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Bad communication is frightening! How to banish it for good

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What frightens you most? Creepy crawlers in the night, werewolves howling at full moons, haunted houses, or skeletons in the closet? Well, we’re scared of all those things, too, but what really frightens us is how some people communicate.

You may laugh, but it’s true! We have so many ways to communicate these days (some may say that we have a lot of ways to communicate badly) that it can seem like you’re always walking the plank over the treacherous and deep waters of messages and meanings.

Let’s take just the easiest example – and we’ve all done it. Did you hit “reply all” when you wrote a message that was just intended for one person? Did you send the right e-mail to the wrong contact? Or, just after you tossed off that angry e-mail to your (fill in the blank) boss/ex-boyfriend/brother, did dread and fear of the future consequences start to invade your body like a quick poison? For more on that topic, see this recent Wall Street Journal article here.

There are many frightening examples of the scary ways that people communicate. And, in many instances, you can’t blame it on e-mail or digital technologies. In fact, the following examples are downright terrifying.

Take these examples from The Toronto News of July 26, 1977. Keep in mind that they are actual statements from insurance claim forms where drivers attempted to summarize the details of their accidents:

“I thought my window was down, but I found out it was up when I put my head through it.”

“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”

“I saw a slow-moving, sad-faced old gentleman as he bounced off the hood of my car.”

If these sentences make your blood turn to ice, check out these examples and figure out what the author is trying to say:

“I urge you to waste no time making this candidate an offer of employment.” (Are you urging the person to hire the candidate or are you saying the candidate is not worth further consideration?)

“You will be fortunate to get this person to work for you.” (Is this person a great job candidate, or is this person extremely lazy?)

So, now that we’ve discussed the perils of communication, here are some ways to get the spook out of your spin:

  1. Chase away the miscommunication. It’s great that you can send an e-mail from a smart phone, but you need to remember that that e-mail is still a professional document. Make sure that you are being very clear and concise. If you’re not sure if you’re getting your message across, ask someone to take a look at your e-mail before you send it. By all means, don’t put a tagline on your e-mails that says “please excuse typos” – that’s for goblins and ghosts. Read over your e-mails thoroughly before you send them. There’s no excuse.
  1. Don’t be scared to pick up the phone. E-mail can be a terrific communications tool – it’s easy, it’s fast, and you can send an e-mail almost anywhere. At the same time, it’s not always the perfect way to get your point across, and your tone in an e-mail can be easily misconstrued. Don’t send an e-mail to someone sitting three feet away from you. And don’t send a four-paragraph e-mail to your printer to clarify how many business cards you need. Before you send a dozen e-mails back and forth in the same e-mail chain, do yourself a favor and pick up the phone. It will be a treat, not a trick!
  1. Bury the jargon. When you’re in a profession like architecture, you’re going to use a lot of words and phrases that help you communicate with your colleagues. Unfortunately, when you use this jargon around other people, they’re going to think you’re Frankenstein. If you really want to talk to potential clients and other audiences – and get them to understand you – then go to the cemetery at 2 a.m. and bury that jargon in a deep grave (full moon optional). Going forward, make sure you use plain language to convey your ideas and messages. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you’ll be able to communicate.

Image courtesy Platt College

Raise Your Professional Profile from the Dead

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It’s October once again; when bumps in the night and creepy creatures can rattle even the bravest folks. But the scariest thing that can happen to you this season is when you realize you’ve let your professional profile slip into the darkness! Here are a few tips to help you change from an industry ghost into a highly visible professional and raise your profile from the dead.

Jump-start your presence on social media. We know that social media can be a scary prospect for those of you who have yet to become actively engaged in using it to promote your business. In fact, in our next post, we’ll lay out a detailed plan for how you can conquer your social media fears and get with the rest of the cyber-verse. But for those of you already on social media – and who may have let their activity fall into oblivion – a focused approach is the best way to get back into the land of the living.

If you haven’t already, you can create a blog that’s connected to your website. Write about topics that demonstrate your expertise, current projects, or design trends.  Try to post to your blog at least three times per month.

Next, use Twitter and LinkedIn – probably the two most important social media tools you can use to raise your profile – to further augment your exposure to current and past clients, potential clients, and the media as well as to other architects, engineers, and designers. Use Twitter to lead audiences to your website, blog, and vice versa. A LinkedIn profile will help you maximize your professional connections. Additionally, A/E/C industry networks like Architizer, Honest Buildings, Houzz, Porch, and others are excellent ways to network with other industry professionals, build relationships, and get more work. Set a goal to post at least three times per week.

Get involved with professional organizations. Participation in key professional organizations can help you build and maintain valuable relationships, be more accessible to potential clients, and get in front of the right types of clients. For example, if you want to reach developers and other real estate industry leaders to get more commercial work, then participating in pro organizations where they are involved is an effective way to reach these decision makers. For greatest impact, you need to attend events on a regular basis, and participate in committees or join boards, in order to gain access to the most valuable networking opportunities.

Share your expertise and thought leadership at conferences. Another thing you can do to pull your low profile out of zombie land is to begin participating in panels and speaking opportunities. These can be excellent ways to share your experience, expertise and personality with your target audiences. If public speaking scares you to death, start off small and practice with colleagues in your firm. For your presentations, focus on topics that demonstrate your expertise in particular building typologies or industry sectors such as healthcare. Once you get more comfortable speaking, participate in a panel discussion at your local AIA chapter. If you find you’re good at it and you enjoy it, you can start submitting yourself to speak at bigger meetings and conferences for greater exposure.

Just because the daily grind has caused you to let your exposure slip into an early grave, doesn’t mean it’s dead. All it takes is a strategic, steady approach to social media, networking, and speaking opportunities to revive yourself and get the professional exposure you deserve. Your audiences will be screaming “it’s alive!”

Image ROI: When you invest in good photography, you invest in your future success

 

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This month, we’re giving AEC industry professionals tips on the best ways to improve their websites. In our first installment, nationally recognized architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf offers insight on investing in good photography. The Columbus-based photographer has been shooting architecture and commercial related images for over 25 years. His images have been published worldwide and over his career has done a wide variety of work for many of the world’s well-known architects and designers. Brad was recently selected by ArchDaily as one of the Top 13 Architectural Photographers in the World to Follow.

By Brad Feinknopf

We live in a visual society. People gravitate to the image. In Eric Bricker’s 2008 documentary film, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, narrator Dustin Hoffman quotes the renowned architectural photographer saying,

“Architects live and die by the images taken of their work; as these images alone are what people see. For every one person who visits a private house, there may be ten thousand who only view it as a photo.”

This quote – which I’ve proudly attached to my e-mail signature – was made before the advent of the Internet and those “ten thousand” people to which Shulman refers could now easily number in the hundreds of thousands or even millions when one considers the multitude of Design and Architectural blogs that publish imagery.

Digital newsletters and alerts from top architectural blogs like ArchDaily or Architizer show up in your inbox, largely as a series of images, and only when you click on them do you get the words. Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Stumbledupon and other image-driven social media platforms are growing exponentially. Even Twitter, which is a text-based platform, has become a popular vehicle for disseminating links to videos and images.

Would you maintain a subscription to Architect, Architectural Record, Interior Design or Contract if there were no photography? How many periodicals do you read that contain mere pontifications on design and present no images? Obviously, imagery is important and it’s not just important, it’s paramount.

I am an architectural photographer and I should know. When someone visits my website, I have one chance to grab their attention. I have tirelessly gone through my galleries to make certain that each one shows depth. I constantly update my online portfolios so they maintain their freshness, and I try to make sure my descriptions are strong, cohesive and grammatically correct. But in the end, it is the first handful of images – and these images alone – that will either compel the viewer to delve deeper into my website or move on.

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As you market your projects, your challenge is exactly the same as mine. When a visitor lands on your website, you need the right photography to draw the viewer in or they will click away to someone else’s homepage.

The same is true for competitions and the press. I’ve spoken about the importance of imagery to numerous editors for prominent architecture and design publications, as well as jurors for AIA and other major competitions at every level. They all say the same thing: “The first cut is made entirely based upon photography. If the photography isn’t good, we move on. If the photography is good and the project looks interesting, we look deeper.”

Regardless, whether the material is your website, an awards submittal or a package for a print or online publication, it is the photography you are using that will ultimately move you beyond the first pass.

In light of this, try viewing photography not as an expense but as an investment. Like any investment, good photography should provide a return: it should garner you new work, help you win awards, and, hopefully, even get your firm and your projects published.

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The way I see it, if my clients get new commissions, win awards, or get published, I have, in some small capacity, helped them to succeed through my photography. I’m not so arrogant as to believe that their success is solely due to my work and my images, but I will say that a good project with great photography will often go much farther than a great project with poor photography. Likewise, if you have a great project with equally great photography, the possibilities may be endless.

So, when you’re looking at your website and thinking, “How can we do things better? How can we win that next commission, or that next award? How can we get ourselves published?” You will almost always find the answer by looking to your imagery. Is it up to snuff? Could it be better? Investing in the right photography could very likely be one of the most critical factors in determining the level of success your firm may enjoy in the years ahead.

Creating Videos to Showcase Your Portfolio and Your Firm

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In our previous posts this month, we’ve covered using drawings and diagrams to communicate the design complexities of your projects and we’ve given you a strategic plan for writing your first book. In this post, we want to take you step-by-step through creating your own videos and using them to showcase your portfolio and your firm to the world.

Video can be an excellent vehicle for promoting your projects, people and ideas. Not only can you shoot a virtual tour of your latest building, you can also film any lectures or speaking engagements that you do. It can be a great way to share your expertise with students, colleagues, fans, and journalists. Video is also an effective medium to demonstrate your style and personality – important aspects of your overall brand – to potential clients or media outlets that may be interested in interviewing you. Best of all, with today’s technology, you can make your own video with a smart phone and peripheral microphone. Here’s how:

Develop your vision. Plan out your video scene by scene. For example, if you want to create a virtual tour of your newest building, map out in your mind what this virtual tour will look like when it’s finished. Identify the key elements of your design and what your audience – students? target media contacts? – will find interesting, innovative and unique.

Write it down. Based on your vision, write up a basic script for your video. Writing down a simple script will help you organize your thoughts and ensure you end up with a focused, effective video. Obviously, if you’re highlighting specific design features along your virtual tour, you’ll want to point those out and briefly mention any challenges or issues involved.

Plan your shoot. Make sure you schedule your shoot ahead of time and plan for the site to be camera ready and staged the way you want it to look on filming day. Put together your own crew for the shoot: someone to film you and someone to help keep interruptions or distractions away from “the set” during filming.

Lights, Camera…Action! The day of the shoot, make sure you have plenty of time to film your video, and don’t rush. Make sure to test the video for sound quality and light for best results. Try to film two or three takes so you’ll have more options when editing.

Edit your video. Upload your footage to desktop editing software – such as Apple’s iMovie or Microsoft’s Windows Movie Maker – and edit your final video. Use transitions (fade in, fade out, etc.) and titles to make your video look more professional. Try to keep your final product to under 5 minutes. If you need more time, split your virtual tour into parts (Virtual Tour Part 1, Part 2, and so on).

Distribute your video via social media and your website. Once your video is complete, upload it to a YouTube or Vimeo channel. You can make the video private until you’re ready to show it to the masses. When you’re ready to share it, make the video public and e-mail a link to your channel to everyone you want to view it. This is much easier than trying to send out the actual video file – which will likely be too large to e-mail anyway.

You’ll also want to tweet the link of the video on Twitter and post it to your other social media profiles such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Don’t forget to use creative hashtags and key words to get your videos trending.

Finally, post the video on your website. Since your video actually “lives” on YouTube/Vimeo, you can easily have your web developer create a page on your website where the video will play directly.

When posted to your website and shared via social media, videos are an effective, dynamic – not to mention fun! – way to showcase your work and your brand to the world.

 

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