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March 4, 2008
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
Frances Hesselbein

Frances Hesselbein speaks at Grassroots about breaking down hierarchies.

Karen Plunkett, AIA

“I don’t know what to say, I have no speech,” were the opening words of Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA’s short remarks at Accent on Architecture. Perhaps Piano had heard earlier remarks by Frances Hesselbein, who called for architects to “throw out the dead hierarchical language of the past.” During a Grassroots keynote speech, Hesselbein, the Chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute that helps social sector organizations achieve excellence in performance and community building, said, “There is no time to negotiate with nostalgia.” Her speech, punctuated by personal stories about collaborations that had changed people’s lives, moved several sitting in the back rows of the thousand-seat auditorium to tears. She spoke of diversity, inclusiveness, and non-hierarchic organizational structures in ways that made people listen.

Grassroots is the annual leadership and legislative conference of the AIA, which takes place over four days every February in D.C. With Congress recessed, this year there were no Capitol Hill visits, so the risk of hot air was diminished as a dusting of snow confined the speechifying largely to the Grand Hyatt. Awards were conferred, including a Component Excellence award to the AIA New York Chapter for the Model Code collaborative effort that resulted in the adoption of the International Building Code.

The biggest change this year was the greening of the conference: hard copy press releases were nowhere to be found. But there were many speeches. One of the best was the workshop given by author Gary Rifkin on how to “Speak like a Pro.” His 90 minutes of cogent advice included the importance of a dramatic start — don’t bother with “Good Morning!” or immediately thanking the introducer. Rifkin said that practicing your remarks is important, preferably 20 times, and at least once with someone other than your pet listening. He also counseled against relying on a teleprompter, stressing the importance of connecting with the audience more directly, with just key word notes left where they can jog memory when needed. Having just used a teleprompter for the first time — yes, there is someone behind the curtain — I heartily agree.



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