Presenting Your Work to Executives: 8 Tips for UX Designers

| July 28, 2014
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The design review

All eyes are on you. Your hand trembles as you guide your mouse to the Share Screen button. You tap. And then it happens.

Your boss, your boss’s boss, and your boss’s boss’s boss have finally stopped staring at you. They are silently absorbing your creation, the project you’ve spent the last six weeks toiling over: the new navigation.

Before you can catch your breath, the CMO says, “I thought you were going to put the navigation on the left.”

That’s it. You’re doomed. There’s no way to dig yourself out of this one.

Or is there?

Presenting to executives isn’t always a walk in the park. I’ve been in more than my fair share of VIP meetings and asked to reveal my work in front of some of the most daunting figures within the company. I’ve found it most troubling when I’m presenting to people who are far-removed from the creation process—people who haven’t spoken to an actual customer, in some cases, for years.

Here are my recommendations for presenting your new design to company leaders:

Remind people why they’re sitting there

Take a minute to set the stage. But no more than a minute! These are busy folks. Call out who you worked with, what the goal of the project is, and what they’re going to see before you show it to them.

Also, remind them what you need from them: feedback or an approval.

Relate your work back to business goals

When executives make the time to review your work, it’s most likely because they are hoping that your project is going to help them meet some kind of business goal. If you tie your work to solving business problems (i.e. a loss in new business inquiries or a decrease in repeat revenue), you’ll definitely earn their attention.

Put executives at ease by speaking their language

Remember, senior management is far more used to staring at reports and spreadsheets than front-end design work. So share some statistics around number of visits per quarter, number of bounces, and number of sales.

Build out a scenario, and then walk them through it

This may mean you share a few UserTesting video clips that highlight the navigation issues on your website. If this was a huge overhaul that included a lot of usability testing, share a glimpse of the iterations that led up to where you are now.

Highlight your intimate knowledge of your site’s users

Talk about the people who visit your site, who your marketing team is targeting, and how you collected input from these people. This is a key part of great UX work, so don’t skip it!

Put your best foot forward

Big, over-sized screens can degrade the quality of your work, and that isn’t a great way to start things off. If you’re still in prototype, use InVision to quickly create a working version of one section of the navigation. If this is already hosted on a demo server, great! Walk them through the solution and offer to send around a link afterwards so they can explore more.

Be ready to answer questions about your work

Prepare yourself for, “Why is that section called Such-and-Such and not This Thing?”

If you used treejacking or card-sorting tools, refer to the number of people you tested on and the commonalities you came across.

Be flexible, and be ready to defer some questions to others in the room who might have more expertise or involvement in certain matters.

Provide next steps

Now that you’ve shown your work and put together a solution that you feel confident in trying out, talk the executives through the risk. Explain that you’re going to use an A/B tool (like Optimizely) to test out your new navigation with only a percentage of the site’s visitors. Mention the fact that you’re documenting all of your research in an internal blog for future reference, and that your analyst is working with you to monitor any fluctuation in sales once you launch.

Moving forward with confidence

    The biggest lessons I learned after years of presentations are to understand what motivates the people you are going to be presenting to, and to hold your own with as much vim and vigor as you can muster. Confidence will earn you a degree respect, and if you’ve done your homework, you should be able to get some valuable feedback—and hopefully a seat at the table the next time around.