The remarks below are extracts from a presentation by our Managing Director, Andrew Caesar-Gordon, at the Royal Institute of British Architects, about how architecture firms and builders can pitch their designs more effectively to clients. Electric Airwaves train architect firms to win new business pitches. And many other professional service firms too. We help them find a compelling corporate story about themselves and provide presentation training so they pitch skillfully and successfully.
Architects and designers should make great pitchers. You are really immersed in what you do. You are fascinated by the challenge of design – the challenges to be overcome, the challenge in creating something new. A great design is a solution to a puzzle. And you want to tell people how you did it.
Ideally, you should have a well-known, over-arching story about your firm that appeals emotionally and rationally to people and differentiates you from the competition. If you don’t have one, you need one. It helps shape the panel’s mindset before you enter the room.
You also need a story about the project at hand. So how do you create one?
Imagine your firm is bidding to design or build a school. You might think that your project pitch story is “We have built lots of schools before so we know what we’re doing” or “We haven’t built a school before so we are bringing a fresh approach”.
These will likely be wrong. This is about you, not the client. Get someone in your firm who is not involved with the process to read the client brief and your pre-bid research.
Get them to answer a simple question in one sentence. The simple question is “Why did the client pick the winning firm?” The answer will be the firm that your potential client is confident will solve their problem best.
So let us say that your research shows that the client wants a keen price but is worried about project delivery schedules.
The answer to the question “Why did you chose your firm?” might be “We offered the right price and a successful team who we demonstrated had worked to tight schedules in the past”.
You now know what your story should be – perhaps something like ‘Confidence in Delivery’. To be confident of delivery the client needs to know you have:
The right team – people who have done this before successfully
The right ideas – how you will make it happen
The right price – maybe by offering evidence of past successful delivery at your proposed price
You now have a story framework onto which you can hang the detail.
How should you then structure the presentation of your story?
Many architects seem to think that everybody should understand the design process before they see the picture of what the design looks like. I think that pitch panels – especially the ones that aren’t made up solely of architects – find this annoying.
Humans are visual people first and foremost. What do we say when we understand something for the first time? We say “Ah, I see!”
So SHOW THEM THE PICTURE OF THE BUILDING FIRST. Think of it as a legal style of pitching. You posit the argument – or in this case the design. You back it up with evidence – maybe the why it looks like that and how the building works, and end with a strong conclusion about why you should be appointed.
And throughout it all, your three key themes are running through your presentation with proof – examples – of why this will work.
How should you tell your story?
It’s always good to start with a challenge, or a promise, or an explanation of what is going to contextualise your presentation. It gives the audience a reason right at the start for paying attention.
Norman Foster does it right up front, telling the audience what they can expect from his presentation.
Use examples, anecdotes, quotations and statistics that bring colour to your presentation, establish credibility and support your arguments.
Use language that an intelligent 14 year-old would understand. As Einstein said, if you can’t explain it to your grandmother clearly then you probably don’t understand it yourself.
Avoid jargon, for it is the weed in the garden of language. I have never been in a vertical circulation space although I have been up and down stairs and in lifts. I have never talked about floor plates. But I do walk around on floors and flooring.
When you use complex concepts or jargon, even if you are talking to fellow professionals who are familiar with them, they still must briefly stop and process the words to turn it into everyday language. And the time they are spending processing your language is time they are not spending listening to your pitch.
And say what you mean. Don’t expect the client to draw conclusions. If you have designed a similar building to the one you are pitching, don’t just say, “I’ve designed a similar building to this one”. Are you trying to say you’re experienced? Or can anticipate problems? Or the client really isn’t special? Who knows?
If the client has to interpret what you’re saying they may draw false conclusions. They may not be listening to your next sentence. Or worst, they don’t make the connection at all. So instead you might say, “I’ve designed a building which had many similarities to this one, and that means I am familiar with all the challenges and techniques. It means I have focused my attention on the unique features of your project”.
Ah, you’re talking about me, the client. Great.