Presentation tips for Architects, Part I

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“Less is more”.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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About this author
Cite: David Basulto. "Presentation tips for Architects, Part I" 18 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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