The Worst Presentation I've Ever Given

I'm really not sure what to say about all this Jim.

That's what an Executive at Telstra said to me after I presented UI concepts to him and his team in November of 1999.

I'll never forget this—and sometimes I cringe when I remember it.

We were a small team of 5 who had worked feverishly on concepts for Telstra's first online store.

This was back in the day when online stores were an oddity. We had very little reference (Amazon.com was probably the one online store we all looked at, at the time) and very little in the way of finding inspiration and guidelines for usability.

But we gave it a go and we did our best.

We imagined what it would be like with 'super-fast internet', a future where Ms Consumer would arrive at the then Telstra Online Store homepage (because she knew exactly where it would be of course) and do her shopping whilst astounded by the ease of use and her deliberate journey to purchase.

Standing in a room filled with people you've never met before, presenting ideas they've never had a part in creating and hoping they like them is mistake number 1: The unprepared client

How can we expect a client to completely understand an idea if we haven't had an opportunity to include them in creating it?

Jumping into the concept design, without establishing a common understanding of the problem we were solving together was mistake number 2: Get clarity on the problem before you start working on anything.

How can you be working with your client if you both have a different understanding of what the problem is?

Designing and prototyping the whole thing in Flash was monumental mistake number 3: Start with low-fidelity and go from there.

Anything that is over-cooked is over-cooked. There's no going backwards once you've burnt the toast.

As the five of us waited outside of the large mahogany door, someone asked "Who's presenting?" – at least we arrived early enough to make this decision. Mistake number 4: An ill-prepared team.

That #WTF look on people's faces. Priceless.

This moment felt like we were all asked who was going to put their hand up to be executed first. We all slowly took minuscule baby-steps backwards and shrunk our postures, shuffled our hands into our pockets in the hope we'd seem invisible.

"Jim, you did the majority of the creative work – you give you it a go." said a senior creative person who hadn't been very interested in the project up until the opportunity of a week-long Sydney trip was on the cards. Everyone agreed with a collective look of relief on their faces.

This was monumental mistake number 5: No passengers.

Needless to say, the presentation was a disaster. I fumbled my way through it having only ever seen the over-cooked UI work I had been working on and not having seen any of the other work the team had produced. Not only did I lack any semblance of confidence for my own work, I hadn't even seen the presentation deck in full. 

As I flicked through it, I'd have to take a breath, soak in what was being projected and make up something about what the audience was seeing. Monumental mistake number 6: Don't make shit up.

The trip back to the office was a quiet one.

Here's a summary. I hope it helps.

  1. Bring the client on the journey with you. Make them part of the design team and avoid a big reveal. When they see ideas, they should recognise them.
  2. Get clarity on the problem before you start working on anything. How can you be working with your client if you both have a different understanding of what the problem is?
  3. Start with low-fidelity and go from there. Don't over-cook it.
  4. Prepare your team. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. You already know this.
  5. Dump unwanted cargo and passengers – contributors only. Don't bring people along just to make them feel good. Be frank and ensure that everyone present contributes in a meaningful way.

Why am I doing this?

Gratitude