We’ve been reflecting on our 2019 Melbourne Design Week event recently. ArchiPitch for Schools of the Future demonstrated publicly what we have long known professionally: clear and compelling communications play a crucial role in transmitting big ideas to achieve audience buy-in. This was Australia’s first ever live architects’ pitch, and it showed just how powerful an architect’s vision can be when they bring their audience along for the ride.

Seven architectural firms with specialisations in education design had just three minutes each to pitch their practice to a panel of experts, with feedback given in front of a live audience.

When the event sold out in advance, we knew we were on to something. And the mix of architects, educators, government and industry representatives in the audience told us there was plenty of interest in how to communicate – and understand – the value of good design. So what did we learn?

Focus on the “why”. When pitching, you need to drill down to the core purpose. Present the big picture and don’t get stuck in the detail.

“Staying with what is real to me, and making sure I very much focus on the why… we all know how to do things, and we’re all clever about the way we go about doing things, but why are we doing it?”,  Andrew Hayes, Director, Cox Architecture

Create a connection. Engage with your audience on a personal level. Share a sense of who you are and what you’re like to work with. Use personal anecdotes, be emotive, be humorous.

“You are community-making and you’re building confidence and regard for what you do and how you do it.” Kate Morris, Manager – Principal Capability Building and Support, Victorian School Building Authority

Tell a story. Evoke interest and critical thinking by asking your audience to come on a journey with you. You have a short amount of time, so grab their attention in the moment.

“Architects being architects, obviously they’re speaking a slightly different language than what we are saying. It’s up to them to come up with a way to explain their vision.” Tim Rowler, Business Manager, Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak and President, Catholic Education Business Administrators (CEBA)

Don’t skip process. The client is seeking out your expertise to lead them through the design and construction process. Demonstrate confidence in your ability to manage complex projects.

“This is a journey for the educators as well….they might not be confident either, so it’s a matter of helping them to understand a process or a structure that might actually get a really great outcome.” Debbie Ryan, Owner, McBride Charles Ryan

Spell out your role. Don’t be afraid to articulate your role and the client’s role, and the benefits you each bring.

“I think one of the biggest obstacles to understanding an architect’s vision is probably everyone understanding what their role is. Don’t be afraid of telling the school what your role is and what process they should follow because you have far more experience than we do in building buildings and going through this process.” Tim Rowler

Visuals are the background to your big ideas. The goal in pitching is to ensure you are the focus, not your presentation. Visual information can be a powerful tool, but imagery should evidence claims, not repeat them.

An architect’s success depends on verifiable skill but also on the clarity of exchange. And in the education sector, where design has the power to either alienate or to engage our next generation of leaders, it’s incumbent upon architects to get the messaging right.

Modelled on London’s Architect Pitch (by Archiboo), the event was supported by Melbourne Design Week, Creative Victoria, Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), Seesaw Studio, New Mac Video Agency, Built Environment Channel (BEC) and Red Brick Media.