The meeting is on. You’ve got 90 minutes in a conference room and 12 intent client faces focused on you and your design team. How you connect with this client as you present your ideas or capabilities can make a sincere difference in winning the project or forwarding your design vision. SideMark asked two top California design professionals about the critical capability of presenting. Sandra Guy is Principal, Interior Design at LPAS Architecture and Design in Sacramento. Jerry Griffin, AIA, is Associate Principal at Studios Architecture in San Francisco.
In the age of email and video teleconferencing, is a face-to-face presentation still important?
Sandra Guy: Absolutely. There is a great deal of interchange that happens face-to-face that just can't be experienced through technology. In the design business, presentations often include material samples, or real-time sketching and graphic brainstorming, which are challenging at best via video teleconferencing and impossible via email. Face-to-face presentations allow us to effectively read subtleties. Also, we've found that presenting in person allows for a greater degree of spontaneity, which is often valuable to the creative process.
Jerry Griffin: By the time you are invited to interview for a new project, your capabilities are already prequalified. A large part of selecting an architect is chemistry, and the only way to sense that is in person in the same room. Like on-line dating, the computer can match up compatibilities but it still comes down to the actual date. Even for staff job interviews, we would never hire even a junior candidate without a face-to-face meeting.
Can you share a memorable presentation or part of a meeting that you helped create?
Griffin: We made an unusual presentation a while ago for a community center in the Bay Area. The center was to include children’s areas, so our team used Lego-type blocks to construct various models of the center. We also filmed the construction of those models, then showed that assembly process in a fast-forward video at the meeting. In addition to the fast-forward Lego assemblies, we created short graphic animations, fly-throughs with key comments printed on the building walls, and even filmed "man on the street" interviews to show the client that we would engage the community in the design process.
Guy: My favorite presentations are when our team is sharing design concepts with clients during the beginning stages of a project. For the California State Lottery headquarters, our design team presented a product that we wanted to use for some of the interior windows in the project. We had taken some voided Lottery tickets, shredded them up, and had them sandwiched between two pieces of acrylic. The resulting window mock-up was a colorful, fun, confetti-like composition that was a true representation of what the client is all about. (the installed windows pictured at right )
During a big meeting, how do you gauge that client is engaged?
Guy: You can't be so absorbed in what you're saying that you tune out your client, so a bit of multi-tasking is involved, such as observing your audience's eye contact and body language as you're speaking, and noticing to
what degree they are participating in the discussion and asking questions.
Griffin: I look for nodding of agreement or note-taking while others are speaking. If they are checking their smart phones then we have lost them.
Do you use humor when presenting?
Griffin: Not normally and never planned. Clients are about to spend a lot of money on a building project and they are looking for someone who will be a responsible leader.
However, if the mood in the room feels a little less serious, a humorous aside can sometimes help build chemistry. I usually save the levity for before or after the pitch.
Guy: I always make sure that I know my audience and venue before I attempt to use humor. For instance, during an educational presentation or speaking engagement to an industry group, humor can be appropriate and even welcome. But for a presentation or interview to secure new work, you have to be very careful to assess if humor is appropriate. If in doubt, I avoid it.
How do you train your junior staff?
Guy: The junior staff makes presentations to their peers about the projects on which they're working. It gives them experience and builds confidence. We encourage people to attend industry-related seminars and presentations so that they may be exposed to a variety of presentation styles and topics.
Griffin: We encourage the younger staff to give presentations within the office, or to present parts of a design project to the client after we have the job. We also suggest participating in Toastmasters or other public speaking organizations.
Thoughts on international presentations and how they sometimes vary?
Griffin: Presentations that we've made in Asia and the UK tend to be more formal than in the U.S. In Asia, no matter how large the audience, there is usually a single leader that we must address. Client decisions appear to be less consensus-based than in the West. Of course, if there is an interpreter involved we must cut our presentation in half to allow for the translation process. It forces us to keep the ideas very clear and the language simple, which is a good strategy for presentations anywhere. Physical study models have proven to be even more essential overseas, as they help bridge the language gaps.
Can you recall a great, creative presentation that you have attended?
Guy: The most memorable presentations that I've seen are those when the presenter says or does the unexpected. One involved a crazy skit that was done to make a point. Another was delivered by a speaker who was bold enough to say things the rest of us would only think of saying (but would never dare speak!). I've endured many ho-hum, documentary style presentations, so "the unexpected" is welcome in my book.
SideMark offers even more insights from San Francisco-based communications expert Christine Boehlke. She is CEO North America Public Relations for Grayling, which is a worldwide consultancy in public, government, and investor relations. Boehlke fielded our questions using her thirty-years of presentation expertise.
Why should firms think of their presentation style as part of their bigger positioning?
1. In professional services, “perception is reality.” If the client’s potential firm doesn’t come across in the presentation as being smart, accessible, energetic and inspiring of confidence – why would the client want to hire them? 2. If you are only dealing in content then just send an electronic proposal. If you are dealing in human relationships – which are as or more important than the content –prepare to make a great impression. 3. Your presentation is not only is a reflection of your overall brand quality – it is your “first date” on the way to what is a very personal relationship about ideas and collaboration for client success.
Absolute musts for a big pitch?
1. If you don’t rehearse at least three times in advance then that all-important command performance presentation—well, it is really just a rehearsal. 2. Rehearsals must be done in “like” room environments and spoken out loud – not “said in one’s head.”
What are some of the common missteps that even senior presenters commit?
1. Talking too much about each slide. You should give ideally 30 seconds or less per slide – anything over one minute is deadly. 2. Not involving your audience. Build in a few “reality check” comments like “Is this how you perceive it as well?” If you get nods then great. But if you find out they think differently, be ready to hedge your comments based on the feedback they give you -- rather than learn at the end that you lost them at the beginning. 3. Over-dependence on slides. Particularly in a first capabilities meeting, the PowerPoint with copy and pictures of all your great projects is not the “command performance.” Instead, your future relationship with the client is the priority.
What should a firm look for when selecting a presentation trainer?
1. Interview a trainer candidate in advance and ask your key questions about techniques, content, international expertise. 2. Hire someone who says they want to train you on one of your own presentations. That is more custom, offering a chance for you to really practice, rather than some generic one they bring. 3. Get someone who can tutor you in writing PowerPoint copy that works for you, rather than against you. 4. A speaker’s ability to establish rapport with the prospect and to demonstrate their ability to think fast on their feet are two of the key criteria being evaluated – so make sure your trainer works with you on these skills as well – not just a rote presentation. That includes movement around the room, body language and eye contact. The training should not be “podium based” but rather “how to work a room” based.