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October 23, 2012, by admin

The Art of Storytelling

Every day I find it more and more important to develop my skills as a storyteller.  Storytelling touches many aspects of my day to day life at SHP.  It affects how I present, how I perform business development activities, and even how I think about the future.  So what makes a good storyteller?

I have asked this question a lot recently as more and more of my time is spent doing business development and presenting.  A good storyteller, in my mind, is someone who uses words or images to convey emotional investment.  A storyteller can connect with someone else and make him or her feel what he or she are feeling or thinking.  A good storyteller understands how their audience processes ideas and emotion.  Others want to listen to good storyteller.

Unfortunately, I believe this is one of the major pieces of an architectural education that is missing in our schooling.  (Another essential piece that is missing is how to create and manage successful business models, which is another blog post for another day.)  When I was developing the subject for this blog post, I was able to debate the merits of the idea with one of my colleagues.  He argues that we did, in fact, receive some instruction in storytelling during our studio classes in college.  “Is storytelling not a skill learned during crits and refined through the critical reviews with our professors,” was his argument for how we learn these fundamental skills.  But our skills as storytellers are hardly refined discussing design with others that basically think like we think.  Our lexicon and palette of images are learned from those same professors reviewing our work and essentially speak directly to how architects or contractors think.  I never participated in a critique that included someone from outside of the building industry, and I believe therein lies the gap.

The first time that presenting transitioned to storytelling for me was when we started to educate owners about Building Information Modeling (BIM).  A completely new challenge arose around helping owners and clients understand the BIM revolution that was changing our industry.  This was also the first time where the traditional “PowerPoint” presentations started to be insufficient.  I have tried many different software programs to present, my current favorite is Prezi, but none could disguise the fact that I needed to develop better storytelling skills.

My focus on storytelling is where my current energies are being expended.  It is a work in progress.  As I present more and more, the types of presentations that I give are changing, hopefully with better developed skills.  Earlier in my career my presentations focused on training and catching up to the latest trend in architecture.  More recently I am able to present on my vision of the future.  I am lucky to have been able to learn and listen to many people that I would consider masters of storytelling; Phil Bernstein from Autodesk is one of my favorites.  I am also lucky to be a part of our marketing and business development efforts here at SHP where I continue to be provided with opportunities to refine my skill.

So, I challenge you with this.  Next time you present, think of it as telling a story and see if your results are better.