Dear Design Martyrs: The One About Getting Nervous When Presenting Your Work

Posted inDesign Inspiration

“Dear Design Martyrs” is PRINTmag’s latest advice column from Debbie Millman. Debbie will respond to your most burning questions about design, branding, work-life balance, and so much more.

Dear Design Martyrs,

I think I am a good designer, but I have a problem presenting my work. I get super nervous and forget what I have prepared to say. Why is it so necessary to be able to talk about what I design? Shouldn’t my work speak for itself?


Timid in Tarrytown

Presentation skills are the second most important skill to master in the design business—second only to your actual design skills. Frankly, if you don’t know how to present, you must learn. If you have a problem with the way you speak, try and hire a voice coach. You must invest in yourself; it will be the best money you’ve ever spent. 

Effectively communicating your ideas is a critical component in creating your best possible impression. You need to know how to talk about your work, and you need to know how to talk about what you do, even if you are afraid, even if you are nervous.

Many years ago, I read an article in the New Yorker about Barbra Streisand. The reporter asked her manager what her greatest talent was. He replied that it wasn’t singing or directing or acting or even her longevity in the business. Her gift was doing all of those things while experiencing debilitating stage fright. Despite being terrified of performing, she did it anyway. She did it as if she wasn’t afraid.

Being nervous or scared about presenting, interviewing, or selling yourself is not an excuse NOT to do it. I’m not expecting you not to be anxious or terrified when you present. But you can’t use being nervous or scared as an excuse not to do it; you must do it anyway. You must do it as if you are not scared or nervous.

You can’t wait to be less scared or nervous. The only way to alleviate being scared or nervous is to do the thing you are scared and nervous about over and over until you get better at it. Very few people ever do something the first time and do it perfectly. 

Being timid and fearful is normal. But the fears will lessen over time as you get more and more comfortable doing the thing you are scared of doing. Good luck out there!

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