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How to sell your project to an interview panel

10 tips on how to convince a judging panel, client or jury that you’re the right practice for the job

Not surprisingly, more architects are entering more competitions these days.

Most of these are not the classic anonymous design competition, the starting point for many a young talented practice. Selection procedures are more like to be governed by public procurement procedures (for example OJEU notices), or take the form of limited invited competitions, sometimes involving scant design work, at least in the initial stage.

Increasing emphasis is therefore given to the nature of printed documentation, and the quality of interview presentations. As a veteran of countless selections and assessments, I find it extraordinary that so many good practices fail when it comes to the art of presentation. The confidentiality of the interview room is not to be breached, but I have witnessed some appalling misjudgements by truly talented architects trying to convince a selection panel that they are the right for the job.

This is not to say that poor architects with brilliant presentation skills triumph; on the contrary, I can’t remember being involved in a selection where a poor architect won. But it is dispiriting to see great designers falling at the first hurdle when it comes to convincing a panel (particularly if it involves lay people, as it often does).

So a few words of advice on at least giving yourself a fighting chance.

  • When you submit a practice brochures, think about the judges and what they are likely to be looking for. Don’t assume that your standard marketing material will necessarily impress.
  • Ask yourself what the client will be most worried about in relation to your practice (too young, too small, too big) and find a way of addressing that in your documentation.
  • Make sure any financial details are simple and clear. Quite often they are muddling.
  • If you are citing other professional teams you would work with, make sure they sound convincing, for example because you have worked with them before. Fantasy teams make your submission a fantasy too
  • Don‘t give the impression that you already have the answer to the client’s problem. Most want a prolonged discussion with their designer about elements of the brief, and are unimpressed by people offering a fait accompli.
  • If you are selected for interview, only take people with you who have something useful to say, and plan them into the presentation. Nobody wants to hear a single voice if there are four people on the team.
  • Make sure the person the client will actually be dealing with most of the time is at the interview. Always have a clear structure about who the client will see and at what frequency.
  • Choose analogous projects you have undertaken with care. I remember a practice which, at interview, cited a job which had been the subject of lengthy and well-publicised litigation. Needless to say this went down like a lead balloon.
  • Try to ensure you have at least one woman on your team – but not a token who attends without speaking.
  • Do NOT overrun. This will confirm the worst fears of clients about architects: that they will never deliver anything on time.

There is then the question of presenting architecture itself. There are a few good rules about that too, which will be the subject of the next Letter.

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