How to Make the Most out of Zoom

This is a guest post by Issy Spence.

Things have changed over the past few weeks and it is likely your final presentations and crits will now take place on Zoom (or whichever similar software applies to you) and this might be daunting for some people. Yes, we know that presenting your project and being a part of crits is completely normal and expected as an architecture student, but if you’re being asked to send in a video presentation or be able to explain your ideas over a webcam, it’s definitely not the same. There is definitely a lack of familiarity and physical presence that comes with these virtual meetings over Zoom.

On one hand it is harder to give an overview of the project, as you don’t get the whole wall pin-up. On the other hand, you are really in control of what the critic panel are seeing. You are the director and can control where the critic is looking, instead of them glazing over or getting focused on one particular part of your project. We would encourage you to see this as a positive opportunity where you can not only work on your presentation skills (which will come in handy for when you get some work experience) but it will also let you experiment with some digital skills that you might not have explored beforehand.

Let’s be real. You don’t have access to the workshop to make high-end models, but you could try to replicate the same with  a render. This tutorial by Archi Hacks shows you how to create a realistic looking model with a stunning result. 

You also will not be able to get the same level of interaction with your tutors. If possible, have open a drawing you’re working on set up on Photoshop which you can then screen-share with your tutors and in some cases hand over the controls to your desktop so that they can draw in notes and sketches. This idea was from the brilliant Thomas Rowntree also on YouTube – go check his videos out!

Here are some achievable tips that we would suggest for you to try and implement:

  1. Basic set-up

We’ve previously mentioned the importance of having a dedicated space for you to do work in and how this will keep you in the ‘work’ frame of mind and avoid procrastination. As well as this, you need to remember that you are still talking to your tutors and so finding a quiet space for about half an hour is key. Make sure your household members know when you will be having a call or just close your door, so you mean business.

  1. Draw a storyboard

If you’re struggling to keep your work organised or only have limited time with your tutors, try and draw out a storyboard of what you want to present. Keep it concise and think about any questions you want to ask. You can do this in your sketchbook pretty easily.

  1. Write your script. 

As you are not there in person, the words you are saying have more resonance. Plan what you want to say and practice it out loud. Time yourself. Avoid saying ‘and then’ ‘and then’… Avoid saying ‘This is the plan’. Instead, think about what you’re talking about results in, what are the consequences of it, why is it important? Keep questioning yourself so that your tutors don’t waste time trying to understand the gist of it and not get down to the actual details.

  1. Scale

Consider the scale of your drawings and how much detail will be visible. Of course, you want your drawings for your portfolios too but think about how easy it is to read your screen. Ensure you cover the Macro to the Micro. Again, by setting up a mock-up of this, you might be able to understand this better yourself.

  1. Keep it simple

Think about the design of your slides. Don’t do dissolving transitions and include extra faff that doesn’t add anything meaningful. Don’t try and cram in too much information at once either. Use your cursor to ‘point’ to things, but be careful you don’t use it as a nervous thing and move your mouse frantically all over.

  1. Practice

Call up a friend and rehearse it through with your friends over Zoom. Record yourself on your phone if necessary and just practice talking to the camera. The more you practice, it will not only make your presenting skills sharper, but it will give you more confidence too.

  1. Timing

Think about transition times. What effect do you want to create? Perhaps you are conveying research and want to show statistics to build up an image of the issue whilst you talk over. Or is it that you want to focus on a particular moment and would like to spend some time describing the image?

  1. Experiment

With a digital format, there is now an opportunity to use mixed media, inserting video clips, animated sections, GIFs. The possibilities are open to some new methods. Think about this but don’t get too fixated on adding more to your workload and trying to become an after-effects wizard on top of your degree project. Perhaps you could click through a sequence of diagrams in a simple way.

  1. Repeat your drawings. 

Utilise the digital format and repeat drawings to orientate your viewers to where you are talking about in the project. You will know your project quite well, but for fresh eyes without an overall image they may get lost. Feel free to repeat it several times. Also you can zoom into different scales.

Pro Tip* 

Your (re)viewers may have different screen proportions. Anything above 1080 pixels on the short side (screen height) will probably get chopped off. Consider and decide on the Aspect Ratio. Decide if you’re going DIN (A4, A3) or 4:3, 16:9. (Diagram) 

Hopefully, that helps you or gives you some ideas on ways to use virtual meeting methods such as Zoom to your advantage. Video presentations don’t need to be scary or seem like a chore. Try and stay proactive between tutorials. Some people tend to make a lot of effort and put in the work and once the tutorial is over, they go back to procrastinating. Use this momentum to write down a list of tasks for you to work on and get some ideas going. If you have any questions for your tutors in the meantime, write these down and after a few days, send over a quick email. It will keep the project fresh in their mind during your next call and you instantly have something to work on and talk about next time.

You might also want to ask for feedback after your presentation. It doesn’t matter if it is pre-recorded or live, finding things you can improve on will only make for a better outcome. We hope these tips might be of use to you. Do let us know what kinds of thing you’re implementing in your Zoom meetings. Stay safe.

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