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Persuasive Spotlight: Sarah Kimes of CallisonRTKL

Sarah Kimes is Senior Associate Vice President and Brand Strategist at CallisonRTKL, a global architecture, planning and design practice. She leads the brand services team at the Dallas, TX office, and her goal is to connect the built environment to people in a way that’s meaningful. How does Sarah create these meaningful connections? She uses powerful presentations to communicate her ideas and build, change and reinforce beliefs in her audience.

What makes Sarah such a powerful presenter? Her strengths are threefold: She relies on a dependable process, she has extensive experience in branding, and she’s incredibly self aware.

Sarah’s Process: Driven by Purpose

When crafting a presentation, Sarah starts by asking whether the audience is really interested in the content of her talk. Sarah will ask herself repeatedly throughout the preparation process, “Are we saying something they really care about, or are we just saying it to say it?” This ensures her team doesn’t lose sight of their end goal.

Sarah believes that far too many presenters simply repurpose material when they present, or they use slides they’ve always used, just because they’ve always used them. However, without stopping to think about whether the audience needs to see them, you can end up delivering a talk that doesn’t resonate with your listeners. Sarah’s MO when creating presentations, thus, is to relentlessly focus on purpose, from the outline to the A/V material creation phase.

“Are we saying something [the audience] really cares about, or are we just saying it to say it?”

Sarah’s Background: Shaped by Branding

Sarah is a brand strategist by trade. She learned the discipline in traditional and digital advertising agency roles. Maybe that’s why it comes naturally to her to channel the user and put herself in their shoes when crafting a presentation.

However, her shift to architecture and environmental design wasn’t without a learning curve. She says the process of developing brands is largely the same, but she had to learn to address a whole new type of audience. Her audiences used to be motivated by the question, “What makes people buy things?” Now she’s learned to tailor her content to groups of people who ask, “What makes people develop a conscious connection to a space?”

Sarah’s Sense of Self-Awareness

A good portion of Sarah’s success as a presenter can be attributed to how well she knows herself. She’s dedicated a good amount of time and energy toward identifying and nurturing what she calls her “stage brand.”

What is her brand? She is always energetic, smiling and asking questions. Regardless of the stage, the audience can count on these consistent attributes from talk to talk. Sarah knows that consistency is how the best brands are built, so why should she treat herself any differently? By training audiences to expect the same things of her, she builds equity in her presence.

Focusing on a presentation persona has also helped Sarah understand where she doesn’t excel: humor. She knows she’s “better at making people feel inspired or making people feel excited” than she is at getting laughs. This has developed over time, from experimental attempts to crack jokes, but also from some helpful feedback from people she trusts. “My sister came to watch me in a presentation, and she said, ‘No. Just stop telling jokes. Where you shine is not making people laugh.'”

Delivering a great presentation isn’t a simple science, but instead, an art that can be honed by focusing on several important aspects of communication. Luckily for CallisonRTKL, through hard work, practice and natural ability, Sarah has been able to sharpen the most important aspects of presenting, so she’s able to deliver talks that change minds and move people to take action.

CallisonRTKL is the number one green residential design firm in the world and a top-five architecture practice across multiple disciplines and sectors. For more about Sarah and CallisonRTKL, please visit