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Tips on Public Speaking for Designers: A Survival Guide

Public speaking can be daunting for designers, but our team has the insight that will turn you into a victorious, confident speaker.

Why Can Public Speaking Be Difficult for Designers?

Design is extremely subjective. Its value relies heavily on personal opinion and designers can often fear the level of criticism they’d receive for introducing new ideas to the table. They have to consider what they’re offering, whether their perspective is beneficial to the field, and if their audience is even interested in hearing what they have to say, whether it's public speaking or in a meeting.

These questions are enough to pile pretty heavily on anyone’s shoulders, but for designers in a field that thrives on human response, anxiety becomes the biggest monster in the closet.

There’s a graveyard of concepts and lectures that never come to fruition because of insecurity. Designers must be confident in their skill to thrive, but when the possibility of rejection seeps into their minds, they can lose the incentive to speak.

Fueled’s Public Speaking Expert: Emily Cressey

A year after graduating from university, Emily Cressey jumped straight into her career as a web developer at Mixd, but it wasn’t long before her interests began to shift towards web design. She currently works as a product designer for Fueled and participates in public speaking events in the design industry. You can see some of Emily’s design work on Dribbble, read what she’s tweeting about on Twitter, or check out her photos on Instagram. 

Designer Public Speaking
Emily owning the stage at WDC 2017

Cressey wanted to invest in the industry because of the difference she could make in others’ lives; her job was most fulfilling when her contribution allowed others to achieve their own success.

Throughout her creative journey, she networked with several communities by attending tech and web design meetups. Eventually, this was not enough to satiate her desire to share her ideas, so she decided to tackle public speaking, which is pretty much one of the biggest mountains anyone might want to face.

Public speaking can be daunting for designers, but Cressey has managed to conquer her initial fear of speaking in front of a large audience. And with years of experience, she wants to give some insight on how any young professional can emerge as a victorious, confident speaker.

So What Should I Do?

Promote Your Personal Branding

Give a glimpse of your potential by promoting your personal branding. Whether you insert your artistic style into educational presentations or professional portfolios, you want people to see the details that make you stand out. Your work is the window to your soul—be ready to share your collection whenever, wherever.

Retro Speaking Slide
Emily’s 8-bit themed presentation from WDC 2017
Tips Inspiration
A slide from Emily’s recent presentation “Developers of Habit”

Be Confident!

This is easier said than done, but it should be a top priority. If necessary, give yourself a pep talk and kill the nerves (only the bad ones!) before they overwhelm you. Take deep breaths and reiterate why you’re giving your speech, and why you’re there in the first place.

It’s okay to take a minute. You have to remember that any opinion in the design industry is valuable because it gives a collective understanding of where you are or where you are heading.

Know What You’re Walking Into

Prior to your talk, make sure you research your topic thoroughly and make it your own. There are a lot of established ideas that might be similar to yours, so knowing how to make yourself unique will be incredibly helpful in the long run.

Be familiar with the people you’re speaking to and figure out what might be beneficial for them. As a designer, you should offer a different perspective that will provoke both curiosity and deep thought. If your topic is sensitive, issue a warning beforehand so your audience can prepare accordingly.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Meetups and conferences sound intimidating, but they’re great settings to help you break out of that shell! We live in an extremely fast-paced world, so there are always new techniques and programs for you to learn.

If you want to try something different, dedicate your time to speaking to a younger age group. Reach out to nearby high schools or universities that are open to educational presentations. This is a great way not only to build your public speaking skills but also to contribute to the community. It’s a solid win-win.

Build Your Community

Begin with a couple of reliable friends. Practice your speech with familiar faces and gradually increase the size of your audience. Don’t hesitate to build relationships on Twitter and Slack beforehand. Online platforms allow you to branch out and receive feedback from a more diverse pool of designers– so build connections within your community, both in person and on social media.

Display your vulnerability. People exhibit the greatest amount of courage when they open up with one another. It’s more likely than you think that another designer shares your struggles and passions, and the world will feel less lonely if you process them together.

What Should I Not Do?

Don’t Come Unprepared

Trust us, people will know when you failed to prepare for your talk. If you don’t perform a basic run-through, test out your equipment, and project your voice properly, you’ll lose their interest almost immediately. You may have been able to get away with winging exams and essays during your university years, but this method doesn’t apply very well to public speaking. Don’t be that person. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Don’t Alienate Your Audience

Ideally, you want to speak to a group that is responsive, but sometimes that just isn’t the case. There are some that are naturally quieter than others. You can’t always depend on audience participation to determine your success, so make sure to clarify your position at the beginning of your speech. You are the speaker delivering a specific topic, and they are your listeners ready to digest it. Take charge while being mindful of the general atmosphere.

Don’t Psych Yourself Out

We can’t stress this enough. Don’t worry about messing up or losing your place in your script. If you brush it off and continue with a confident demeanor, most of the audience won’t catch your mistakes. It’s normal for you to be nervous, but if you’re overly self-conscious about what you say, your words and attitude will work against you.

Your slides are there to help you remember, not lead your discussion. If you lose your train of thought, you can use them to circle back to your central focus. Take advantage of your presentation and be proud of what you created, but don’t see it as a lifeline.


This isn’t an exhaustive list that will radically transform you into a TED talk speaker. Public speaking can easily feel more like a burden than an opportunity. If you’re questioning your ability to deliver a meaningful speech, think of Cressey’s suggestions as baby steps you can take in becoming the best version of yourself—promote your skill, exude confidence, and get yourself out there. You’ll be able to witness amazing changes when you’re secure in who you are as a designer and what impact you want to make in your industry.

Upcoming Design Conferences

You’ve read the tips, now it’s time to head over to some conferences, as a speaker or as a listener! Here’s a list of a few upcoming design conferences on the Fueled Design Team’s calendar.

An Event Apart
December 10-12 — San Francisco, CA

SXSW Design Conference
March 8-13, 2019 — Austin, TX

Beyond Tellerand 2019
May 13-15 — Dusseldorf, Germany

Extra Reading

For more information on how to improve your public speaking skills, Emily recommends checking out the following links:

“Speaking Tips” - Chris Coyer
“Speaking? Tips.” - Mezzoblue
“On Speaking” - Brad Frost

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