Tags: communicationpresentationsstorytelling
Episode 188

How To Ask For What You Want And Get A Yes with John Livesay

Enoch SearsMar 3, 2017

John Livesay is a top sales expert and funding strategist. He hosts the Successful Pitch Podcast with investors from around the world and he is the author of the book The Successful Pitch: Conversations About Going From Invisible to Investable.

On today's episode of the Business of Architecture show you'll discover how to present yourself and your services in a compelling way that persuades and influences your prospective and current clients.

You'll also discover:

  • How to tell stories that captivate people and turn them into fans
  • 3 simple steps you can use today to improve your confidence
  • The 4 elements of a “sticky story” that your current and future clients remember

Go here to watch the second half of our interview on 5 Steps To Successful Sales in Architecture

Resources for today’s show:

John Livesay, Pitch Whisperer

Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

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John Livesay: The more tools you can have in your toolbox to be a good communicator, a good salesperson, a good designer … when you pitch yourself, the more you're going to set yourself apart from the competition.

Enoch Sears: Business of Architecture episode 188. Hello I’m Enoch Sears and this is the podcast for architects where you’ll discover; tips, strategies and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I’d like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture firm income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact by downloading my free four part Architecture Firm Profit Map. As a podcast listener you can get instant access by going to freearchitectgift.com.

Today you are going to have the excellent opportunity to hear from John Livesay, he is a top sales expert and funding strategist. He holds The Successful Pitch podcast with investors from around the world. In addition to that he is also the author of a book that recently came out The Successful Pitch; Conversations on Going from Invisible to Investable.

If you’ve ever struggled on how to present yourself in a way that’s compelling; on how to influence and persuade people, on how to encourage the right people to like and to trust you then you are going to find this episode to be absolutely invaluable. In this episode you’ll discover three things you can do to increase your confidence, the true secret that lies behind all successful persuasion and how to become an incredible storyteller that let’s your stories work for you. With that here is today’s show. All right John welcome to Business of Architecture.

John Livesay: Enoch thank you so much for having me on your wonderful show.

Enoch Sears: Right, well so you are known as the pitch whisperer and would you describe to your audience why people call you that?

John Livesay: Sure actually INC magazine called me that first which I’m thrilled with. The main reason they said is, “You know what you really remind us of what a horse whisperer does. Which a horse whisperer calms the horse down and you calm people down before they go pitch and people get nervous when they have to present in front of people.”

That was the first thing that they went, “You are like a pitch whisperer,” and I say, “Well what’s really interesting is in addition to that there is a lot of subconscious unspoken things that I really help people answer when they are pitching.” People have three things in their head that they think about when anybody pitches them anything; to get a customer, to get their startup funded. No matter what you are doing to get someone to join your team.

Those three things are the first thing is; do I trust you which is really a gut thing. Actually that’s when the fight or flight response typically kicks in when people meet you for the first time. The handshake was originally designed to show that you didn’t need to fear me I don’t have a weapon in my hand so you can trust me. Then it moves up to the heart which is; do I like you and of course the best way to increase your likeability is to show empathy. Literally put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Tim Sanders wrote a great book about that called The Likeability Factor that; doctors spend more time with patients they like, teachers spend more time with students they like and believe me clients spend more time with people they like. In fact I was working with Gensler who designs airports and the people in that department said to me, “You know we can all design airports and the client told us that one of the key factors because the job takes five years is going to be on who do we like the most.” Those soft skills are just as important as the hard skills of design.

Then finally once we move from the gut to the heart it goes to the head and that’s when people start thinking, “Will this work for me? Is this something that I’m going to get a good return on my investment? Are they going to make me look good?” All that stuff kicks in. I have really flipped the paradigm because a lot of people think, “Well people have to know, like and trust you before they hire
you,” and I said, “No it’s the reverse. They have to trust, like and know you,” so that’s why I’ve been called the pitch whisperer.

Enoch Sears: Define for our audience pitch.

John Livesay: Sure, a pitch is just another way of saying selling yourself basically. In the design world typically a law firm for example in any country in the world these days big law firms are global like a lot of design firms. They will invite two or three design firms to come in and quote pitch or present or sell or whatever you want to call it. In the startup world where I specialize it’s called a pitch, “Give me a 10 minute pitch on why we should invest in your startup.”

That concept of pitching is the new way of saying, “You know what what’s your elevator pitch,” it’s all the same thing, “Tell me who you are and what you do in the length of an elevator ride.” It’s important that we all learn how to feel comfortable with pitching ourselves and telling people who we help and what problem we solve in a very short amount of time.

Enoch Sears: You mentioned that a lot of times people feel understandably nervous going into a situation whether feeling like they are having to promote themselves or selling. What are some of the inhibitions you find in your clients or people that you work with that’s holding them back from giving a good, representing themselves well?

John Livesay: Well the biggest inhibition that I see when people have to pitch themselves is they don’t want to be a pushy salesperson and I tell them forget selling tell stories instead. They are like, “Oh,” literally Plato said storytellers rule the world. If I can help people become a storyteller and pull people in instead of pushing their message in, then they go, “All right well I’m really not confident being a storyteller and I’m certainly not confident getting up in front of people.”

I said, “All right let’s work on the confidence first and then the storytelling skills second.” Should we do a deep dive on some tips on how to improve your confidence?

Enoch Sears: Let’s do it.

John Livesay: Okay, the first thing is we all get butterflies in our stomach when we have to do something that makes us a little uncomfortable. I tell people, “Don’t get rid of the butterflies in your stomach, instead get them to fly in formation.” Which literally means get that nervous energy from your stomach which is just adrenaline out, make a gesture and it’s just your body’s way of saying, “Oh game on this is my Olympic moment, this is my Super Bowl of meetings. There is a lot at stake here.” The best way to increase your confidence is to prepare.

Arthur Ashe said, “The key to success is confidence and the key to confidence is preparation.” A lot of people are like, “I don’t want to practice I’ll just wing it,” and I’m like, “Okay well what is that going to sound that like,” “Well, ah, oh” it’s a bunch of ums and ahs. I said, “You know what the reason you are so nervous is you haven’t practiced; you think athletes go on the field without practicing? You think actors don’t rehearse before the camera says roll and action? It’s the same thing so you need to practice,” and some people are afraid of sounding robotic.

I said it’s not the point where you memorize something and you become a robot, you are still yourself. The real way to do that is just make sure you have a very strong opening and a very strong close in any kind of pitch. At least you know what you are going to open with and close with and then you can be a little more relaxed about what’s going to happen in between.

Getting those butterflies to fly in formation, preparing and the third way to really soar with your confidence is something I call stacking your moments of certainty. What that simply means is you write down four or five times when you knew you nailed it.

Let’s say you interviewed for a job and someone to hire you for your design skills and you got it. Remember all those times when you got a yes before you go in to pitch your next client as opposed to all the negative self-talk which would be, “They are never going to hire me, I’m too expensive for them.” Whatever else that could make you feel like you are not going to get it.

Do the opposite remember all the times you got a yes before you walk in so you are prepared, you got your adrenaline working for you not against you and stack those moments of certainty. Three key ways to really separate yourself from most people who won’t do any of those things. If you do all three I promise your confidence is going to go up.

Enoch Sears: Okay so the three key ways to increase your confidence thanks for sharing that John that is fantastic. I want to back to let’s talk a little bit, let’s keep on talking about confidence but let’s jump back to storytelling as well.

John Livesay: Yes.

Enoch Sears: Can you give me some stories or some anecdotes of times when stories have paid off for your clients or people you are working with. How does that work in reality?

John Livesay: In reality well let’s go back to the segue, a nice transition from confidence to storytelling. I have my clients all write down their moments of certainty and we look at them to see which ones are the best and then what that feels like. It’s a story in their head that triggers a feeling.

One of my clients Martin said this was really powerful for me because I remembered that I grew up in the Netherlands but I’m originally from South America. When he turned 18 his parents took him back to South America dropped him off naked in the Amazon Jungle to survive for two weeks because in his culture that’s a rite of passage into manhood.

I said, “Wow that’s a great story, that’s memorable that gives me goose bumps. What did you learn in the Amazon Jungle?” He said, “Well I learned how to focus and pivot and persevere.” I said, “Fantastic we’re going to take those lessons from the Amazon Jungle to the concrete jungle of being an entrepreneur.” When he had that practice and hone he won a pitch contest and got his startup funded. The investor said, “I‘m going to put my money on the guy that survived the Amazon Jungle, he’ll be able to survive anything that comes up in his business.”

That’s a really great example of people remembering your stories not your numbers and the elements of a good story, so let’s break that down. A good story has four basic elements to it the first one is exposition; who, what, where, when.

With the story of Martin sometimes when he was practicing he would forget to say that being dropped off naked is a rite of passage in his culture. I said, “If you don’t say the rite of passage in your culture it sounds like child abuse.” You need enough exposition to make it paint a picture. Literally you want to paint a picture for somebody; what time of day is it? Why are we here? Get them to be in the story.

Then there is a problem to solve, that’s the second part of a good story. There is an obstacle, there is a challenge you know it’s the heroes journey basically. If you are telling a story about yourself it’s your challenges that you have faced, so Martin is obviously naked in the Amazon Jungle. The solution was he figured out three things to survive that became life lessons and then the outcome was that is what made him win a pitch contest and get his startup funded.

So exposition, problem something you need to overcome, there is a solution after you overcome those and then the resolution of what happens after you’ve made that happen. That’s the basics of a good story and how it relates to tying in with your moments of certainty.

Enoch Sears: John do you have any suggestions for people that struggle to tell stories. You’ve probably experienced some or maybe I’ve been that way in the past where you tried telling a story and you can already tell everyone their eyes are drooping because you have this monotone and it falls flat. Do you have suggestions for people that may have an incredible story like that but just in the delivery of it; they don’t pause at the right moment, they don’t deliver the punch line right and it just doesn’t work out. What tactical suggestions would you give someone for telling a good story?

John Livesay: Telling a good story definitely requires practice and preparation just like anything else. You need to tell practice it in front of your friends, practice it in front of strangers and get their feedback. They’ll say, “I was with you up until this point then you confused me,” or “I lost you I didn’t understand what you were saying here.” The confused mind always says no so you have to be really; clear, concise and compelling and have that as your intention.

Let me give you an example of how I’ve helped Gensler when they have to pitch, everybody talks about who is on their team. Let me tell you whether you are a startup seeking funding or a big architecture firm or a small architecture design firm, people buy people first. You need to have a story about yourself overcoming these objections and challenges, I call it the story of origin.

What motivated you to become an architect or a designer in the first place? One person said, “Well I used to play with Legos when I was a kid and now I’m an architect I’m still passionate about, I play Legos with my son.” That’s how he talks about his personal passion for design and people go, “I like that guy.” Somebody else on the team said, “Oh well I was in the Israeli army so I take the discipline and focus from being in that experience to keeping your project on time and under budget.” “That sounds great, that’s interesting.”

The more you give these stories of yourself that they are just 90 second stories of; this is who I am, this is why I’m doing this that make it a memorable hook then they go, “I’m going to work with that. That’s the team I want to work with.”

Enoch Sears: What other things did you find that, questions that came up and I have a quote here on my screen. You did have the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at Gensler’s regional meeting in Washington DC and here is what Kenneth Baker said. He is the co-regional marketing principal Gensler who will be on the show soon.

Here is what he said I’m going to read this for our listeners. He said, “John did an incredible preparation to understand the Gensler culture and challenges that we faced to stay at the top of our field. He gave us specific tools and focus on how to be storytellers so clients not only see the value in hiring us, but are inspired to want to work with us. I highly recommend him as a speaker and we look forward to having him back.” All right so looks like Kenneth as well was honing in on the idea of the storytelling.

John Livesay: Yes, because as I mentioned earlier people remember your stories not your numbers and people buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. The big challenge is people think well they are going to, I show you my beautiful designs you are going to hire me based on that and then it just becomes a contest on who has got the prettier designs or who is the cheapest and all of that other stuff. I said if you really don’t want to be seen as a commodity you need to be a storyteller that tells a story of a similar client that had a similar challenge. Whether it’s moving offices or trying to redesign the space to stay more compelling.

We get into the stories of if you are a law firm for example you want your office lobby in particular to have a wow factor so that’s going to attract the best talent, that’s going to attract the best clients and you tell stories around that. If you are pitching a new law firm and you’ve done other law firms you say, “You know what when we went to x, y, z law firm and we took them from a dark space to opening it up with lots of light. When we gave the tour to the employees one of them actually their eyes filled up with tears because they were so grateful they were no longer going to have to work without sun light anymore.

That’s how you get people to get more productive and you attract top talent and then we had a new client come and decide whether they were going to hire us or someone else and they kept saying, “God it just feels so modern and sophisticated here and that’s what we are looking for in our brand and that’s who we want to represent us as a lawyer.” Instantly it says …

Those are the stories that make people want to hire you because you have that same feeling that people buy emotionally from the right side of our brain and then back it up with the logic. “All right I like you, I trust you, you’ve told me a story of someone who had a similar challenge and how you overcame those challenges and still got them happy. I want that feeling now let’s talk about the left side of the brain first which is how much is this going to cost, what’s the square footage,” blah, blah, blah but you don’t have to start with that. Is that helpful?

Enoch Sears: Absolutely, when you are coaching people about how to tell stories what do you say to people that say, “You know John I don’t have any stories like that.”

John Livesay: Well not all of us had to survive the Amazon Jungle that’s for sure. However, there is always a story and I love helping people find their own personal story of what motivated them to become a designer or an architect. A story that they have inside their brain of a client that was struggling and was overwhelmed and how they helped them through that process. Because that’s really a great story.

So many people are afraid of, “Okay I know you can do good work, I can afford you but are you going to have my back?” That’s what we dig for we mine, we dig around and I just had people write down and tell me stories and when I hear it I know it. When that happens they feel happy because they are like, “Now I’m confident because I have a story that’s going to really separate me from all the other competitors and that it’s going to make me memorable and people are emotionally going to connect with me, they are going to like me. People hire people that they trust, like and know and now they are going to know me more.”

You come up with a story of when you didn’t give up, when you had something unexpected happen and you still were able to get the project done on time. You have a story of when you went the extra mile for a client, anybody who has been in business at all has those stories. If you don’t then we start looking at families, we all have stories about our families. What I learned from my mom or what I learned from my dad or how I survived the holidays with my family is the same way I survive with dealing with difficult people. Whatever it is there is plenty of places you can talk about a trip you took.

For example I talk about one of my goals was to take a trip to Alaska and be on a glacier pulled by dog sleds. I just, that sounded like an incredible adventure to me and I really wanted to do it. I booked a cruise to Alaska and had it all set up and then the weather was so bad they couldn’t pull the ship close enough to shore to do it. Five years later I booked another cruise and by the time I wanted to make that happen they said, “It’s sold out.” I said, “Is there a waiting list,” “Yes.” Okay morning of boom, “Congrats you made the waiting list,” thank God.

We get there take the little tender to the shore we take a bus to the helicopter. The helicopter takes you up and the guy goes, “God you guys are so lucky yesterday was so foggy we couldn’t land on the glacier.” I thought to myself, “Wow it’s such a small percentage of people who get to go to Alaska, smaller percentage of the people who are on the cruise that get to do this experience,” and then you land there and it’s like you are in another planet.

Those people are there with a hundred and fifty dogs, they are there for weeks at a time with no internet, they sleep there with the dogs and they’ve a big American flag stuck in the snow. You are completely surrounded by glacier it’s unbelievable.

It was exhilarating it was everything I wanted and hoped but that’s, I tell the story of how much I had to want it to get it and that tells the story of how I don’t give up and I like to have new exciting adventures. People are like, “Hey you are going to be an interesting person to hang around with.” That has nothing to do with business but that tells a story about me and my personality that people either resonate with or don’t. Does that help as another resource of a place to come up with a story?

Enoch Sears: Absolutely, you know speaking of stories there is a funny story that I heard once about an architecture professional I think he was a principal of a firm. He was the kind of glad handing guy who people loved and because he always had wonderful stories, he always told amazing jokes and everyone thought, “Man this guy is just a really people person.” One day one of his associates was just looking through his desk for something and found a little box full of cards. He opened up the box and inside that box were all of the jokes and the stories that he liked to tell you know?

John Livesay: Yeah it’s all this …

Enoch Sears: Yeah, when the principal heard about this he was pretty upset that the guy had found that because apparently he wanted to keep this thing a secret. What I learned from that is that sometimes we look at others who are able to tell exceptional stories and we think man they just have the gift and I don’t have it.

John Livesay: “You are a natural,” it’s what people say to me sometimes without having a clue how much coaching and practice I’ve had to get up and give a good keynote speech. I mean Joan Rivers they did a documentary on her and all the drawers and drawers of jokes that she kept. It’s research so you have that at your disposal.

Maslow said, “If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer you tend to go round looking for nails to hit.” The more tools you can have in your toolbox to be; a good communicator, a good salesperson, a good designer to pitch yourself the more you are going to set yourself up from other people. Now I can go into the different storytelling genres and give some examples would that be useful?

Enoch Sears: Yeah, I think it would let’s do it.

John Livesay: One genre is rags to riches, so that’s the classic Cinderella movie story. Johnny Walker scotch uses that when they say that Johnny Walker was this Scottish farmer now he is Johnny Walker. Then another genre is rebirth, remember the movie It’s A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart?

Enoch Sears: Absolutely love it.

John Livesay: That’s an example of that movie using the rebirth story telling genre and Prudential has taken that genre for their brand and they say, “You know retirement is your rebirth. It’s your third act,” interesting.

Then another one is the quest, so Lord of the Rings is a great example of that kind of movie that uses that. Lexus their tag line is, “The pursuit of perfection it’s an endless quest.” The forth genre is leave home and then come back and tell about it, well that’s The Wizard of Oz isn’t it. You know who uses that in their advertising and branding, Expedia. Go leave home have an adventure, book the trip on Expedia and then come back and tell all your friends about it.

There is four genres, four movies and four brands that are using that genre to position themselves. As someone who is a designer, an architect figure out what genre you want to be and how you can take that genre to tell your story. Now you have storytelling and you got the story telling elements; the exposition, the problems, solutions right. Now you know how to tell a story and the you now can pick from four genres to tell the story.

Enoch Sears: That’s fantastic and it works I’ve seen, I’m sure our listeners listening now can think back to things that have been memorable in their lives either from presentations or talks they’ve had and it truly is the stories that sticks. I want to go back to the story you told about perseverance and not giving up John. Because someone doesn’t get to the point where you are where you’ve obviously developed, you’ve invested in yourself in crafting who you are as a person without having some road bumps along the way.

What I’d like to know is can you tell me about a time when you gave a pitch or you told a story or you were in some high pressure situation that you felt it fell flat and you felt like a failure or whatever emotions that you had about that and how you overcame it how that goes.

John Livesay: Well years ago when I was selling advertising for a magazine I had a big presentation in front of my publisher who had flown in from New York and we were at [inaudible 00:24:17] in Seattle. It was a Monday morning so we had to fly in the night before, lots of preparation and we walk into the meeting at 9 in the morning on a Monday. I had flown in from LA and he has flown in from New York and a person comes up and says, “I’m sorry the decision makers had an emergency they are not going to be able to see you, so you are going to have to meet with somebody junior.”

My boss was furious and mad at me for not confirming and I’m like, “I confirmed it on Friday this is something out of my control.” He is like, “Well just go through the presentation really fast because this whole thing is a waste of our time,” and I was like oh. Obviously that is not the best situation to have to go present.

I’m going through the presentation fairly quickly there is not a lot of passion because I’m thinking this person is just there out of courtesy they don’t have any power to say yes or no. It was a really small room to make matters worse no windows you could, when you backed up the seat it hit the wall. You get a sense of how tiny the space is?

There really was, there was barely enough space between the projector and the screen for it to be in focus. We’re going through the slides so I go through the slide where we have a quote from another retailer saying how great the magazine is and why they advertise and it was too small to read. I thought it doesn’t matter because we’re just going through this and he goes, “Oh go back and read that quote.”

I was like I don’t have that memorized normally I can read it when we are in a normal size room. I thought well maybe if I pull the laptop up I can get this and of course it went on the ceiling it was a disaster, so it just went from bad to worse.

Then we leave that meeting he goes, “well that couldn’t have gone any worse could it?” I go, “No probably couldn’t; wrong person, bad presentation, wrong room just everything was horrible.” I said, “However one of the things that I’ve learned is we got to shake this off at the next call. We can’t take all that anger and resentment into the next meeting that we have in an hour or the whole day is going to go bad. How can we set the reset button and let that go and focus on our next call and hope that that one goes better.”

That was one of my big lessons of you just can’t let that continue, because otherwise you have a bad day, you have a bad week, you have a bad month and on and on. Unless you say, “Pull up,” like an airplane pilot when you are starting to go down.

Enoch Sears: How did you set the reset button or what are some strategies that you use or recommend for doing that in your own life?

John Livesay: First I just literally go out with let’s take a little walk get some fresh air, get some perspective. I don’t care if we have to go get a coffee whatever it is and then let’s start talking about some of the resent wins we’ve had. In fact why don’t we pick up the phone between now and the next call and calls somebody who is a happy client and just say check in with him to say hi. It’s good customer service but most importantly it’s going to help us remember that we have a lot of clients that love what we do and what we offer. That’s a really great way to hit the reset button.

Enoch Sears: That is awesome. John I’m looking here and you won salesperson of the year for Conde Nast which I assume maybe that same publication you are talking about.

John Livesay: Yes.

Enoch Sears: Across 400 other global salespeople, so you do have quite a bit of experience and background in selling and presenting yourself. What would you say were the keys, from our perspective what were your keys to success of winning the salesperson of the year for Conde Nast.

John Livesay: Well that particular story is really interesting. You know there is 23 different brands there is Arch. Digest, there is Vanity Fair, Vogue, W, GQ, Wired etcetera so each of those brands have their own sales force. Every year one person from those brands wins salesperson of the year for that brand, that magazine which is now a website and a bunch of other stuff that they’ve expanded to. Then out of the 23 people that win for those brands there is one person that wins for the entire company. First I had to win for just W magazine and then I had to win against everybody else.

The story of how I did that was again it’s all about preparation, I had approached Guess Jeans which was a big advertiser I had at W magazine. I said, “You know what I noticed is W’s fortieth anniversary is coming up the same that Guess’ thirtieth anniversary is coming up. What if,” and that is a great take away from your listeners and people watching, great way to start a sentence to get people into the right brain the imagination. Literally say, “What if we were to do a joint anniversary celebration,” “What would that look like?”

“Well I’ve done a little bit of research and it turns out that some of the Guess models like Drew Barrymore have also been on the cover of W magazine over the years. What if we had an event where we put those pictures of Drew as your model and Drew as our cover girl next to each other and invite celebrities and you could poly bag a special supplement showing 30 years of Guess models to our anniversary issue?

That would generate additional publicity and buzz for both you and W and that should be a great way to celebrate and get people to remember all the iconic models and all the iconic images from W.” They did it and we got exclusive business and all kinds of publicity and that’s what made them give me salesperson of the year.

Enoch Sears: That’s fantastic so it sounds lie you saw a big lever and you pulled it.

John Livesay: Yes, so you have to think outside the box as people like to say all the time. It’s just really looking for those moments where it’s a win for everybody and coming up with an idea that no one else has ever come up with.

Enoch Sears: That’s fantastic. Well John thank you for well we’ve covered so much in this interview; we’ve talked about storytelling, we’ve talked about improving your confidence that’s been fantastic information. I know this is something that our listeners are going to get a lot of value out of and I look forward to jumping in to our next segment.

John Livesay: Me too.

Enoch Sears: All right thanks John. That is a wrap thanks for listening today. If you are looking for more time freedom impact and income as an architect get instant access to my free full part architect profit map by visiting freearchitectgift.com. The sponsor for today’s show is ArchReach; the client relationship management tool built specifically for architects. If you want to systemize your marketing and business development ArchReach will help do it. Visit archreach.com to learn more.

The views expressed on the show by my guest do not represent those of the host and I make no; representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contact, bond or commitment except to help you conquer the world.


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Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.


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