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Graham & Brown

Giving The Final Presentation
by Shaye Eller

Working on a design project is one thing, but giving a clear and thorough speech on the project is often another. Simply informing your audience of the cold, hard facts may not be enough; when you are trying to sell someone on your ideas, you need to captivate them. Preparation is key. The time spent on your presentation materials will not be as evident if you do not put some thought into speaking skillfully about your design.

Choose a Theme--

Based on the concept behind your design, you will choose a theme which will carry through the aesthetic and oral aspects of the presentation. For example, if you choose to design a loft around the Swedish Modern style, your presentation boards should be appropriate for that period, and you should often refer to why your design fits under the umbrella of that style. If you worked on a commercial project for which your chosen concept was "machinery," boards should reflect that concept, and you need to explain how you translated it visually and spatially into your design.

The Presentation--

For many, speaking in front of people is nerve-wracking enough without your grade (or, later, your career) hanging in the balance. Below are a few suggestions for making the process a little easier, as well as a few words to the wise.

What Not to Say--

First and foremost, there are a few phrases you should never use in a professional interior design presentation. For example, in the middle of your speech, a reviewer may very well ask you a question to which you do not know the answer. The key is to communicate the fact without resorting to uttering the words, "I don't know." (For the record, phrases like "I didn't think about that" or "I didn't have time to do that" doesn't impress anyone either.) If you honestly do not know the answer to a question you're asked while presenting, and you cannot come up with one off the top of your head, use phrases like, "That wasn't covered in the scope of this project." Then you might add something like "That's a good suggestion, I'll keep it in mind."

There is, however, a danger lying under the surface: sometimes, you have to admit that you made a mistake. If someone points out a design flaw so obvious no one can dispute it, and you cannot come up with a single good reason to justify it, you'll have to concede defeat on the point. The important thing is to do so with poise and grace, and don't let on that you're flustered by your oversight. Say something like, "You're absolutely right, I don't know how I missed that." Use a strong tone of voice and try not to act nervous. Then start talking about what it was you were so focused on that you overlooked the mistake. You can even use those words: "I was so focused on (such and such), that detail slipped by. Here's why (such and such) is important..." DO NOT stubbornly insist that you are right. You will get marked down for your inability to adapt to your "client's" needs. (Discussion with your client is, after all, what the final presentation is training you for.)

Also, try avoid phrases like "cool" and "pretty." These terms are relative in the extreme, and tend to be rather meaningless when trying to have a discussion about your design. Whatever you do, don't make up words to describe your design. At work a few weeks ago, a designer came in saying their client had described the look she was going for as "scootchie." What exactly, is "scootchie?" It is your job to translate your client's descriptions into universally recognizable terms, not the other way around.

What to Say and How to Say It--

You probably had a class in design fundamentals early in your schooling. (In my school, it was called "Principles of Visual Communication.") Recall phrases like unity, harmony, contrast, and balance? What about scale, line, intensity, and volume? Remember these words. You need to use applicable terms of design in your presentation. If you didn't think about such things when you were designing, think about them now, because the more you use fundamental design terminology in your speech, the better informed you will seem. Reviewers will certainly be listening for these concepts.

In addition to this fact, using basic design vocabulary will enable you and your reviewers to be on equal ground when discussing your project. For example, don't use the word "periwinkle" to describe that particular hue of blue/purple you want to use in a bedroom. One person's periwinkle is another person's lavender. Instead, describe the color as "a deintensified, light hue of blue with a small amount of red." You can then clarify that you think of this color as "periwinkle," and then discuss why you chose periwinkle for that particular setting. The key to successfully communicating your design intentions is to use words and phrases that will mean the same thing to your reviewers as they do to you.

When preparing your speech, do not focus too heavily on one aspect of your design. For example, a common trap that I saw my classmates fall into was to spend almost the entire allotted time discussing their floor plan. The drawing of your floor plan should do most of the speaking for itself, and you should only have to discuss highlights of it during your speech. So doing will allow you to focus on more 3-dimensional aspects of your design and give your audience an idea of how it would feel to be in the space. Be sure to practice your speech beforehand; hearing yourself speak will give you an idea of which parts go on too long and which parts need to be fleshed out more.

Looking Your Best (On Two Hours Sleep)--

You may be one of those fabulously organized people who gets everything for the presentation completed the weekend, or at least the day, before and goes to bed promptly at 10:30 to get a good night's rest. Since you're a designer, however, that is highly unlikely. In most cases, if completing the project doesn't keep you up half the night, jittery nerves will. Showing a confident and self-assured face to the world under such circumstances is not easy.

First, get as much sleep as you can, even if you've stayed up all night and it's only an hour or so. Even this small amount of sleep will help you get through the next day. Second, take a hot shower, then gradually turn the water to lukewarm. The shower alone will do wonders to make you feel revived. If you have time, take a walk or get some other form of exercise. Don't be shy about taking a walk if it's cold outside - in fact, the colder, the better, since the low temperature will help keep you alert. (Warm temperatures have a tendency to make us feel sluggish.) Also, eat a good breakfast. Avoid excessive amounts of coffee, since the caffeine is likely to make you more jittery and nervous when you haven't slept well. Lastly, if you're the type to wear makeup, go a little heavier on the undereye concealer.

I've always believed that being a designer means putting forth a complete aesthetic package - one which your appearance is a part of, like it or not. Dress appropriately for your presentation, and for your project. Choose clothing you are comfortable in but that looks sharp and professional; this will help you feel more confident and lend poise to your presentation.

Give Multimedia a Chance--

A concept that is rather simple but will make your project stand out as unique, multimedia involves using more than flat, stationary visual stimuli to communicate your design. Many projects will require an architectural model, but even if they don't, the 3-dimensional quality achieved by using a model can be a great aide to helping others visualize your project as completed. Another tactic you might use is to have music play softly in the background as you present. If done correctly, your presentation will stand out by playing appropriate music. When I had my commercial design studio, the concept I designed an office around was the idea of a "satellite." During the presentation, I softly played the song "Satellite" by Dave Matthews Band in the background. I was overwhelmed by the positive response to that simple act. Of course, the music does not have to be quite so literal in interpretation; if they piece fits the atmosphere your design is meant to evoke, it will subtly put your audience in the right frame of mind for presentation. (I should note that you should check with your professor before choosing one of these tactics.)

Presentation Order--

Contrary to the method many people use for preparing a presentation, it's really best if you avoid writing down your speech verbatim. Doing so will only make your discussion seem wooden, and you need to be able to adapt to the issues that your professor, your reviewers, or even your classmates will bring up while you are presenting. While you cannot anticipate everything that will be focused on by a particular member of the review panel, there are a few ways to secure a little advance preparation.

If you have a choice, choose to present somewhere in the middle of the class period. This way, you can get a feeling for the type of discussions your classmates are having, and you'll know what to expect. If others are allowed to listen in on the presentations, pay close attention to the questions and issues raised by the reviewer. Likely, they'll raise the same issues during your presentation. This will give you time to come up with an answer rather than being put on the spot, and if you can work the answer into your presentation before they ask the question, that's an added bonus.

I want to caution you against choosing to present last, however. Some people who dislike speaking in front of others try to put off their presentation as long as possible. However, this tactic often backfires. The presentation is harder and the reviewers more demanding near the end of the day. Also, the longer you wait to present, the longer you have to be nervous about it.; In addition, there are times when the last presentation of the day is cut short by time constraints caused by other speeches going long. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a good thing; you have worked hard on your project and deserve to speak about it as thoroughly as everyone else.

Through a combination of clean, well-crafted presentation materials and a thorough yet concise speech, your design will be well-communicated during your final presentation. It is always exciting to see the fruits of your hard work. In time, you will be able to recognize the methods that work best for you; be prepared to learn from your classmates and others in the interior design program. Do not be discouraged if the response to your design is not as favorable as you had hoped; in some ways, a poor response can almost teach you more than an agreeable one. Lastly, keep experimenting and reaching for new heights in both your design and your presentation methods - often, the best way to learn is through practice.

Shaye Eller

More Go To School Articles: So You Want To Go To Design School But How Do You Choose One?
Frank Lloyd Wrong: How to Be an Opinionated Student and Get Away With It | Caveat Designer: A Few Words to the Wise
Giving The Final Presentation | Presenting Your Work Professionally: Construction

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