Presentation tips for Architects, Part I

  • 18 Nov 2010
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  • Misc
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Our profession is all about presentations. It all started at university in the architecture studio, a whole semester had to be condensed into a 10-minute precise presentation in order to get the crits to understand your project, and it continued into professional life as the main tool to communicate with your co-workers, clients, a jury or with other architects in a lecture.

A good presentation could get your project approved, or quickly dismissed if you don’t plan it right. For example, a presentation to a client compared to a presentation for a group of architects is very different, even if the project you need to communicate is the same.

As I usually have to give at least a couple presentations per month, I have always tried to make them worth and not waste other people’s time. A big help for that has been Garr Reynolds, the “Presentation Zen” from which I haven taken some key points of which I will share with you in order to make a good presentation, adapted to our profession.

1. Know you audience

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I think that this is the most crucial part no matter what you need to communicate. In order to deliver your message you need to present it according to whom you want to understand it. There are several terms and concepts that we as architects can easily understand, but that our clients or a general audience might not understand at first. Often we even invent or misuse words, misleading our audience. Program, urban fabric, etc.

2. Keep it simple

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The same as we do with our projects, a presentation should be simple. We should strip out anything that is unnecessary. Think of it as a Mies building on which everything is there for a reason and nothing can be removed. This is often the most difficult part, as we have to reduce it to its essentials. As an exercise Garr suggest that you outline the three things you want your audience to remember from your presentation.

“Less is more”.

3. Relevance

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Related to the previous point (and also to the 1st). Put yourself in the shoes of your audiences and ask “so what?”. You might have several interesting stories or concepts to tell the audience, but if they don’t add to what you want to communicate – just take them out.

4. Structure

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You start with the foundation, follow with the structure, then move on to the skin and the interiors. This is a crystal clear process that you already know. Do the same for your presentation.

It also makes your audience follow you and focus on the presentation. When I have to make a long presentation I always start with an index, and as we move forward I keep reminding the audience where we are in the presentation, therefore they can follow along, stay focused, and recall what comes next.

5. The elevator pitch

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Say the speaker before you exceeded on their time, or the client was late and is short on time. You always need to have a short version of the presentation, or at least know which parts you can skip in order to make it on time.
The exercise is usually called “the elevator pitch”, under the idea that you should be able to sell your idea in the time span of an elevator ride, meaning in a maximum of 30 seconds and in 130 words or fewer.

6. Storytelling

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Regarding the previous point, it reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright drafting the Fallingwater House only 2 hours before his meeting with Kaufmann, all that in one sitting at his drafting table.

As you can see, this story was appealing to you as an architect, and you immediately understood my point. Stories can connect you with your audience, and engage them.

You can think about your project as a story, and develop the whole presentation as if you are the story teller. Just keep in mind the previous points, as an irrelevant story can do more harm than help.

Last year Volume Magazine published an issue on Storytelling, intro by Jeffrey Inaba.

7. Confidence

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Even after almost a hundred presentations, I’m still nervous before giving them. If you are nervous, your audience will notice it, and will focus on that instead of your project.

Mies may have suggested a glass of scotch, but the best is to rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. If you know your presentation backwards and forwards it will flow naturally, and will also keep you prepared for any unexpected event during the presentation.

And “picture the audience nude” always comes handy.

I hope these tips can help you with your future presentations. As always, your feedback is welcome on the comments below.

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Cite: Basulto, David. "Presentation tips for Architects, Part I" 18 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=90006>

27 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down -4

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +2

      I think you haven’t been to many lectures lately… trust me, there are quite a few architect’s that should follow some of these tips. If you already know them, good for you! But don’t think that everyone does, Mr Know It All.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +4

      If you don’t want to waste your time, don’t read them anymore. But don’t pretend to know which articles should ArchDaily publish and which not. If you have the best articles, make your own website.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Yes man and Nathan are both right. These tips are pretty obvious, especially for anyone who has presented multiple times to groups (i.e. every architecture student). Despite this, far too many architects (and designers in general) fail to sufficiently prepare for presentations…which is a real shame.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +6

    Hi!

    I think that often bad architects/designers/creative people are very good in selling, where people that dig deeply in a project often result to be subjective and unable to present the result in a easy and clear way.

    The article is good to help the second. Many project featured here (and often constructed) are the result of very good sellers with no architectural skills.

    At least it doesn’t hurt to read it :)

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    Mies is the strongest tip you can take from all that. Keep it simple and drink scotch… Trust me, you don’t even need to know what the hell you’re presenting :P

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Some people might want to claim they know how to give a good presentation. I have gained 1 or 2 tips from above. Stop feeling like Mr know it all and read between the lines critics!

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Well , As an architecture student and I have been in jury few times ( I did good btw ) this has been very helpful to me
    So , who thinks its a waste of time , WHY BOTHER READING !!!

    Gr8 Post , Waiting Part 2

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Confidence comes from knowing your content inside out. When you know your content you’ve solely to focus on looking and sounding good.

    Use all your voice range to sound interesting. Mark out salient points of your message with a different voice volume or tone – its like putting words in italics….

    Mr Presenter

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      Forget about that voice tone thing. Thats just lame. You’ve got to sound as natural as possible or could sound fake, and it will, if you keep changing your voice tone. Just try not to talk like an old man and you should be fine.

      • Thumb up Thumb down 0

        You should really read the above comment again, maybe you’ll get the point. It’s not about sounding like an old man or changing voice tones like reading a book as different characters. It’s about emphasising what’s important, slowing down or going faster when it’s necessary, all with your own voice (duh).

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Why not make it mandatory to attend presentations in your underwear? It will be no different than a current airport screening. And it will be easier for the presenter (fully dressed, of course) who otherwise has to imagine stuff.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    as an architecture student and after reading this, i think i need more of these stuffs to help me present my thesis better.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Thank you for the tips and I emphasize that one needs to know his project very well…I believe that if you really went through a Design process very well presenting your project wont be a train smash.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Confidence and knowing what your client might ask is still a good way of presenting.

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