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Presentation Skills, Tips and Techniques

Life of an Architect Podcast

Presentation Skills, Tips and Techniques

By Bob Borson, FAIA | May 14, 2019

Unlike most professions, architects are fairly accustomed to standing up in front of a group of people and speaking … but that doesn’t mean they like it (or even worse) – that they are any good at doing it. The concern going through almost everyone’s head before they get up in front of a group is that they will look stupid, sound stupid, or generally come across as someone who shouldn’t be talking about whatever it is they are talking about. If that’s you, the good news is that you are not alone.

I consider myself many things, most of which I should be medicated and seeing a licensed therapist about, but public speaking isn’t something that I struggle with. There are a few tips and techniques I have picked up along the way that have made the process a lot easier for me and I thought I would share them with you today. Regardless of the number of people you need to address, knowing just a few things can virtually guarantee that you will look like you should be there.

Stage Presence
• Try and be comfortable in your own body. If you aren’t a suit and tie person, don’t pick the presentation day to change.
• Movement is important. Too often a prop (like a lectern) is available and the impulse to stand behind it and lock your hands down with a Klingon death grip on the sides. You must resist!! At the very least, stand to the side a bit so that you can take advantage of our natural impulse to gesticulate with our hands.

• Identify to yourself the objective of your presentation – what’s your big idea? Figuring this out can help guide you when trying to determine if you are on the right track.
• Tell a story. This is really important because if you want people to listen (and that’s sort of the point) give them something to connect with. This might be difficult for some people but since I am already prone to hyperbole, I try to make this a strength. Telling a story personalizes the information and connects people to your big idea … at least that’s the intention.

Know Your Topic
• Sincerity is key when presenting, the more you know about your topic, the more believable you will be to your audience. This can be achieved by actually knowing everything there is to know but that’s a little unlikely for most people. The next best thing is to speak with conviction … you must know enough to be sincere.
• Keep your presentation focused on the areas that you are most comfortable speaking. This simply means that instead of trying to learn all 100 things about “x”, learn 10 things exceedingly well about “x” and stick to those items.

How to Present
• Which method is the best? From worst to best, I’d go with:
       Manuscript (worst)
       Outline (PowerPoint)
       Extemporaneous, and then
       Improvisation (best)

Nobody wants to sit in on a presentation where someone is simply reading their lines, at least I know I don’t. When you know your material so well that you can see a word and know what information you are supposed to cover, that sort of spontaneity makes for the best presentations because they have the most energy.

Choosing a presentation format is really a function of audience size – but try to make it as interactive as possible. I normally try to ask some sort of question in the very beginning that everyone can answer. It should be a question that you can tie into your topic – before I presented at the Texas Society of Architects Convention on the Purpose of Social Media for Architects, I asked, “How many people have ever been to my site before?”. Afterward, I realized I should have asked people something far less specific like “How many people use the internet during business hours?”. Getting people to engage, even at the smallest level, really makes a difference.

Project Yourself
• Make yourself heard – but don’t yell. Project your voice towards the back row unless you are in a huge room and you have to use a mic.
• Find the light … and then stand in that light. Pay just a little attention to how the space is going to be lit and make sure that you are standing in the light. If people can’t see you, they can’t hear you. It really is that simple.

So despite all these straightforward tips and techniques, most people only follow a few. My biggest fear when speaking in front of a group of people falls in line with what everyone fears – sounding like an idiot (looking like an idiot I have little control over). I have come to accept that my obvious shortcomings are simply aspects of my personality and those traits don’t always find a receptive audience.

I don’t want to change who I am or how I act because it wouldn’t be me and my sincerity would be lost. My personality actually trends towards public speaking pretty well because I like to tell stories and subsequently use those stories to get my point across. This manner of presenting is far more entertaining than reading facts and figures verbatim from a PowerPoint slide presentation. I do have one glaring problem or issue that I struggle with – talking too much and knowing when to get off the stage. That’s why I’ve saved this pointer for last:

Adios Muchachos (goodbye my friends)
• If you have 20 minutes allocated for your presentation, plan to fill 15 minutes. That extra 5 minutes will sometimes (unfortunately) get filled with ah’s and um’s, but since you should be working without a script, you will embellish parts and add some flourish along the way. It always happens.
• Nobody ever cares if you run short but everybody hates when you run long. Don’t. Run. Long. If it looks like that’s what’s going to happen, instead of speeding up and running through the presentation material like a jacked up Ewok, skip ahead in your material and reset so that you can maintain the conversational tone to your speaking.

In My Spare Time [37:05 mark]

Andrew’s Spare Time
Most of my spare time in the spring months is spent traveling with my oldest daughter and her club volleyball team. This has been ongoing for the last several years as my daughter loves playing volleyball and as a good parent, I support her interests. So this involves many early mornings on Saturdays or Sundays or full weekends. This past weekend it was a full weekend of volleyball at one of the largest events in the region: a very large qualifier tournament in Dallas. This event is held at the Dallas convention center and is a sight to behold. It is a 3-day event in which there are about 135 courts of volleyball going on at any given moment of that 3 day weekend. I mean to say it is so much volleyball you cannot even wrap your brain around it until you are in the environment. The very first time I went several years ago, I was in awe of such a thing. Now it has become old hat and I can navigate the environment like a pro, but your initial induction is very overwhelming. So the schedule is to get up early and play several matches in one day; 3 to 5 per day. And then start again the next day for the same. Although on some days it is get up very early and drive for a few hours to be somewhere by 8:00 am to play for just one day. And then drive home after a few matches are completed.

So as you may see, these are typically long days full of volleyball, excitement, stress, and sometimes heartache. But it is also wonderful to watch your child grow as a person and I can and will look back at these times an see the clear evolution of my daughter, not only as a player but as a human from a little girl into a young lady.

Bob’s Spare Time
For the umpteenth time, I am talking about making barbeque … but this time it’s different because I’ve never talked about pork belly burnt ends. These things have become my latest favorite thing and for the foreseeable future, I can’t imagine having a party where I don’t put these things on the menu. At some point, I should probably write a blog post on how these things are made because every time I put something like this on my Instagram feed, most of the questions are asking me to explain what  I did to make them. The short version is that  you start with a slab of pork belly (which  is essentially unsliced bacon) and then you cut it up into cubes, smoke it, spice it up, smoke it some more, then cook it some more, and then get out of the way of the people you are serving.

While I don’t maintain a large circle of friends, I have been expanding it a bit of late because as I practice my BBQ game, I need willing participants to come and eat the product I make. So far, the word on the street is that this is a pretty good gig to get. Let me know if you’re interested because summer is coming …


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