It’s a lucky architect who has never faced public scrutiny for his or her plans; most architects and developers need to show their stuff in front of the public at least once in awhile. Here are five tips on how to do that successfully:
1) Be prepared to face the music: Anytime you plan a project that is likely to impact neighboring properties, expect to face some opposition. Consider the case of a Chicago-area developer who snagged a rare affordable chunk of property in the suburb of Oak Park in the early 2000’s and decided to plant a small hotel there. The second the neighborhood caught wind of the plan, media-savvy moms marching with strollers and placards filled the street in front of the site, creating countless hours of negative publicity for the developer; a lawyer in the neighborhood filed suit against the developer; and within weeks he threw up his hands, never realizing what hit him. The moral to the story: Check out the community and its history of dealing with developers BEFORE you commit to a project; if the community is likely to object, get community leaders involved early and plan for many meetings and updates.
2) Leave your ego at the door. You might be the world’s greatest living architect, but the little old man whose garden is going to be shaded by your new apartment building couldn’t care less. Show up on time, don’t brag about your past work, listen carefully to questions and comments, and generally show respect to the community. If they like you, they’re much more likely to vote your way.
3) Know what matters. When you showed that skyscraper to the client, you highlighted the functionality, the key design elements, and how confident you were that the units would lease quickly. When you present that same skyscraper to the neighborhood advocacy group, remember that they care much more about how long the neighborhood will be disrupted by construction, what will physically change in the neighborhood, what kinds of people your building will attract, and other things not related to how beautiful the interior design will be. Sure, they want to know that the new building will be attractive and fit into the neighborhood from a design perspective, but they’re probably more concerned about traffic flow and density.
4) Rehearse. Even the most talented performers in the world rehearse before performing. Rehearsing, even if it’s just in front of a mirror or your colleagues, will help you identify holes in your presentation and will make it less likely that you’ll get flustered at show time. Your audience may not expect to be entertained, but if you give a concise, well-thought-out and smooth presentation, you’ll have more success selling your pitch than if you stumble around, forget key points, and look flustered.
5) Make some friends before you start. If you can meet with key community leaders a few days BEFORE your presentation and learn what their chief concerns are, you may win some of them to your side even before the presentation. Then the day of the presentation, as people come into the meeting, shake hands with a few attendees (not just the people you’ve already met), ask their names, and make small talk. Now you have a few more “allies” in the audience even before you start speaking. It’s much harder for people to dislike people they feel a personal connection to, and if they like you, your chance of success is much greater.
These tips won’t salvage a bad project, but they will definitely move the needle in your favor.