I can speak to large groups of scouts about wilderness survival, or Native American heritage, or rocks and minerals. I can read to groups of school children or teach large groups of senior citizens how to use a digital camera. I can explain fluorescence to hundreds of people at a rock and mineral show. I can teach small groups of 5 or 6 people how to design better newsletters. I can lead expeditions through the wilderness. I take night classes at the local university and lead discussions on topics I never thought I knew anything about, like anthropology or weather patterns, but this past week was the biggest challenge of my 40+ year career as a graphic designer.
I am the senior graphic designer for a Fortune 100 company and I am part of a large communications group for the company. Our local group has monthly Comm calls where we all get together [some by LiveWeb and some in person] to talk about the accomplishments we have made and the challenges we face. A couple of Comm calls ago we began planning for a communications conference. Each of us was asked what we thought should be covered in the conference. My suggestion was: a workshop on brand standards and tips and techniques for creating better materials like newsletters and presentations. My boss said, "Are you saying you want to put that together?" Without hesitation I said yes. What was I thinking?
As plans for the conference developed, the structure of the agenda changed from break-outs to general sessions, which meant that my workshop would now be an hour-long general session for the entire audience. The audience would consist of communicators from around the globe . . . North America, Brazil, Belgium, China and Russia. The working title of my presentation was "Tips and Techniques for Creating Better Newsletters and Powerpoints." With the change in agenda structure, my manager changed the title to "Developing Creative Based on Brand Values."
The more I thought about that title, the more I realized this was much more than designing a newsletter. In the past three years we have gone through a re-branding: not a re-branding of our logo, but a re-branding of how the world views our company and our brands. I became very excited about the possibilities and my thought process changed. I wondered how this group could relate to the title of the presentation if many of them didn't know the details of our re-branding and how could they relate to the re-branding if many of them didn't know the history of our logo.
I knew quite a bit about the history of our logo and the re-branding strategy so I began to dig deeper into it. I spent more than a hundred hours of reading, compiling information and putting it all together in a 75-page presentation. Most of that time was after hours, reading and designing in the quiet atmosphere of home. I incorporated the tips and techniques of better design into the presentation itself. What better way to show someone how to use images and less-text effectively in a presentation could there be? I collected sample materials from many of the people who would be in the audience so I could see any habits or issues that needed to be addressed. I enlisted the help of my graphic design intern to create a newsletter with a fake name and fake information, using all the untidy habits we had found. She would then reconstruct the newsletter with proper techniques and show what a difference a little attention to detail can make.
As showtime approached I was so nervous; more nervous than I had been about any other presentation in memory. What if the graphics failed? What if my Mac-designed slides didn't work on the PC-based equipment being used at the conference? What if I forgot everything I wanted to say to my peers and leaders? What if I didn't speak loud enough? What if my stomach growled in the middle of the presentation? I tested my slides on a PC every time I made a change. I made a back-up copy of the Powerpoint and a PDF copy of the presentation, just in case. I printed out the speaker notes in large type, just in case the speaker notes didn't show up on the laptop at the podium. I practiced the presentation over and over. I ate a light breakfast and drank just enough water. The last thing I wanted was an urge to go to the bathroom before my hour was up!
The sound man placed the lavalier mic on my shirt and I took a deep breathe. As I was walking to the front of the room, a statement I had heard just days earlier came to my mind: "If you are nervous, that means you care about it." Huh. I do care about this! I surveyed the audience. I couldn't see them all that well because the lights were low. Awesome! I introduced myself and my intern and the show began. Amazingly, all my nervousness disappeared. I love quotes, so a quote opened each section of the presentation. I introduced the audience to the graphic designer who created our logo 55 years ago. I showed them some of his work, talked about his philosophy, how our logo had been received by the audience of the 1960s and how it is viewed today. I shared our branding guidelines with them as they relate to usage of the logo. I talked about our re-branding, the strategy behind it and how it has been received across the globe. I shared examples of the re-branding in action. My intern took over and presented her before-and-after newsletter. We ended the presentation with a Q&A session and everything went PERFECT! We received huge applause and the presentation sparked many conversations and questions during the rest of that day and the next.
Looking back, it really wasn't that scary. It was, in fact, a lot of fun.