strength, particularly in the realm of creativity. By sharing our work and experiences, we inspire others and demonstrate our resilience.
In the post-pandemic era, many conferences now adopt a hybrid format, allowing participants to present both online and offline. This expanded format presents numerous advantages. It facilitates the establishment of global connections with industry peers, fosters collaboration and cooperation, attracts the interest of new clients, and solidifies our position as industry leaders.
Prepare for mishaps and stay composed.
In international and any public performances, numerous unexpected challenges can arise. Your clicker might malfunction, your internet connection could fail, or you forget things, or even unintentional accent slips that make you sound like a villain from a Bond movie.
How can you handle these mishaps, or as we affectionately call them, “facaps”? It is crucial to maintain composure and prevent panic from taking over. Here are some strategies to employ:
1. Pause and take a deep breath. Utilize this moment to regain your composure and gather your thoughts.
2. Establish eye contact with the audience. Despite its cliché nature, focus on a few friendly faces in the crowd. Doing so will instill confidence and bring you back to the present moment.
3. Acknowledge the mistake. If your clicker stops working, for instance, address the issue openly. Transform it into a lighthearted moment by saying something like, “Who needs a clicker when you have the power of dramatic hand gestures and snarky stories? Hold on, PowerPoint, it’s time to go old school!”
4. Come to the previous. In the event of a mental lapse or forgetting the next point, refer back to the previous key points. This may help you recall the thoughts you intended to share.
Remember, these experiences are part of the learning process. Don’t allow them to undermine your confidence. The most effective way to overcome “facaps” is to gain more experience and continue performing.