Through the window at Smith Street’s Soul Food Café I see her bounding across the street – a veritable ball of energy. Christina Canters, architect and creative communicator, joins me at the bar, her eyes wild from the dash. She’s been busy, freshly registered as an architect and flung over the precipice of a new venture – podcast ‘Presentation Skills for Design Students’, hosted on her site DesignDrawSpeak.com. “I’m pretty tough on myself,” she tells me. “Once I tell myself that I’m going to do something, I follow through; I make sure that I do it.”
After a decade-long journey Christina_landscapeof study and working for architecture firms, she recently sought out this new online challenge, spawned by her experience of university and the workplace. “As architects, we have to present to clients, negotiate with builders, work in project teams and manage consultants,” she says, explaining that people don’t necessarily get better at effectively communicating ideas and design intent in the professional environment. Her podcast endeavours to establish these abilities at university level. Originally wanting to create a blog, she adjusted her mode of delivery on considering her demographic. “What do design students do when they’re making models, drawing or on their computer?” she asks, “they’re listening to music, or they’ve got TV on – they’ve got some sort of background sound going.”
And so, Presentation Skills for Design Students was born. Christina signed on to a four-week online course run by podcasting and online business guru Cliff Ravenscraft. “I was drawn to him because he’s so passionate when he speaks,” she says, “he genuinely wants to help people.” She invested in herself, paying over 2000 US dollars to learn the required technical skills.
She was given priceless feedback from Cliff. “We had to answer questions,” she recalls. “Why do you want to podcast? Who are you targeting?” Christina wrote that she wanted to help people get more confident at communicating. “Knowing that I’ve helped someone change their life for the better,” she recollects “is all the reward that I could ask for.” Cliff’s reply – with your attitude, you’ll be successful in no matter what you chose to do.
And he wasn’t the only one to offer support. A friend who had started a property development company heard Christina’s podcast in its early stages and forewarned her of the struggle ahead. “You need to understand,” he had said, “most people – your friends you family – they don’t get the headspace that you’re in.” He predicted that her friendship groups would change. “I’m becoming drawn to people pursuing their own ideas,” she admits.
Veteran actress and trainer Glenda Linscot also shared her wisdom at a corporate communications skills course Christina attended at NIDA. “I went in wanting to hone my skills, I came out with a changed perspective on life,” she tells me. Glenda had left her with these words – “if you know what your purpose is, you will automatically become a better presenter. It will shine through in everything that you say.”
Armed with this purpose – her unshakable desire to educate and mentor, Christina records, edits and airs her podcasts, each week isolating a different element of presenting – ‘Take them on a Journey: How to be a Kiss-Ass Tour Guide’, ‘The Meaning of your Message is the EFFECT it has’, ‘Supriseology’ and ‘How to use Passion to Fuel Your Presentation’. The episodes are light and to the point, with Christina cheerily offering simple, effective tips. She interviews professionals in the field, assigns a weekly challenge for her listeners, and invites them to share their stories
“What I’m really excited about,” she says, “is that there’s no other podcast that does this.” Public speaking and presentation training groups tend to be aimed at corporates. “They have really good content,” she says in their defence, “but are very measured in the way that they’re delivered.” Her delivery is conversational, as she says, “more like a friend talking to you.”
Podcasting presents a promising niche – with only around 200,000 in existence compared to over 450 million English speaking blogs. “I’ve heard that nine out of ten are really bad,” she says of the smaller podcast pool. “So if you can do a quality podcast, it’s relatively easier to get noticed and build traffic.” In its early days, Presentation Skills for Design Students is performing well, with almost 2000 downloads.
Her content is available free of charge from iTunes or DesignDrawSpeak.com. When asked if she plans to make money from the podcast, she answers with finality – no. “I may also consider developing my own products and services further down the track,” she says, “but the audio content itself will always be free.” When knowledge is your product, it’s tricky financially. “They’re not so tangible,” Christina says of presenting skills. “You can’t say – buy this, and you will get more confident.”
She plans instead to hire herself out as an expert in the communication field, and soon leaves our shores on this pursuit. “It’s all happened really quickly,” she says. “I’ll go to New York, do my podcast and visit design schools.” Here she will also meet with listeners, conduct interviews, do market research and attend student presentations. “I hope to be running workshops and giving lectures eventually,” she says, “and potentially branch into design firms.” This will mean leaving her architecture job behind – a move she’s more than ready for.
“I get frustrated with the restrictiveness of my current workplace, the nine-to-five,” she confesses, and believes whatever it is you are meant to be doing will eventually find you. “I’m starting to find that now,” she says. “I get so much satisfaction out of knowing that I’ve helped someone discover something that’s going to change their life for the better.” Her advice for others ready to break free of the mould – “you’ve got to get over reservedness,” she says. “If you’re going to be entrepreneurial, you can’t afford to be shy.”
Her courage has paid off. “This whole process has been incredible,” Christina says. “I’ve learnt so much about myself and what I want to do with my life – I’ve got nothing to lose, and I can’t wait.” With Manhattan on the horizon, it’s no wonder she can’t. You can listen to Christina’s podcast on her Design Draw Speak site, like her facebook page or follow her on twitter.