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WORDS THAT BUILD: Clarifying Presentations to Clients through Rhythmic Emphasis

Tip #2: Use rhythmic accents to create a persuasive story to your client.

By Norman Weinstein
May 9, 2008

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of articles entitled Words That Build, an exclusive series by Norman Weinstein focusing on the overlooked foundation of architecture: oral and written communication.


How could a George Gershwin song imaginably help you with presenting your designs to clients? Unlikely as it might seem, “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” (“Got a rhythm, a rhythm, a rhythm / that pitter-pats in my brain”) could serve as a potent tool to translate an abstract design dialogue into a persuasively dramatic story.


Presentations to clients can be adult forms of childhood’s “Show-and-Tell.” Of course, we’re talking about a sophisticated presentation synthesizing graphics with words with the goal of translating client desires into feasible design. But Show-and-Tell it is – unless the Show-and-Tell model is replaced by “Show-and-Listen-and-Rethink-and-Improvise-and-Revise.” Read that hyper-hyphenated nine word phrase ALOUD and you can hear a rhythm. The hyphens might be annoying – but they were Emily Dickinson’s favorite punctuation mark, and contributed to her achieving mastery in writing persuasively moving poetry. This is not your job – unless you take a poet’s vow of poverty. Your job is establishing trust with clients through persuasively organizing words and images so that client intentions and your design intentions fit on the same page and eventually on the same site. Here is how George Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” comes into play:


Tip # 2: Spoken and written presentations need to rhythmically accent key concepts. Even your pauses should be considered as moments of rhythmic emphasis. Your silences (or generous white spaces between paragraphs signaling conceptual transitions in your documents) give clients cognitive breathing space to reflect upon how faithfully you have responded to their aspirations. The presentation has to be more than lucid, client-responsive, and comprehensively realistic within temporal, budgetary, and environmental constraints. It needs to establish rhythmically charged “pitter-pats” (those Gershwin rhapsodized about) in your client’s head and heart, emphasizing key design features. Convincing verbal presentations need to be effectively integrated with appropriate, rhythmically accented images of your design, both still and animated, pencil and computer drawn. Forget that PowerPoint has its own automatic sequencing rhythm. And don’t be afraid to interrupt animated virtual walkthroughs to encourage questions and opinions from your co-creators. Your clients are not “audience” unless you’re practicing for a second-career off-Broadway. Clients have their own rhythm of processing design information as you have your presentation rhythm. Synchronize them and you’ll succeed.


Even if you don’t think you’re a particularly creative sort of communicator, you can be rhythmically convincing through practice. Use a hand-held digital voice recorder and rehearse future presentations. Do them in a flat unstressed monotone on purpose initially. Give just the facts. Then transcribe your words. Try again – but this time, ac-cent-u-ate the positive. Ham it up. Baroquely dress-up the facts. Make your presentation rhythmically charged. Transcribe that on paper. Now you’re ready to appreciate another Gershwin tune: “Nice work if you can get it / and you can get it if you try.”


Norman Weinstein writes for Architectural Record and other publications and teaches communication skills to architects. He can be reached at

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© 2008