LEAD: 5 Ways to Improve Your AEC Presentation Team’s Public Speaking Skills

Aug 17 2022

As an AEC marketing leader, your firm relies on you for presentation and interview preparation and coaching. You are tasked with helping the team deliver a technical approach with the finesse of a seasoned public speaker. Most often, your team of architects, engineers and/or contractors are not well-versed in public speaking yet keeping them gainfully employed depends on the success of the interview. So, what can you do to teach them to come across as comfortable, dynamic, and knowledgeable to the AEC selection committee? 


Here are five things you can do today to help improve your team’s public speaking skills. 


1. It’s Okay to Be a Copycat


Find a talk or presentation that you can watch or listen to as a group. Pick any topic that may be of interest to your group. You could watch a TED talk, a business leader’s keynote on YouTube, or even a presentation you have had to sit through at work.


Ask all the participants to take notes on the speaker’s delivery and list what they like and dislike. Then have a conversation about what was noticed. Items to consider:


  • Are they moving their hands in a manner that is deliberate or distracting? Take note.

  • Does the way they emphasize key words make them stand out? Do you remember those moments more than others? Note it.

  • Is their voice monotone or does it display vocal variety? 

  • Do they speak in meandering sentences? 

  • Are they pacing back and forth? 

  • Are they making intentional eye contact? 

  • Do you notice them projecting with a strong voice?

  • If they are using visuals, what captures your attention? 

  • Are you able to retain what they are saying? Does it seem structured and organized so you can follow effortlessly?

Now, what’s the point of this exercise? The point is to sharpen the way we think critically about how people communicate so we can then turn that critical eye toward ourselves. When your team can critique others’ public speaking skills they will be able to better critique their own. This activity will help them define what they like and don’t like when in the “audience.” It’s also a helpful way to help them identify things effective speakers do so they can start to adopt those delivery techniques as their own. Being a copycat will help your team feel comfortable as they practice their presentation. 


2. Phone a Friend


Next, it’s time to phone a friend, or friends, to assist. Bring in co-workers as you and your team are rehearsing. We all have blind spots when it comes to public speaking. Getting constructive feedback from other people helps us see past those blind spots. As the firm’s coach, it helps to have others reinforce what you have been teaching.


Ask for feedback about the team’s delivery on very specific areas. As the facilitator of this activity, give your “audience” some guidance. If you have noticed areas that need improvement, ask them to specifically notice and note them. 


  • Are there too many verbal fillers such as “uh,” “um,” “er,” or “like”?

  • Is your team moving their hands with purpose to accentuate a point? Or is it a nervous habit and distracting?

  • Are they engaging the audience with intentional eye contact when they are talking and listening?

When you ask for specific feedback, it’s more likely you’ll receive helpful responses. Once you have that feedback, write it down for the group and add to the rehearsal agenda to practice.


3. Don’t be Shy


No one wants to watch videos of themselves presenting and your AEC team is no exception. If you feel your team would have a hard time watching a video of a rehearsal together, send a link and ask them to watch in private. Give each person specific tips to keep in mind when watching the recording of themselves practicing their public speaking skills:


  • Remind them not to just focus on the negative. It’s much easier to notice what we are doing wrong. But it’s helpful to also identify the good public speaking skills they have—and ways they are improving over time. This review will help build the confidence that is necessary for improvement and momentum.

  • Instruct everyone to turn off the sound and just watch. Have them notice what they are doing with their hands. Are they moving? When their hands move, do they seem to move with purpose? What about their face? Is it expressive? Is it communicating emotion and passion? Have them determine that if they just watched their face, would they have a sense of the feelings they are trying to communicate?

  • Don’t make them watch the whole rehearsal. Limit it to five or ten minutes to give them enough time to sense what they are doing well and ways they can improve.

  • At the end of the exercise, ask each team member to write down one thing they want to improve. For future rehearsals have them share with the group that one point and help each other make that improvement.

4. It’s Time for a Therapy Session 


Our own history with public speaking is what drives how we deliver when speaking. Taking a deeper dive into each participant’s relationship with public speaking will help identify areas that may cause anxiety or frustration.


Have your team block out 20-30 minutes as a group to answer the following questions. The answers and thought process will help each person get a better sense of what’s going on in their mind regarding their feelings about public speaking. Have them answer the following questions privately:


  • When did you give a presentation or speech and felt like you totally nailed it? What was the context? Why do you think that time went so well?

  • When did you give a presentation or speech and felt like it landed flat? Why do you think that happened? How have you tried to improve your delivery since that time?

  • What’s one thing you wish you could change about the way you speak in public?

  • What’s one way you deliver well?

  • When you speak in public, do you think it’s important for you to be heard? Why or why not?

  • When do you communicate with passion? What does it look and sound like when you communicate with passion? How can you bring more of that to your business communication?

  • When you’re communicating confidently, how does your audience know? What evidence are you giving through your voice, body language, and facial expressions?

  • When you’re communicating nervously, how does your audience know? What evidence are you giving through your voice, body language, and facial expressions?

  • Who is someone whose public speaking you admire? Why? How can you emulate them while still being you?

5. Just Do It


The best and the worst thing your team wants to do is rehearse. Remind them that the only way they get better is by practicing. Tell them practicing doesn’t have to just be with the group, at work, for a project interview. They can practice in everyday situations. 


Challenge them to practice by offering to run the next project meeting. Is a firm principal looking for someone to conduct a brown bag lunch and learn? Encourage them to offer to lead the discussion. Remind them of many outside-of-work opportunities such as coaching, volunteering, leading a book group discussion, etc. are perfect opportunities to practice speaking and leading.


They may ask why or challenge a few of your processes, but you can explain that when they practice frequently they will be less intimidated by the prospect of speaking publicly. The more they do it, the less likely they will be to get nervous. Doing more public speaking also gives more opportunities to try new ways of delivering effectively.


If you can try one of these five ideas with your colleagues, it will help them take a solid step towards improving their public speaking skills. Ultimately, your team will get better and better and be able to communicate with greater confidence, power, and effectiveness.


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About The Author

Keri Hammond, FSMPS, CPSM

Keri is a long-standing trailblazer in the Utah AEC industry. Clients appreciate her ability to get things done – they know she does whatever it takes, with integrity, to help them build their business. Keri is known for her leadership and diplomacy; she motivates others with positivity, trust, and unwavering support.

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