The first in a series of postings elaborating on those six key themes from “Why do we listen”
Every group, every time. This is the first reaon why people connect. Tried it with kids, fashion designers, media planners, Head teachers, lawyers et al. I never cease to be amazed. It is always the first theme to emerge. We connect if someone shares a thought, a dilemma, a passion, a query, a situation that has an emotional resonance for us. We all want to connect, to find the sliver of the Venn diagram where this person really understands the complexities of our lives. That our stories are rich, emotional and someone , someewhere holds out a hand to our experience.
Our thinking is intertwined with our experience and our values. We remember the references to family, to the personal, to a similar sensibility, to their aspirations, to their honesty if these situations mirror ours. Always.
Obvious. Once we engage on this fundamentally emotional level the connection extends beyond the rational, intellectual. It can be proundly engaging.
What does this mean? Once people have experienced this they get it. Can we be explicit about how we transfer this into a professional context without looking a tad Oprah-esque? Or Jeremy Kyle if you’re really unlucky.
It is incredible that despite Seth’s seminal Really Bad PowerPoint e-booklet, the majority of presentations and pitches ignore the necessity of emotional engagement. It somehow appears to lack gravitas in the quasi -serious world of corporate and real business.
Well. I will try to illustrate by example.
At RHM Architects I worked with the directors to shape up their pitch for a national RIBA competition. We had previously covered some generic skills so although they understood this as a guiding principle, putting it into practice proved tough. Particularly in a high profile pitch, relatively new outfit. High stakes so of course, they felt less able to take the risk. Invested a huge amount of resources in developing the design for a large social housing project. The stakes were very high. Easiest to revert to default and hope the plans will win them over. But the panel had seen the plans. How could we really exploit the presence of the team? They had to add something more.
Their designs were gorgeous. Despite this The Guardian had not tipped the team to win. Not good so far. Safe option - unremarkable, erudite pitch with the key focus on plans, the landscape and accompanying thinking.
bless ‘em, they were prepared to engage in some creative exercises identifying
how the panel would be feeling. We realised only a couple were architects. The
rest - residents, members of the conservation society and councilors. (Always worth the research about who you are talking to. Personalise it according to what they know, are bothered about and learning styles).The development
involved moving people from existing social housing in
What were their concerns? These young imposters would of course decimate their village. They would have little respect for the history of the community, the sense of collective identity and the practicalities of raising children in small, often cramped housing. Londoners to boot. Imposing their overpriced, style- over -substance nonsense. Wasn't this supposed to be an affordable housing scheme? How possibly could any architect understand that concept? (Sorry- we had to make some assumptions to release our imaginations…)
What did we do?
had found a bit of extraordinary kit to create the bricks for the new buildings
from the excavated earth. Not just green but creating
We also used an exquisite 18th century map, clearly pointing out the geological conditions that would shape the materials, colors and tones used in the design.
The plans sung but to who? We explored presenting the images from the perspective of how a resident would feel walking into one of these houses. What/who could they see? Did it matter that the landscaping provided a safe environment for outdoor play for kids? That the play area could be viewed from inside the house through expansive windows? That allowed natural light to flood into the homes? What is the impact of a double height atrium? Where could they park their buggy? How does a combined eating and living space improve the quality of family life? Crucially, how had these architects experienced this for themselves? Two of the architects had designed and built their own homes with very limited budgets. What could we learn from how they had chosen to live? Did it work? They had lived this stuff. It wasn’t empty rhetoric.
Vitally RHM had made a conscious decision to concentrate on housing. This was not a stepping stone to some high profile public building that would win awards and of course, illuminate their design credentials. No. Their work would potentially have a greater legacy as they were solely committed to improving the quality of people’s lives. Proving quality, cool, ecologically sound housing isn't exclusive to a wealthy minority.
You can guess the happy ending. I did lead you to it. Sorry. They won, beating six other excellent designs. Thrilled for them. It was a testimony not just to their superlative design skills (no silk purse stuff here, thankfully) but to their trust in the power of empathy to connect and engage their audience. Take a look at the press release.
Take a look at the project here. It is called three gardens. It's up and away.
To clarify. I am not an architect. Their designs deserve the credit. I simply steered them to use empathy to connect with our worst nightmare- a panel of judges.