6 Common Mistakes Made in Urban Planning Presentations

Bored by Urban Planning Presentations?

No more boring urban planning presentations!

Many urban planning presentations are boring. I don’t understand why this is, because urban planning is an inherently interesting subject. But some of the presentations that I’ve heard recently have taken really interesting subjects and made them truly snooze-worthy.

Below are common mistakes that are often made in urban planning presentations, including mistakes that I’ve made myself. I’ve written these mistakes out as notes so that I’ll avoid them in my Texas APA presentation later on today.

6 Common Mistakes Made in Urban Planning Presentations

  1. Don’t spend 5 minutes defining your favorite term (i.e sustainability, social media etc.). No one else is as interested in the nuances as you are. If you have to define the term, do it quickly and move on to the meat of your presentation.
  2. Don’t quote Jane Jacobs. It’s like quoting Einstein or Gandhi–everyone has heard all the good quotes before. Instead of Jane Jacobs, quote song lyrics. Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again and Jefferson Starship’s We Built this City on Rock and Roll have some much more memorable quotes that also embody planning principles.
  3. Don’t have slides with text only. Do use 1 or 2 large images of actual projects on slides. 1 or 2 large images are much preferable to several small images.
  4. Don’t have slides with lists. I stop listening to your presentation and try to read your list. Do keep slides to under 25 words per slide. Do use a large font size (i.e. 36 point at least). Remember your slides should support what you are saying — not vice versa.
  5. Don’t use acronyms and fifty-cent words. Do use an elementary school vocabulary.
  6. Don’t talk about topics in general or the philosophical state of the union for more than 20% of the presentation maximum. Do talk about specific project examples (i.e. More for 1604). Do talk about specific problems with those projects (i.e. engaging the public beyond public meetings). Do talk about how the projects solved or didn’t solve those problems (i.e. used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr). Do have a Practical Application portion that I can actually take back to my company and apply what I’ve learned.

And final note to self: if no one has questions, that’s a bad sign. Either your presentation was too low level, too high level, not applicable or just boring.

So for future presentations, do you have any other tips for me or for other urban planners who are presenting? Please leave me a comment below.

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6 Responses to 6 Common Mistakes Made in Urban Planning Presentations

  1. Tyler Sorrells October 8, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I’d also recommend tailoring your presentation to your audience. We do TONS of presentations to REALLY diverse groups of people, average people out in the community with little/no background in planning to Planning Commissions who we bring stuff to on a bi-monthly basis. Each of those groups have very distinct information requirements and I’ve found that its very helpful to have separate presentations modified for each.

  2. Kristen Carney October 11, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Great point. For the Texas APA presentation that I did on Friday, Susan (my co-presenter) did a great job of polling the crowd before we started. I really liked how well this worked, because then we could adjust our presentations accordingly.


  3. Kristen Carney October 12, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Note to self: “focus the camera on just the speaker if you can’t capture both the speaker and the screen when filming presentations”

  4. Kristen Carney October 15, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    Lesson I learned from last night’s presentation: If you make the same mistake 3 times when practicing a presentation, assume you are going to make that mistake when you give the presentation live.

    If I would have just adjusted my slide deck in anticipation of making that same mistake, I could have avoided it. Live and Learn.


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