4 Ways Architects Can Improve Their Presentation Skills

By: Katey Trepanier

In the architecture and design profession, presentation skills are just as important as good ideas and slick renderings. We need to value having a clear dialogue around the issues we spend countless hours considering. Truth is, most of us are not naturally good public speakers; and we need to treat it as a skill that can be improved. When you have a presentation looming, here are some things to consider:

1. Preparation

a. Practice your presentation.

Everyone knows that practice improves our skills, but we don’t always feel like we have the time or the need. Skipping practice is a missed opportunity. We spend months designing, then days composing our slides. Take a couple of hours to consider your delivery.

  • Sequence of practice. For a big presentation, you can use the tried and true method below:
    • Sit down on and make notes about what you want to say. Next, stay sitting and whisper your points out loud to yourself. Then, remain sitting but say your words louder.
    • Stand up and recite your presentation.
    • Face a mirror and rehearse.
    • Give your presentation to a trusted friend/colleague/family member, and then finally give your presentation for real.

This sounds time-consuming, but important presentations require repeated practice to ensure that you are comfortable when the time comes.

  • Examples of success. The very polished presentations seen on TED talks are the result of this level of practice. The typical TED talk-er will practice/recite their 15 minute talk about 200 times (that’s 3000 minutes of practice for a 15 minute speech).

A typical TED Talk presenter will have 3000 minutes of practice for a 15 minute speech.

b. Don’t drink caffeine beforehand.

Before speaking, our adrenaline is ramping up, making caffeine unnecessary. If you’re prone to getting jitters, caffeine will speed up your heart rate and make it more difficult to be relaxed.

c. Practice feeling embarrassed or vulnerable.

It’s normal to feel nervous about looking or sounding stupid when talking in front of groups; but the more you practice feeling vulnerable, the less it will bother you. Practice by going to parties where you don’t know anyone and strike up conversations, hold eye contact with a stranger on the street for an almost inappropriate amount of time, do karaoke, etc.

2. Organization

  • Keep it clear. Outline your upcoming points to the audience, provide the information, and then summarize. This method of organization will help you touch on everything intended, and stay on track.

3. Calm Down

  • Breathe. We all carry anxiety differently, often in our stomachs. Take a truly deep breath – one that will go all the way into the pit of your nerves, exhale slowly, and then feel your nerves lighten up. This can be done whenever the jitters hit – even while you’re presenting. It’s totally appropriate to take a deep breath in between thoughts, and could even make you appear more calm and confident to the audience.
  • Talk slower and louder. It’s typical to speak quickly and quietly when you’re nervous. Be aware of your cadence, breathe slowly and project your voice to the back of the room. Even if you are feeling uneasy, this will give the impression you are not. Eventually, you’ll make the audience feel comfortable with you, you’ll settle in, and will actually feel more relaxed.

4. Look the ParT

  • Dress for the occasion. You’ll feel more confident when you’re looking good. Leave your old leggings in the closet at home and bust out the outfits that you know you look good in.
  • Be positive. Positivity is contagious. Use positive words in your speaking vocabulary, nod, and smile – try not to be creepy about it. The more you connect with the audience, the better you’ll feel standing in front of them, and the better they’ll feel about having you speak to them.
  • Body language. Mind your eye contact, and practice your power poses – don’t feel shy about moving around and taking up space on the presentation floor. It’ll engage your audience. Keep your shoulders back, and focus on not letting your body fold into itself.
  • Follow an example. Find someone whose speaking skills you admire and act as though you are that person when you’re up there. Be confident. Eventually you’ll have more experience faking confidence than you’ll have memories of being a warbled mess. That’s when the persona of being a confident presenter starts to become real.

This kind of exercise encourages us to prioritize the people side of our profession. In an era driven by technology, emails, and videoconferencing, we want to make sure that the art of interpersonal relationships isn’t lost. Our success is determined not only by our ability to design beautiful spaces, but also by our ability to build a strong rapport with our clients.