5 Public Speaking Tips for Designers

Let’s face it: Most of us spend all day behind our desks, so when the opportunity comes along to speak up on our design—or a design topic—it can be a bit intimidating. But perhaps giving that TED talk is easier than you think. To keep the audience captivated, learn how to talk about design in a way that makes it entertaining, fun, even comical, while also being informative and inspiring. Here are five industry experts on their tips for public speaking on design.

public speaking tips for designersimage from Getty | brazzo

5 Industry Expert Tips for Public Speaking on Design

1. Focus on What You Know

Andy Budd is the founder and managing director of Clearleft, a design agency based in Brighton. Budd has spoken at more than 60 conferences in 17 countries and says that the focus of any good design talk is storytelling—especially in your niche area of expertise. His main speech is called Using Design as a Competitive Advantage, which argues that quality design is experience-driven.

He also breaks down “delighting your customers” as a design firm and notes the importance of focusing not only on aesthetics, but making good design by improving the world. “By investing in great design, moreover the best design team you can afford, you will reap the rewards long-term with a solid foundation for an experience that will perform better over time,” he says.

2. Think of the Bigger Picture

To Rachel Andrew, the cofounder of Edge of my Seat, a software company in Bristol, the key is focusing on sparking a conversation in the industry, rather than just listing off your past accomplishments. “I’m something of an introvert and not great at starting conversations in a big group,” she has said. “When I speak about something, though, people come and discuss that with me afterwards. To me, that’s one of the best things about speaking.”

Andrew, who has spoken at events across the UK, Australia and Canada, often gives talks about design systems, Flexbox workshops and CSS layout. She recently gave a talk in Berlin that addresses the question “Where does CSS come from?” and looked at the process of developing new CSS and getting it into browsers. Catch Andrew talking about grid layout and using CSS in your workflow at An Event Apart from April 2–4 in Seattle, then April 17–18 at Smashing Conference SF in San Francisco. Also check out her talk “The Future of Frontend: What is New in CSS?” which is available on SlideShare.

3. Use Your Authentic Voice

Sarah Endoh is a coder and graphic designer based in Montreal who thinks that graphic designers should speak up more. It’s a common prejudice many designers face as collaborators of brands. “Don’t graphic designer just make pretty graphics, logos, ads, product packaging, print materials and websites?” she asks. “But consider the fact that these pretty graphics are all around us, and each of these items has a message to convey.” Endoh gives talks about social responsibility in graphic design. “Is it the designer’s responsibility to bring up issues with the client’s socially irresponsible message or practices?” she asks. “We, graphic designers, are not just technicians, our voices matter and it is possible for us to make a difference.” 

4. Focus on What Sets You Apart

And it’s not just what sets you apart technically as a designer—but who you really are. Lee-Anne Lawrence is a British graphic designer and activist who does public speaking about LGBTIQA+ issues and feminism, specializing in the recognition and understanding of trans and non-binary people. Catch Lawrence next at BelongCon in Brighton on March 28, 2018

5. Work Your Niche

To David Berman, a Canadian designer and strategist who has spent 30 years talking about design in 50 countries, focuses on his niche—inclusive design and environmental needs in graphic design. Most of his talks tie into his book, Do Good Design, which focuses on global design thinking. Branding yourself as a speaker also comes into play, as Berman’s biography cites him as the “David Suzuki of design” and focuses on social responsibility for designers.

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