Dear Colleagues

Two items today:

1. Real life cases of motor failures and how they were solved

Late last year we presented brief complimentary webinars on the subject of Avoiding Disasters in Industrial Wireless. This was very popular – we had to add extra sessions to handle the demand.  Now, in keeping with the theme of; Avoiding Engineering Failures, we invite you to join us for the next in this series, entitled: Real Life Cases of Motor Failures and How They Were Solved.

2. How to do outstanding engineering and technical presentations

I often writhe in my seat when I listen to engineering professionals presenting technical content to an audience. These are often boring, unprofessional and generally a complete waste of time for all involved. The engineer frequently sweats profusely and talks to the whiteboard or to some imaginary spot in the room. And is enormously anxious that he or she will be “found out” with an awkward question.

You may ask why engineers bother with presentations at all? Perhaps you are a technologist and feel our focus should be on engineering design or the commissioning of a plant - not on time-consuming presentations. Well; the truth of the matter is that it is through presentations that we get our “engineering world” exposed to a wider and perhaps more appreciative audience. This often results in our own career advancement and, of course, helps gain greater credibility and consequently more business for our firms.

So here you go; a ‘toolbox’ of 5 tips to use when preparing and executing your next engineering presentation. With these you will distinguish yourself.

1. Show real passion for your topic and smile.
In some respects you are engaged in a sales mission. You are trying to sell your audience on what you are presenting. Show enthusiasm and commitment to the topic and real passion. You will sweep them along with you. Smiling counters the normal feeling that this is yet another dull, technical presentation, instead, it suggests something interesting and full of life.

2. Edit ruthlessly.
Don’t swamp your audience with tonnes of material. Limit yourself to 4 or 5 points to a slide. Include a lot of visual information - simple graphics which clarify the material and are easy to interpret. Avoid glitzy sound effects and multimedia pizzaz - this is generally lost on an audience. ‘Talking around’ a slide with a simple graphic is often a very powerful method of communicating. Mix it up a little by scribbling simple messages and graphics onto the whiteboard or flipchart. One of our best instructors refuses to use powerpoint and sketches all his diagrams and text onto a flipchart. He then hangs these sheets of paper all around the room – hundreds by the end of a day. He is generally exhausted after doing this, so watch your energy levels.

3. Listen carefully to your audience and interact with them.
(You often learn far more from your audience than they do from you). Watch their reactions and get them to interact with you. Test their knowledge along the way – a good way of gauging whether or not you are imparting the material successfully. The more the audience interacts with you, and each other, the more memorable an experience it will be for them (and for you) and the more likely it is that they will absorb the content.

4. Use real life samples.
As an engineering professional you will create a far greater impact with real life samples (an old colleague of mine calls them “props”) to support your content – for example; scored valves, blown up circuit breakers, pitted centrifugal pump impellers etc. And use pictures of real equipment in your slides. A demonstration of real stuff operating is a brilliant presentation tool - despite the inconvenience of transporting and assembling the bits at the presentation venue. Simple animations of equipment operating in power point can also be effective; provided they are contained and clear.

5. Practise, practise and then practise again.
Actually this should be the number 1 item in any toolbox of presentation skills. Practise every slide for timing and articulation. Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t rush – you will if you are nervous so make a grand effort to slow down. The more you go over your materials loudly in front of the mirror (or indeed the dog); the more confident you will be in front of your audience. And then you can focus on other issues, such as introducing amusing or interesting anecdotes, rather than simply reading off your slides.

Best of luck with your next technical presentation.

And above all, as Dorothy Sarnoff noted: ‘Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening’.
Thanks and acknowledgements to Susan de la Vergne of Alder Business Services for her inspirational article.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve