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Nuts + Bolts #2: You Can't SELL If You Can't TELL

You talk all the time but are you communicating clearly? Use your words effectively to build your influence.

By Tami D. Hausman, Ph.D.
March 5, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of Nuts+Bolts, an exclusive ArchNewsNow series to provide A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.


You went to architecture school to become a good communicator...right? I’ll take a risk and say that chances are you probably didn’t. But if you want to be a great architect, engineer – or any other kind of professional – you need to know how to communicate clearly and effectively.


You simply can’t avoid it. You communicate every day, whether you are meeting with colleagues in your office, talking to a client on your cell phone, e-mailing a consultant, or tweeting your followers. While we live in the digital age, and communication may seem to flow easily, there’s a lot more room for error. We’ve all had that gut-wrenching feeling of hitting the “send” button on an e-mail that had the wrong content or went to the wrong person.


There’s no question that you have to pay attention to what you say and do. It’s not just technology that trips us up. It’s also those pesky words! Even if we think our meanings are obvious and our content is clear, often they’re not. Because we’re busy and sometimes distracted, we’re not always focused on what we’re saying or writing.


But the more effective you are in speaking, writing, and using social media (for those of you who do – and we think you should!), the more you can build your influence in the marketplace. That’s why clear communication is the foundation of a strong, integrated communications program. It comes down to three basic principles:


      1. Be proactive

      2. Speak to the needs of your audience(s)

      3. Demonstrate your value


Luckily, it doesn’t take much work to implement these principles. In just a few easy steps, you can become a much more effective communicator.


Let’s start at the beginning. Before you do anything, you need to craft your message. By that, I mean your elevator pitch – a few simple, clear sentences that capture your firm’s unique culture and explain clearly why you should be top-of-mind for clients. Internalize your message so that it becomes so familiar to you that you can say it to anyone you meet, from a potential client to a vendor or someone sitting next you on your next flight to Chicago.


If you really want to give your message some influence, you need to get everyone in the firm on board so that your marketers, professionals, and even administrative staff are using it. And that means everything you say as well as everything you write, both externally and internally. So, for instance, if you design the best floating hotels on the planet, make sure that everyone in the firm can explain why your buildings don’t spring leaks, never sink, and consistently win accolades for guest satisfaction.


Once you streamline your message, you need to de-jargonize the way you write and speak. What does that mean? Well, unless you are sending materials about a project to a trade publication such as Architectural Record or Civil Engineering, it’s critical that you speak clearly about your work. If you use industry jargon – and it’s hard not to! – people outside your industry will not understand what you are saying.


On the flip side, if you can communicate clearly, you will have a much better chance of opening a conversation with that potential client who’s been on your radar for six months. You will put yourself in the driver’s seat by explaining the highlights and strengths of your work concisely and clearly. You will also be able to control the messages about your accomplishments and explain how your clients benefitted from working with you. There’s no substitute. It’s always better to describe your project in your own words, rather than have someone else misinterpret it.


Since communication is a two-way conversation, be sure to define your audience and target your message to the decision makers at the companies that you want to reach. Think about what is most important to the people at the top and the kind of information they might want to have.


For example, you might have finished a new urban mixed-use building that won a national design award, which is great news. You designed spacious apartments and popular retail attractions that have become a magnet for people all over the city. In addition to creating great spaces, perhaps you found a way to naturally ventilate the building, which saved on future operating costs. You also added a green roof-turned-urban farm, which is providing food for the surrounding community.


Because it’s an award-winning building, you certainly want to emphasize the design story when you’re describing this project to your peers. Here’s where you need to stop and reconsider your audience. On the other hand, if you’re talking to a potential client, he or she may also be interested to know that you are not limited by the boundaries of certain typologies or programs – you can think outside the box. In this case, you didn’t just mark off a LEED checklist, but you expanded the notion of sustainability by making your project economically and socially viable as well. And all clients want to know that you can stretch their investment dollars and meet their bottom line.


The most important things about a building are not always obvious and they’re not always captured in a single photograph. Likewise, good communication is not static – it’s an ongoing exchange of information. It needs to engage people. One of the best ways to do this is by teaching people about an idea or giving them information that they don’t already have.


While it’s critical that you stay in front of your clients on a regular basis (using e-blasts and newsletters, among other tools), you can actually provide helpful information. It’s common for firms to send out newsletters that invariably list their latest and greatest projects, but you might want to try a different approach. How about a useful tip about business or design practice, information about the latest workplace trends, or 10 ways to become more environmentally responsible? These are things that can enrich your audiences’ understanding of design and the world around them, while also creating greater better experiences for your clients and users.


Last but definitely not least, be proactive. Take the initiative. Go out and talk to people, blog, or tweet. We live in a day and age where you have endless ways to market your services, so what are you waiting for? Create your message, design your communications strategy, and start building your influence!



Founder of integrated communications firm Hausman LLC, Tami Hausman is an expert advisor to designers and related professionals. She teaches her clients how to leverage their expertise to get more business and build their influence inside and outside the AEC industry. Tami is also an architectural historian who frequently writes and lectures about trends in architecture and urban planning. Contact her at or follow her



Also see:


Nuts + Bolts #1: Mission Possible: Increase Your Value Without Lowering Your Fees
Fact or fiction: Lowering your fees makes you competitive? You decide.
By Steve Whitehorn


(click on pictures to enlarge)

Johnathan Ward