One evening last week I was channel surfing and came across the NYC Planning Commission in action. A well known Landscape Architecture firm was making a presentation for a high profile project. The presenter was the head of the NY office, A person I know and had spoken with in the past. I was interested in seeing his presentation process and how he handled questions from the Commission board. Well after watching his presentation for ten minutes, I had to move on. This was one of the most painful presentations I have seen.

I've sat on juries at various schools in the NYC area, ranging from second year students to Grad school. None were as bad this presentation. Now I'm sure that the person know about the project, but it seemed that he had just a few days to prep for the presentation. Stopping to gather his thoughts, hemming and hawing, lots of ummm's, visuals not set up properly.

We've had discussions here about so many aspects of our profession, but never about presentation skills.
 We can have the most beautiful boards, but if we can not sell our work, what's the sense of all the work we've put into the presentation.

So I put it you, the members of Land 8, what do you do to prep for a important presentation and should this aspect of the profession be covered in school?

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First, wear a low-cut blouse, high-cut skirt, and high high heels, to get their attention.


We did one presentatin in school, our GIS presentation for which we spent many 24hours days at the new computer, and we all wore star-trek badges, because we felt extremely spacey by the time we were done...No-one on the jury laughed at all - that joke fell totally flat. So in my experience, limit joking, and speak in as boring and obnoxiously self-satisfied voice you can muster.

It is not uncommon for us to gather with the entire team and rehearse for at least a half day. Often any team member with the least involvement with the presentation (and yet with plenty of presentation experience) asks questions and later offers pointers (as someone who witnessed the presentation). I know I usually assume I can be that good on my feet, but I often discover during rehearsal that I'd only thought it out part way. Glad for the time to sharpen my approach

When I was attending Calpoly Pomona, we were always presenting our work in front of class for the professors, even for group projects. I'm a grad of 2008. 

I had assumed that the "stand up and talk the talk" was typical classroom procedure. 

Anyway, as somebody who was elected to be presenter for many group presentations, I'd have to say that the best way for me to prep is to just stand up in front of my group before the big presentation and do a rehearsal. 

Actors do it, and if that's what works, why not do what works? 

I am lucky in that I don't have verbal tics like the ums, uhs, likes, etc. I also don't have much of an inside voice (it's a social detriment most of the time, but as a presenter, it's GREAT to proJECT to the third balcony) 

I also imagine that I have a personal speech muse. 

My personal speech muse is Billy Mays. I think, How would he sell this? He would smile bigger, look right at everybody's eyes, and just beam out all the information. So I have to do those things too. Be the Billy.

Billy Mays? You mean the "Powered bt the air we breathe!" Oxy Clean guy?  Wasn't he coked up when he did the commercials?  Are you advocating cocaine use?  Leading to an untimely death of a drug overdose?  The people I've known on cocaine highs certainly came across as very confident and spoke loudly.  Never seemed to be at a loss for words either.  We all know dead air is deadly in a presentation.  So snort a few lines before you present!

Interesting topic Henry - I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Presentations I have always done off the cuff. If I plan too much what I want to talk about then I get totally discombobulated - I bombed a college presentation long ago because I tried to use cue cards! I wonder if that is what the person you describe did? Anyway, I'm more articulate off the cuff. But how, then, does one make sure to capture on everything important?

I was at city council this week watching another presentation and the presenter did it exactly by the book - tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them;tell them what you told them, but did it in a way that was engaging, not redundant (a small miracle!) and led listeners through the presentation easily. How did he do that? I would bet money he took public speaking courses.

Our (my firm's) current challenge is in interviews, (a type of presentation) which are kind of weird anyway. If your firm is getting interviewed for a project, what is the best way to interview? How do you interview successfully as a team (particularly if you have brought a team that fits the project but doesn't know each other well)?  I want us to be polished but personable.

I agree this should be covered in school - it could have such a dramatic effect on presentations and interviews. We spend so much time and thought on the project itself and communicating it graphically, I think we forget to put as much time and effort into communicating it verbally...


I agree. WORST public talk I ever gave was the one time I used cards rather than speaking off the cuff.

In engineering school, we got filmed (as I recall we did in HS) presenting projects and had to watch it over and over in technical communication class - analyzing ourselves for how we talked, dressed, used body language (or didn't) including eye contact, posture. gesturing, which way we faced.  In design school it fell mostly on the TAs to emphasize to-dos and don'ts, and in grad school they called you out on certain things, eg "talk to the jury not your drawings", and there were general comments but not a whole lot of emphasis.

In general: study the material, anticipate questions (study your audience), practice, keep a list of key points and words to emphasize (and not to use), if at all possible steer the audience toward the end to control comments.

Sometimes the PM in charge can't make the meeting last minute and someone fills in last minute, so maybe there's the benefit of the doubt - though at some level one has to have the ability to do the song and dance and charm the audience.

I have seen a great many of the most famous architects in the world give presentations on their work, and a great many of them are truely horrific public speakers. Either they did not bother to look at the slide presentation on the plane that one of their lackies put together for them, didn't know all what went on for the project, or didn't even know how to use a microphone or the computer.

The biggest thing is to be able to explain why you did even some of the most mundane details of the project. You need a reason, and a good one. If you can't explain it, you didn't do it right and are just going through the motions. You didn't think about it at all. Thats what I tell students when I do juries, and like my jurors in college, I am very tough but fair. Coddling does no good for anybody involved.  

A project presented from the "why" rather than the "what" is usually well received. This only works if the presenter knows what went into it and is not just a stuffed shirt with credentials expecting to show a finished product to take a bow.

Henry, you ask the best questions...   This could, and should, be an entire book.

One thing I do to prep is to get away from it and not think about it for 24 hours.  Even if I could "make it better" by working up to deadline, I always blow it if I am "too full of it" at presentation.  I much prefer a less stellar prepared package, it it means I come across as a crazed caffeine-fueled nut.  Attentive relaxation is a must..

During presentation, the one small thing I learned is to let the graphic "hang out there" for about 5 seconds before saying anything (which is an eternity at the beginning of a presentation).  Let the client's right brain get it before engaging the left

The other is honesty--especially about what you didn't have time to know.  If I don't know, I admit it.  Clients can smell bullsh*t a mile away...

Raise your hand if you are sick unto death of powerpoint presentations, especially the ones where the guys READ the few words  they have on the screen, next to the graphic..I am instantly  bored, even the word powerpoint bores me, altho I must admit, if  you can bring it to the level of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth powerpoint, it is an incredible tool.

Yuck Powerpoint. generally.


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