Note from the Author: Help me help other architects! This blog is an excerpt from the first draft of my book: Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect. You can help by leaving a critique in the comment section below. And if you are just starting I suggest you check out the table of contents for an easy road map. Thx you rock! -Steve
In the previous blog, I told a story about a poor speaking performance. I was presenting an important project to the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and was rattled by some scathing comments from a hostile board member. During the presentation, I said some things I wish I hadn’t and the project was ultimately denied. It was a bad night for me but was also a tremendous learning experience. If you haven’t read the previous blog I suggest you go back since because it is referenced often in this post.
The Architect as a Public Speaker
Architecture school provided an introduction public speaking. At the end of each studio project, there was a formal critique in which the students presented to a design jury. After listening to the student’s presentation, the jury would critique the project right then and there with the student standing there to ‘take their lumps.’
In addition, we would present our designs to the studio professors throughout the semester which was also good practice.
But this was just the beginning. The further into the profession I go, the more I realize the importance of public speaking for architects. Your speaking and presentation abilities will help you with:
· Sharing Designs with Colleagues
· Presenting Designs to Clients
· Interviewing for Potential Projects
· Presenting to Neighborhood Groups
· Presenting to Design Review Boards
· Presenting to Planning Commissions
· Presenting to Zoning Boards
· Presenting to City Council
And the list goes on. The architect as a public figure is something I just never thought of when in architecture school but I now realize it to be an invaluable skill. To help you build your skillset I have put together:
10 Public Speaking Lessons for Architects
Lesson #1 – It is o.k. to be nervous.
Years ago I took improv comedy classes at a local comedy club in Charleston. Getting up on stage in front of people, improvising scenes and acting like a lunatic was a ton of fun. It was also great practice for public speaking. If you can do improv comedy, then you can certainly deliver an architectural presentation.
But even after all of the improv training I still continued to get nervous before stepping on to that stage. And that was o.k. The more practice I got, the more comfortable I got with being uncomfortable. That was the best lesson I took from improv: being comfortable being uncomfortable.
So next time you are about to stand and deliver, just realize that those butterflies are normal.
Lesson #2 – Ditch the Notes
I have often seen other architects present by reading a script. And every time it SUCKS! Don’t do it.
By reading notes you are acknowledging that you have not properly prepared and you make it impossible to engage your audience. This means that you need to practice your presentation. You have already done the hard work of composing the design, so why would you not want to finish strong?
Having a short bullet list is something you could always have in your back pocket. If you need to pull out your list out at the end of the presentation then that is acceptable. But never a script. Never!
Lesson #3 – Look at your Audience
Looking at your audience is one of the most basic lessons of public speaking because it fosters engagement. Unfortunately, this skill has been lost on architects because we love to look at our drawings. When you focus on your drawings, you take your eyes away from the audience.
So what do we do?
I recommend a balance. Spend a majority of the time focusing your eyes on the audience and only shift to the drawings when necessary. You should also take cues from the weatherman. Notice how the weatherman is able to point to the map and also focus on the audience? This takes practice.
Also, if you have more than one audience member than it is important to take turns looking at each person. Focus on one person at a time while making a point, then pivot to the next person. If you need to shift your focus to the drawings, make sure to come back to the people when you finish your point.
Lesson #4 – Exercise Brevity
“I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.” – Blaise Pascal
Having a more concise presentation could have helped me that awful night at the Board of Architectural Review. I spent too much time on the introduction and had to rush through the good bits because I ran out of time. People have limited attention spans and memory recall. The more you tell them, the more they forget. So focus on the important bits!
I now practice my presentations relentlessly and focus on revisions and reduction. Your presentation can always be more concise. I also like to start with a bang, which leads me to:
Lesson #5 - Show the Sexy Stuff First
Why start your presentation with a boring site photo or plan drawing? Why not put some of your best images up front?
Remember those short attention spans and get them hooked early.
Architects have historically presented in a linear fashion, starting with plans, then moving on to sections, then elevations and ending with perspectives.
Start with some eye candy and sprinkle it through your presentation.
Lesson #6 - Pause Before You Respond
A short pause before responding to a question can be just enough time to gather your thoughts and deliver a confident educated response. If I had paused before I spoke at that BAR presentation, I would have said something better than, “I don’t use the word beautiful to describe my designs.”
It only take a second or two to evaluate a question and its intentions and to deliver an appropriate response. Or don't respond at all!
Lesson #7 - Some People Have Already Made Up Their Mind
That night at the BAR, Board Member #3 had already made up their mind before I even started my presentation. The board members review the design drawings prior to the meeting and the City Architect already had a written script of their comments.
It's also safe to say that a majority of the audience members from the public have also made up their mind and are there with a planned agenda. Which leads me to my next lesson:
Lesson #8 - Keep Your Cool!
Unfortunately, when you speak in a public setting, there will almost always be haters. It is important to keep your cool. There will be people who are angry, some that are misinformed and others that are there to pick a fight.
Whenever I am in one of these hostile situations, my #1 goal is to keep my cool. No matter how wacky of a comment or question I get, I will first pause, share a response and always be kind.
Architects need to be leaders and having a cool head under pressure is imperative for a leader.
Lesson #9 - Have fun
At a recent neighborhood meeting, I was the 2nd architect to present a project. The architect that presented before me happened to be wearing a shirt very similar to mine. When I started my presentation I started by saying, “And now another presentation by an architect in blue checks.” It wasn’t exactly Jerry Seinfeld material but it got some laughs and lightened the mood. It also made me feel more comfortable.
I always try to integrate some levity into my presentations because it helps engage the audience and it is fun. It provides a hook for your audience and makes it feel more like a discussion then a presentation.
As the old adage goes, “If they are laughing, they are listening.”
Lesson #10 - Be Passionate
I love what I do and am extremely passionate about my work. The fact that I take on projects like the blog and this book is evidence of that.
However, the evening of that failed presentation, I suspect that I didn’t bring the passion. Instead of wasting so much time talking about the building context, I should have used my time to gush over the wonderful architecture that we had designed.
I also suspect that BAR Member #3 could sense my lack of passion. Your audience will always sense if you are not in it. I am not suggesting that you need to bounce around the stage screaming like Tony Robbins, but it is important that you express some excitement and confidence in your work.
“We must act out passion before we can feel it.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
Architecture is an Act of Will
Being a strong public speaker is one of the most important traits for an architect. It is especially important for urban architects who are often thirsted to the role of a public figure.
Architecture is an act of will. It is not enough to come up with a good design. You need to sell that design to a ton of people which requires effective public speaking.
When you get knocked down, you get back up.
I had a bad night that day, but it turned out to be very helpful to my professional development. By telling my story and the 10 public speaking lessons I hope that you will be more confident the next time you have the opportunity to share your passion.
If you found this article useful, I hope that you will share with a friend.
Flip the page to: Chapter 25: Dear Architects, Respect your Clients
Another chapter in the books!
Chapter 24 by the Numbers
· 3443 words
· 14 – Translates into approximately 14 pages in book form.
· 3 – Blog Posts
· 10 – Hours to Write and Post on Blog
· 17 – Stretched over 17 calendar days.
· .82 – Average book pages written per day.
The Book by the Numbers
· 43,354 – Total Words
· 174 – Total Pages
· 61 – Total Blog Posts
· 220 – Goal for final page count.
· 159– Days Since Starting
· 1.09 – Average book pages written per day.
· 42 – Estimated days to completion of first draft. (220-174) / 1.09) = 42
· 21– Chapters down.
· 7 – Chapters to go.
· 3– New subscribers to the Breaking the Box Email Newsletter
· 55 – Total subscribers to the Breaking the Box Email Newsletter