This is the third in a series of posts on architecture communication skills by Emily Edwards, with contributions from Aurora Murphy, Samantha Donnelly and Martin Bryant. 

In the previous story in this series, we looked at the verbal communication challenges that students can face when performing a crit (a formal presentation of architectural design work in front of peers and a panel of tutors and industry professionals). In this post, we share some teaching and learning strategies. 

Why prepare for the verbal presentation? 

UTS Lecturer Samantha Donnelly believes that students should spend time refining the verbal description of their work with their tutor as part of a studio exercise. This can alleviate some of the anxiety around presenting. And UTS Professor Martin Bryant agrees. He advises his students to plan the ‘story’ that they would like to tell: “Make a story. Start strongly. The key ideas that I am going to present today are… then develop the ideas, then return to the key ideas at the end.”  

Martin also emphasises the importance of rehearsing the presentation: “You need to practice, then practice again, then practice again. Don’t turn up to the presentation with no practice! You need to show us that you’re passionate, that you mean it, and the only way [to do that] is to make sure you’ve practiced it.” 

A four-step crit preparation strategy 

In the language development tutorials that we ran with first-year architecture students, we designed and trialled a four-step strategy for crit preparation to help them with the challenges mentioned in our previous post: time limit, anxiety, fluency and vocabulary. This strategy was one of several we developed and evaluated through our action research project, and it also aligns with the expert advice from Samantha and Martin mentioned above. 

The four-step strategy may be useful for all students to think about, not just those with identified language needs, and of course these steps go alongside creating the architectural design, drawings and models. Architecture subject coordinators and tutors could support their students by going through these steps as part of their studio work. 

We use this concept sheet below to introduce the steps – students can print it out and make notes on the other side, or keep it somewhere to refer to as a reminder each time they do a crit. We then work through the steps one by one, illustrating and practicing them.  

Preparing for the architecture crit presentation concept sheet displaying four steps: (1) key concepts, (2) build vocabulary, (3) write down what you want to say and (4) practice!
Preparing for the Architecture Crit Presentation (by Emily Edwards)

1. Key concepts 

It is important to focus on talking about key (theoretical) concepts that have informed the design, and what makes the design focused and responsive. If students haven’t prepared for this, they often fall back on simply describing what the design already shows (which is not necessary).  

2. Build vocabulary 

Students should develop a list of important architecture words from the start of the semester, and then choose some that are relevant to describing the ideas behind their design. They could put these words on palm cards to use during the crit presentation. 

3. Write down what you want to say 

Writing down notes or a full design statement is a great way of preparing for the crit presentation as it helps students to organise their ideas, and make them more conceptual. Of course, they should not simply read out notes or statements during the presentation, so as part of this step, they could create palm cards containing key words and phrases. 

4. Practice! 

In the language development tutorials, we give students a chance to practice their final crit presentations and get peer and tutor feedback. They could also practice in front of their studio classmates, as well as friends and family who don’t know much about their designs.  

Student feedback 

We collected data from students through surveys and several focus groups asking them about the usefulness of this concept sheet (and others). In the surveys, an average of 63% of students reported that they had already used the crit presentation strategy that we’d been teaching. The remaining students said they would use it soon, most likely at the end of session. The students told us that the ‘speaking steps’ really helped them with their crit preparation: 

I feel it’s quite useful, I really like the presentation (concept sheet). Because when I’m nervous I can’t organise my speaking steps, like which one I’ll say first. So this is really good for organising my speaking steps.

Bachelor of Architecture student

They (the concept sheets) help you to manage your thinking and manage your time. If you do your work step by step, you will never get lost.

Bachelor of Design in Interior Architecture student

Download the concept sheet

Download a PDF version of ‘Preparing for the Architecture Crit Presentation’:

In our next and final post of the series, we share a specific activity for helping students with crit preparation. 

  • These are really excellent steps for presenting at Arch Crits and beyond as well. Also, as you pointed out Emily, not just those with identified language needs. All students can think about these steps and I know the markers will thank them! The PDF poster should go on the walls of studios all over building 6. I’ll definitely recommend it be attached to assessment briefs in Canvas.

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