Overcoming the fear of presenting: What a former White House designer taught me about telling my story

Savannah Heekin

Graphic Designer

Monday, October 9, 2017

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

In Cincinnati, we just celebrated Design Week, an AIGA-sponsored event where creative come together to share insights, inspiration and stories. I was most excited to hear from keynote speaker Ashleigh Axios, whose resume is pretty incredible—in addition to working for some amazing companies, she was also the creative director for THE WHITE HOUSE.

Axios started off the event by telling us that public speaking wasn’t her favorite thing to do—asking us to just laugh if she stumbles a bit, and letting us know that she was sure to warm up as the presentation went on. I didn’t expect that someone who presented to POTUS would have any nervousness speaking to an audience of her peers, but Axios went on to say that the reason she does public speaking events is to share her unique story and to inspire creatives to share their stories. This got me thinking about my own story and my own struggles with presenting. Here are three key takeaways from Ashleigh’s talk that will inspire my future presentations.

1 Tell the story of the work that goes on behind the scenes

Axios talked about the chaotic rush to deliver the design elements in the week before the President’s State of the Union address. As a viewer, I am guilty of taking for granted the planning and strategy that goes into creating the hundreds of beautifully designed, digestible info-graphics that pop up at perfectly timed moments throughout the speech. By taking us on her journey through the extreme planning and long hours I was able to have a better understanding and respect for the work that went into creating such an impactful moment. As a designer, most of the work that I do is done behind the scenes. I have created hundreds of art boards and concepts that will never see the light of day, but those are still a part of the journey, and telling that story—pitfalls and all—is an important step in helping the client understand the design decisions that have been made.

2 Set goals that are more than just a little out of reach

Goals that are easily achieved are just a task list. One of Axios’ accomplishments was to update the entire White House website to responsive design. Roughly 40% of Americans would be viewing the State of the Union address on their mobile devices, but some people in the administration didn’t see the value in making it mobile-accessible. She knew creating an inclusive platform that allowed all audiences to be involved would be critical to the event and the success of the president’s message. Her hard work paid off and she was able to report that an unprecedented number of Americans viewed and participated in the event on their mobile devices.

At Intrinzic we believe that it is our job to push out clients and truly elevate their brand. While it can be intimidating presenting work or proposing ideas that push a client out of their comfort zone, keeping the end goal in mind and communicating it to the client helps us all move forward on high-reaching goals and ideas.

3 Keep your imposter syndrome in check

Axios talked about her feelings of oscillating between pride in her accomplishments and the fear of being exposed as a fraud. This is the phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome, which as Axios explained, is the persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

As a designer, being highly creative on cue can be exhausting—intellectually and emotionally. I can only imagine how intense those feelings could be when you’re regularly presenting to leaders of the free world. Sometimes ideas don’t strike at the moment when you first sit down to solve the problem at hand, and a sinking feeling of doubt can quickly follow. The best way to fight the feelings of imposter syndrome? You just have to shrug off them off. And you can build your confidence as a designer by having sound rationale. Of course you will question yourself, but if you are able to tell the strategic story about the process you and your team follow, you will be able to trust yourself and the decisions you have made.

Read more

You’ve got to laugh a little… How the power of humor can benefit your brand

Designing for Obama: Q&A with the creative director of the White House

Learn more about Cincinnati AIGA

Join the Conversation