Always keen to brush up on our skills, the Clearleft team recently completed a workshop delivered by design leader, author, speaker and long-term friend of Clearleft, Ben Sauer. In conjunction with the launch of Ben’s new book, “Death by Screens”, the team took away some excellent tips for presenting their work in high-stakes scenarios.

Ben stands in front of a projected screen while presenting to the Clearleft team who are sitting facing him

As designers it is a natural part of our role to be persuasive communicators. When presenting in person, or on a video call, the fundamental principles are the same;

  • Outline the purpose

  • Define the objectives

  • Tell the story

  • Keep it simple

  • Speak naturally

  • Be prepared for questions


Starting with what we wanted to get from the session, the team discussed some of the common challenges they face when it comes to presenting:

  • Trying to include too much
  • Not knowing who’s in the (virtual) room
  • Dealing with curveballs
  • Minimising nerves

As part of the 1 day workshop with Ben, we explored three core areas; structuring a story, preparing and rehearsing, and discussion and critique.

Here are some of our key learnings:

1. Structuring a story

  • Look at the whole story first and then zoom in on the details.
  • State the constraints and intentions early. Don’t wait for the big reveal or mic drop moment. Add delighters along the way to maintain engagement.
  • Make sure we’re not asking people to keep too much information in their heads.

2. Preparing and rehearsing

  • Speak out loud. Get used to hearing yourself talking.
  • Set yourself up for success and keep it manageable. Don’t try to cover too much.
  • Find your own presenting style that feels comfortable. Practice, practice practice.

3. Discussion and critique

  • Create ‘guard rails’ to help frame the type of feedback you are looking to receive.
  • Set the expectation of what can be covered in the session.
  • Don’t be afraid to book a follow-up session to discuss in more detail.


A recurring theme throughout the session was developing audience empathy. Being more empathetic to our presentation participants will help line us up for success.

How do we build better empathy? By asking ourselves:

  • What do these people really care about?
  • What are their worries or concerns?
  • How might we alleviate their stresses?
  • Are they comfortable? Physically and metaphorically.

People tend to listen better once their needs have been met and catered for. Ways in which we can do this are:

  • Preempt as much information as possible so we are prepared.
  • Frame the start of a presentation to put the audience at ease that their topic will be covered (chances are they will listen better after they’ve been reassured).
  • ‘Hold the space’ so everyone feels confident they are in good hands.
Yellow and orange post-it notes on a white board with hand-written steps listing out the process of a presentation

Team takeaways

The training helped me to rethink the way that I will structure and deliver design presentations in the future. It was filled with tips to ensure that you keep your audience engaged and share the right amount of project detail at the right time. The takeaways were robust and directly applicable.

Ben's workshop offered abundant value and I have come away with several new techniques. The direction on how best to structure the delivery of work, and encouragement to use writing as a tool to clarify (perhaps unrefined) thoughts offered particular value to me.

It was liberating to plan a playback with very little information on the design work involved. It allowed us to focus on the shape of the story without having our attention hijacked by the details. Our clients are often not designers and it’s important that we keep our communications clear, concise, and compelling. Ben’s workshop was an excellent refresher on how to do that.

I gained so much from this workshop. One piece that I've not considered before was thinking about the engagement level of the audience. Ben got us to plot out where we thought engagement may fall from a presentation we had planned out earlier in the workshop. We then reworked our presentations around keeping engagement high. Adding in features like attention-grabber moments like an exciting quote, a quick quiz or an engaging story all to back up our design directions. I'm very much looking forward to putting it into practice and aiming for full excitement for my next client presentation!

The workshop was a great reminder that everyone has their own agenda when attending a presentation. It is my responsibility as the presenter to set it up for success and to ensure every attendee gets what they need from it. It can sometimes feel like a relief to rattle through a huge body of work at the end of a project, but fundamentally this is usually the start for the client. Mapping out a deck and plotting the predicted engagement level was particularly helpful to reflect from the audience’s perspective and to be sure to include peaks of delight throughout.

Chris P
My main take outs from the day were:

The critical importance of designing the story arc of any presentation from the recipient's point of view. It was a great reminder that we all so often fall into the trap of simply feeding back everything that we’ve done, without any regard for how it's landing.

Closely related to that was the excellent truism that delivery is usually far more memorable than content.

I’m a firm believer in always trying to convey one’s passion and belief in what one is presenting. This excellent training day helped reinforce that for me and was full of great interactive exercises. Bravo Ben!

I really enjoyed Ben's workshop. It was challenging in a good way to get mini-performances out of everyone – and certainly helped focus my mind given I had a pitch the next day. Two main takeaways spring to mind: making headings and headlines memorable or at the very least a bit more interesting eg. alliterative. Also weaving a story arc through a presentation, perhaps based on the hero's journey where the client is the hero and we are the enabling guide (the Obi Wan/Yoda to their Luke).

The Clearleft team would like to thank Ben for sharing his insights and delivering a brilliant session. Safe to say we are all looking forward to putting our learnings into practice.