Design contests aren't just exercises in self congratulation. Awards gain you recognition in trade and association publications, and they provide great marketing material. How better to sell a potential customer on your design skills than to tell her, "Don't take my word for it, look at what the experts said."

But winning a contest isn't easy. Competition can be fierce, in part because contest winners don't simply submit quality designs; they also distinguish their entries with well thought-out presentations.

Good presentations clearly and concisely communicate to the judges what about the entry is exceptional: The planning, problem-solving, and inspiration that made the project great must all come through in the entry. A successful presentation does this by illustrating the project's most attractive features and clearly conveying, through words and images, what the remodel accomplished for the client. Presentations that fail to communicate the project's value can sabotage an otherwise worthwhile entry.

Roger Turk BEFORE

So how do you create an award-winning entry? Here are some tips from three of this year's REMODELING Design Awards judges. (For a look at the contest's winners, click here.)

* Hire a professional photographer to shoot the project. "The level of photography makes all the difference," says Jeff Clark, of Metropolitan Design Build, St. Louis. "People need to invest the money in professional photography in order for their ideas to come through clearly." Professional photography also increases the likelihood that your work will reproduce well in four-color publications.

* Be sure the project designer directs the photo shoot and tells the photographer which parts of the project are most important.

* Accessorize the home before the shoot.

* Enlarge your photographs. "Three-by-five prints don't do justice to most remodeling projects," says Stephanie Witt, of Kitchens by Stephanie, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Roger Turk AFTER

* Include clearly labeled, presentation-style drawings. "Make sure the drawings show the remodeled space in the context of the original structure and its surroundings," says Andy Poticha, of Design Construction Concepts, Northbrook, Ill.

* Keep the written statement short and to the point. "Don't embellish with language that doesn't address the project's challenges and solutions," Witt says.

* Don't send blueprints or working floor plans.

* Lastly, don't muddle up the presentation with too many photographs.