Conference season is upon us. Or it’s not a conference you have to present at, you need to get something built and you need city approval to do so. Unlike in years past, you’ve been asked by someone (your office, your vision board, your professor), to make a presentation. Don’t worry, you can do it. I’m going to help you rock this out.
Again, as I mentioned in a prior post, one of my wishes is for people to learn and understand why and what we do. And since I’ve got a spare moment while I’m attending the TRB Annual Meeting in DC, I’m going to share the top six things that I do that help me as well as others that I’ve learned by making presentations over the last five years (and even beforehand that helped me ace my undergraduate public speaking course).
Before we dig in further, for the sake of this post, I’m addressing presentations of work done for architecture, planning, placemaking, engineering, and policy along with advocacy and research of those works.
Read over the guidelines.
Just like that building or street or vehicle you want to build, you need to build the thing that tells the story by the specs that the manufacturer has given you. If you only have 20 minutes, you only have 20 minutes. If you need a scale model, bring a scale model. Creativity in these things comes after you’ve combed over what’s been asked of you and you know exactly what’s NEEDED in your presentation.
If you don’t have clear guidance or it’s not written out, try calling or emailing the event organizer, the project manager or whoever has released the guidelines. Do remember, that if you’ve been told to not call or email, then you have to go with what’s on the paper and work through that challenge.
Sketch out your main points
If you use the scientific method to present your findings, distil them down to the key points. You can always answer questions during and after your presentation. Especially when you go to public meetings. Conciseness and brevity may actually get you the votes you need for your project to proceed to build out. Again, use your main points to frame your presentation and keep you in line with guidelines such as time, content or materials needed for presentation.
Design it well. Or before you start designing, learn how to design it well
Study best practices in graphic design. Your posters, slide shows, photos, websites and models need to be to scale, at the proper resolution and engaging. Google best practices in graphic design. Google how to install or find free fonts. Use sites like Canva to create infographics and quote boxes to stick into your presentations. Hack Microsoft Word and make it look like you did it in Illustrator or InDesign. In our sector, we are all designers of some kind or at the very least we can be creative and learn new skills. Flex that muscle and put it into your presentations. If you have a good grasp of these tools already, this is your time to show out. You are putting on a show. Make sure your set looks great.
Tell a good story
Now that you have your set pieces ready, it’s time for dialogue. Storytelling is vital for presenters who are trying to convince a neighborhood or government body to build something new or revamp something old. Even if you are just presenting theories and findings, seek to inspire. Storytelling puts your work in the context of the community it will serve. Yes, you may want your project to make money, but the ethical high ground here is to make sure people understand why something needs to be done and why you need to be the one to do it.
Consider a handout
When you go to a performance, you generally get a program or playbill, that helps you remember who’s on stage and what the main plot is. Same with your work. For you, a one page handout with the names of your design team, your research questions, a rendering of your building or street and why you want to build, research or present your work is sufficient to help people remember what you want to do. They can also write their own notes and questions on that handout and start the process of learning what you are doing for themselves.
Answer and don’t fear questions
The point of presentation is education, then action. People cannot take action on what you say or show them if you don’t help them understand what you are saying and displaying. While you may feel interrogated, at the end of the session, your thoughts and maybe even your designs will be better formed. Do honor a sense of decorum and don’t let others completely disrupt or discredit your work, especially if they don’t offer real solutions. Also, know that your project may be growing and be ok with letting people know that this is a phase and you’ll be presenting more later or after another revision.
Finally, even if the project isn’t approved or only one person understands your theory, you still look awesome representing your venture. I have written off certain audiences as not worthy or at least not understanding of what I do. Don’t do that in your presentation. Be the person that people want to hear or work with on this and other projects or research.
Good luck and happy presenting! Be sure to keep up with me via email and on social media and feel free to ask me any questions and offer your presentation tips. Watch me present and book me to help you prepare your next presentation!