When making a live presentation, you're the master of ceremonies: you can adjust the order of work as you go, pulling things out from behind and placing them in a new order, lingering on specific works, or moving rapidly over certain portions. It's important to pay attention to the client's reactions, moving on when they look disinterested, or talking in depth about a piece that seems to pique his or her interest. These skills will serve you well throughout your career. Think of your portfolio presentation as a piece of music; you're the conductor, setting the tempo and rhythm.
In addition, you need to give some thought tothe cohesiveness of your entire body of work. It should be, according to Geoffry Fried, "an ensemble with a purpose." Even if you are assembling four years' worth of class projects into a single portfolio, it's still important to rework or polish old pieces and to unify them ina thematic way. Careful thought as to order and consistency of components can only make the presentation better. The choices you make in forming your portfolio are of interest, so if you are passionate about art history or ecology, you can and should work these themes in. Remember that a good portfolio should express in some subtle way who you are and what relationship you have to the world. This will separate youfrom other designers and help the interviewer understand more about you.
If you cannot be present for a portfolio presentation, it is important to have a portfolio that is easy to reassemble. Having too many complex insets that look like puzzle pieces quickly becomes aggravating for a busy art director.The system for taking things out of the box or case and putting them back should be simple and intuitive. In addition, be sure to include some text or captions to help explain the workin your absence.
The most effective way to land work is through in-person presentations or interviews, but it's crucial to plan ahead. It's a good idea to make a list of potential interview questions and practice answering them beforehand. Remember that an interview is more about having a conversation with the potential employer than a show-and-tell. The interviewer wants to get to know more about you, what interests you most about design, and how you formulate ideas or make choices. To go one step further, set up a mock presentation with a friend posing as the interviewer. Ask him or her to be critical of some of your work, so you can rehearse fielding negative feedback. This exercise gives you the chance to practice defending your choices—an ability that art directors and creative directors like to see. An experienced designer can talk intelligently about what he or she has done and why, so be prepared to discuss a design solution at length but leave out frustrations or negative anecdotes whenever possible.
First impressions can make or break an interview or presentation, so it is extremely important tobe on time. Don't arrive half an hour early and expect the interviewer to usher you in; five minutes early is good, but more than ten can be irritating. If you have to be late, call beforehand and explain, but if it's a casual excuse such as "Ioverslept," you've probably already lost the job. Be courteous and maintain a professional demeanor, which includes remembering the name of the company and interviewer, and do your best to be articulate about your work.
Make it a point to keep the tone of all your comments positive. Never speak apologetically or dismissively about anything you've done. If you aren't confident about a particular design piece, you shouldn't be featuring it in your portfolio. Since designers must present or sell their solutions to clients everyday, good presentation skills are a critical part of a designer's skill set. The interviewer will be looking closely at your ability to present or sell your own work.
New graduates sometimes make the mistake of referring to their class experience too specifically in early interviews. Rather than saying, "This poster is a typography exercise from Type 101," it is better to point out that you enjoyed making the poster because, for example, you became more knowledgeable about the specific typeface used and the history of typography. School should not be the main context with which you present and describe the pieces in your portfolio.
When you present your portfolio, you're showing the work you've already created. But the second and more important part of the equation is letting the interviewer know what kind of work you'll be able to produce if you're awarded the job or position. You should not list goals, verbalize a mission statement, or say something along the lines of "Here's what I can do for you," because you risk sounding arrogant. There is, however, the opportunity to exhibit competence, confidence, openness, and acuity—all traits that are positive indicators of future job performance. To do this, you'll need careful preparation, a bit of instinct, and good manners.
FORMAT PREFERENCES Of the three types of portfolios that he reviews, Chris Pullman of WGBH public television in the United States prefers print portfolios to websites or motion portfolios. First, they present fewer obstaclesand difficulties. Because they don't rely on technology, many variables and frustrations associated with speed or software incompatibility are eliminated. Second, designers with print portfolios generally tend to offer a deeper level of understanding about their work. They often deconstruct and explain limitations and talk about research or time/budget issues that may have occurred.
The most important quality Pullman looks for in a portfolio presentation is the applicant's ability to speak intelligently about his or her work. "If you cannot be present when your portfolio is being reviewed, then it is imperative to provide written commentary on the work to accompany the portfolio." Explanatory text should include "the exact problem to be solved" and the process followed when creating the finished product. This provides an interviewer with insight into your thought process and your ability to communicate in writing—a valuable skill in itself.
Pullman likes to see as much of a designer's skill set and design process as possible. Showing preliminary sketches and alternate designs shows a designer's range and capability for problem solving. He also likes to see any extra contributions a designer made to a project, including drawings, written work, diagrams, or artwork—anything from tables, charts, and maps to legends or photography. Finally, he dislikes spreads that have been mounted on foam core because he'd prefer to see the product in its original form.
The way you present yourself can be as important as your portfolio. Pullman says he forms his first impression after hearing the elevator door open and watching a prospective designer take ten steps down the hall. He does not expect an applicant to be formally dressed, but "each piece of the way a person presents themselves" makes an impact. Before you go on an interview, it's important to think carefully about every detail. For example, make sure your clothes are not stained or covered with cat hair, that you are not missing a belt loop or sporting misaligned buttons. Pullman points out that everything gives him a small clue about how carefully a person thinks about the fine points, of how much of a perfectionist he or she is.
Pullman describes his staff as a family that functions most efficiently when there is harmony between all the members. He will not hire an applicant who interrupts incessantly or acts aloof, egotistical, disorganized, or unfocused. Pullman says he used to ask applicants what they would bring to a company potluck supper just to see how quickly and creatively their minds work. As he says, "The meta presentation is almost as important as the things in the portfolio."