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Unaccustomed as I am

technical & practice

Architects need to communicate, influence and motivate. Here we examine some basic techniques to make a good impression Good presentation skills are essential for architects. However, they often underestimate the amount of effort required to produce a quality presentation. The general standard is improving but that means that competitors are also getting better. Some architects find it difficult to communicate with confidence when pitching for new business, presenting plans to a local authority, concepts to a property developer or simply hoping to influence an existing client to accept new ideas.Whatever the situation, the ability to achieve success will depend to a large degree on your personal presentation style. Here are a few tips.

First impressions

Maintaining eye contact with all your listeners, even when they are looking at your visuals, gives an impression of confidence and authority. A friendly facial expression and an enthusiastic voice, with an absence of 'filler words' such as 'you know', 'I mean', 'ers' and 'ums', will add to the positive picture of someone who can be trusted and knows what they are talking about.

Standing, rather than speaking from a seated position, gives you a stronger voice and more control of the situation.

Know your target

Research your audience, whether they are a potential client, local authority or small community group. Find out everything you can and assess what sort of approach will work best. Do they want an overview without the detail or will they only be satisfied with specific chapter and verse? Consider how you can make your ideas relevant from their point of view. Keeping it simple does not preclude those with a technical background and expertise asking questions if they want more information.

Visual impact

Even though pictures are indispensable, avoid plunging clients into darkness for a PowerPoint show.

Technical breakdowns occasionally occur, so it is a good idea to have back-up paper copies prepared in advance to save the situation. Professionally prepared visual aids will always make a good impression.

Ensure that your visuals add value to your presentation and remember, if you are portraying complex concepts consider how you can break down the information into more comprehensible smaller units.

Team players

A minimum of two presenters allows the second presenter to observe the client's reaction and pick up on any misunderstandings. Make sure there is no overlap or duplication of information. Nominate one person to be in charge of preparing the document to avoid including contradicting data. Plan how the introductions will be managed and work out the order in which you will speak. Decide in advance how questions will be handled and allow sufficient time for a dry run if an external expert, such as a structural engineer, is joining your team.

Persuasion

Anticipate objections and plan in advance how you will handle them; acquire a range of responses in order to hold your ground without hostility, while moving towards mutually satisfying outcomes. Avoid getting into time-consuming discussions over minor details; learn to regularly summarise the areas of agreement to create a conciliatory tone. Avoid negative non-verbal behaviour, such as folded arms and frowning, especially when disagreeing. Talking over and interrupting the speaker will cause them to argue their point more strongly, so pause before you reply and, where possible, find a point of agreement before expressing any opposition.

Interaction

Listen and you will better understand the other person's viewpoint. Develop a dialogue with them and you will be remembered. Resist distractions and learn to concentrate, analyse and retain key ideas and avoid responding too quickly. Be prepared to close down discussion if it has strayed too far from your objective. Refer to the need to use the available time most productively and bring the topic back to the essential core. Some planning committees insist on a strict time limit for presentations and will cut off speakers who overrun.

Remember, not everyone is born with the ability to make a good impression all the time. However, successful communication can be learnt and can easily become part of a portfolio of essential business skills.

Cristina Stuart is Managing Director of Speak First. Tel 0870 841 4111 or visit www. speakfirst. co. uk

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