Speaking Tips for Success

6 minutes


Updated February 27, 2023
Land Your Dream Design Job

You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Now that you have all the technical hurdles behind you, it’s time to dive in. One way to kick off is to let the people in the room introduce themselves first. This allows for a nice segue into your own intro via the presentation deck.

Your intro is your unique frame of your identity as a designer. Use this opportunity to weave a story about your education, background, interests, and your unique perspective, ending with why you’re excited to be interviewing with the company today.

As an interviewer evaluating a candidate—this intro is critical. You want to confidently communicate your story to send a clear signal to interviewers that you’re deliberate and intentional in your career path. Don’t shy away from revealing relevant hobbies; this is an opportunity for you to come across as a whole person, not just as a designer who consumes coffee and produces pixels. As an interviewer I want to know what makes you tick, what are your strong areas, and what aspects of design excite you the most.

As I mentioned, if you’re really interested in getting better at presenting, I recommend taking a public speaking workshop. Many years ago I signed up with Toastmasters, a public speaking club that would meet weekly. The basic course alone was inexpensive and provided a good step-by-step foundation to practice various speech techniques in a safe space.

The following tips could prove useful in your presentation.

Involve Your Audience

As you’re presenting your work, be sure to talk to your audience, not your screen. This sounds obvious, but I’ll guarantee that you might get nervous, you might forget, and—without consciously paying attention—you just might spend most of your time talking at your screen instead of connecting with your listeners.

One way to combat this is to use notes. A simple cue can help you remember your message so you can focus on the audience instead of the screen.

I would also recommend you go a step above and engage your interviewers. An easy way to do this is by asking questions or doing a poll. This can be especially memorable if you have an insight to present that flies in the face of what your interviewers might expect. Instead of saying what it is, you can let your audience guess first, and then you can reveal who’s right and why that insight was important.

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Strike a Comfortable Pace

As you get into your presentation, you want to keep a good rhythm going. Sometimes nerves will get the better of you and you might speak too fast, trying to cover a lot of ground. Alternatively, you might get bogged down in slowly explaining the details.

Sometimes you’ll have to accelerate or slow down to make sure your interviewers are with you. Be mindful of how much time you have, though. Most presentations have an automatic timer, and having practiced before you’ll likely be aware of when to check yourself.

Usually, good moments for a time check are at the end of your intro (first ten minutes), your first case study (middle of the presentation), and your last or second case study (with ten minutes to spare at the end for questions). Time checks help you keep pace and be deliberate in presenting or skipping content if you do end up running short on time.

Project Your Voice and Use Vocal Variety

Although you won’t be speaking on stage, you still want to project your voice and speak clearly. You can also use vocal variety by altering your tone or volume to build interest when appropriate.

To try this out, I recommend recording your speech. Yeah, I know, it sounds weird to hear yourself talk at first, but it’s a good baseline for how people actually hear you (as opposed to how you think they do). You might even find yourself a bit bored and disinterested when you play back the recording—a good sign to cut your speech and clarify your message.

Take a Deep Breath, Pause for Questions

Great speakers use silence to their advantage. When you get to the end of the project, it’s a good time to pause and ask for questions. Since you’ve been monitoring and reading the room, you’ll also know when to deliberately slow down to give enough time for your listeners to process and follow up with critical questions.

By default, people won’t be in rapt attention of your presentation, and if they have a burning question, they might even actively block new information from coming in.

Ultimately, you’ll have to practice your facilitation skills here—how much time you give interviewers for questions now or later.

End with Time to Spare

Lastly, you want to end your presentation with time to spare for questions, for you and the audience. This is the final opportunity for your interviewers to ask questions about the work and dive into the specifics. Most importantly, have questions for them too—this is something you can include in your own on-site packet.

storyI once interviewed a senior design manager who came from a well-known company to present his work. The portfolio was solid and he was able to talk about his past experience and how he helped designers grow in their careers. In the end, he did good on time and had 15 minutes for questions. We asked him questions and then gave him the opportunity to ask us questions—he didn’t have any. Don’t make the same mistake.

Practice, Practice, Practice

When you’re heads down, operating on your presentation, it’s hard to step back and do a practice run. I get it. But I do hope that this will encourage you to think hard about how you frame your message, not just what you choose to present. Ultimately, a combination of strong content and engaging presentation will lead to a memorable experience in the eyes of your audience that will separate you from other designers.

important If you give speeches regularly (and most folks don’t) then you can get away with less practice. But if you don’t and are feeling rusty, a general rule of thumb is to spend about ten times as much time practicing a speech as giving it. Now this might seem like a lot—a one-hour presentation would equate to ten hours. But if you’re presenting your portfolio to multiple companies and you’re interviewing in several places, this number becomes much more reasonable.

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