Preaching What You Practice:
Speaking in Graphic Tongues to the Masses

by Jeff Fisher

Outside of the creative industries, graphic design is seldom a religious experience for most people in the business world. In fact, a great number of professionals in other industries probably don't have a clue what you, as a designer, do for a living - or what you may be capable of contributing to the success of their own businesses. Yes, it's sacrilege.

One of the most effective, inexpensive and under-used methods of converting these naivetes - or total disbelievers in some cases - is putting yourself in front of a congregation to speak about what your profession entails and how those in the pews can benefit from the knowledge you are willing to share.

You may feel unqualified to minister to others, in a public forum, about your talents, skills and methods of doing business. Excuse me, but what is taking place each time you meet with a client, or committee, to make a presentation? It usually begins with speaking in a strange language commonly known as "design speak" in conveying your own expertise, proposing what you feel will most benefit the potential convert, or justifying an ethereal graphic concept. Multiply your audience of a few by ten-fold, or several hundred-fold, and you can find yourself preaching before a crowded room with ease and confidence.

Appropriate pulpits for your proselytizing are everywhere, and may include:

• High school, college and design school classes

• Neighborhood associations, local business groups, Chambers of Commerce

• Nonprofit organizations

• Professional business organizations and industry associations

• Seminars, workshops and conferences

Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce, business-networking groups, nonprofit organizations and others like those mentioned to offer your services as a guest speaker at meetings, luncheons, or conferences. Most will have assigned an individual responsibility for coordinating programs and speakers.

In preparing your creative sermon, you must determine what your audience might desire to hear. For high school and college design classes I have discussed graphic design as a legitimate career option. A university marketing course, studying the creation of business plans, requested that I speak about the role of identity design in marketing a new company. I spoke about nonprofit organizations making the best use of designers to an association of nonprofit development and marketing directors. To a local Chamber of Commerce, and a regional association of landscape designers, a program regarding the role of graphics in the marketing of small businesses was presented. Educators from Small Business Development Centers asked that I address a workshop on the topic of how graphic design needs play a role in any preliminary business plan. Ask what they wish to hear, and you will speak it.

Practice before you preach. Most organizations or groups will schedule a guest speaker calendar several months or even a year in advance, giving presenters a great deal of time to plan and rehearse. Go into the situation well prepared. Rehearse the presentation of your topic several times in front of family, peers or even a mirror. Make sure the flow of the speech is smooth and seamless. Avoid simply standing at a podium to read your speech. Practice moving around the "stage" and perfect some hand gestures to stress important points. Remember that you are the "entertainment" for what may otherwise be a somewhat boring event. If you are enthusiastic and animated about your topic, the attendees will be drawn in to what you are saying. Always allow time for questions from the audience.

Ministering to any group often necessitates providing the possibly converted with a tract, outlining your main points, for future study and reflection. Handouts are a must. Be sure each person leaving the presentation goes away with some valuable printed information related to the discussion and your contact information.

With a few well-received presentations in your repertoire, it's easy to fill in as a speaker at the last minute if another backs out of a scheduled appearance. A very grateful Chamber of Commerce breakfast group once called me to fill in for someone with about 16 hours notice.

An invitation to present what you know as the gospel, to any audience, also results in the opportunity for a variety of promotional efforts. Many groups will send out press information about upcoming speakers to the business section of local papers for use in the weekly event calendar or "business briefs." Often associations will promote upcoming events on the organization web site, in a newsletter to be sent to the membership, or through a direct mail piece mailed to interested individuals. Make it easy for people putting such items together. Provide them with a short biography, an outline of your presentation (including a "jazzy" topic title) and a professional photo of yourself.

Anyone making such presentations needs to spread the word about their speaking engagements as well. Send out a press release to your mailing and email lists. Post your upcoming presentation schedule on your own web site. Market your public appearances just as you would promote your work efforts.

Singing one's own praises through press releases, writing articles as "the expert," and speaking before crowds all combine to present a solid marketing base for your design work. In a very short time each begins to play off the other. Traditional self-promotion may lead to the writing of articles. The articles may lead to public appearances. The speeches may lead to writing a book - or speaking at a higher level of industry exposure. It all eventually evolves into more desired work coming your way.

There really is such a thing as a "free lunch" and often it is part of the deal when making such presentations. In addition, most organizations inviting a speaker will offer an honorarium for valuable time being spent before their group. It may be a small as $25 from groups with limited budgets; to several thousand dollars, accommodations and travel expenses for presentations on a national level. Be sure to express your appreciation for the opportunity to speak before such groups - and for the fee received. Being appropriately thankful can lead to an invitation for a return engagement in the future.

In 2003 I was part of a panel discussion, with the somewhat irreverent title of "Designers in Handcuffs," before a HOW Design Conference audience of over 600 design professionals. The experience was a bit daunting. Afterwards I was even more stunned as young designers came up to ask for my autograph. I didn't take it all too seriously, and certainly had a great laugh when a book publisher mentioned that "you guys are like rock stars." That may have been stretching things a bit. However, the experience did provide real evidence of the impact of my own business marketing over the past ten years. It made me realize that putting what you know "out there" in front of the masses, can be as valuable a promotional tool as presenting the design work you create.

Make it your mission to go out into the world and preach the benefits of graphic design to those not yet informed.

Say "hallelujah" somebody!

Editor's Note: Hallelujah!
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