In the world of engineering, most engineers start out in some technical role after graduating. They spend a period of time understanding the specific area they are working in and then start moving into managing a project or team of people to execute certain tasks. Although most engineers love to crunch numbers and solve problems, they are extremely bad with communication. Taking it a step further, engineers often have to present their projects or solutions to other engineers or financial institutions but fail miserably at getting their message across. Many really solid projects or products get lost in translation between engineers trying to present and sell their product and the audience they want to sell to. This article will thus attempt to give engineers some simple rules for technical presentations that they should follow to help them get their message across to the rest of the world.
Table of Contents
1 Less is more
Engineers are programmed to think in detail, they love to create spreadsheets and work on complex calculations. When presenting, they also try to build their presentations this way. This is completely wrong and normal people get lost. People cannot process all the information while you are presenting and if your slide is too busy, people do not listen to what you say. The general rule of thumb is to have no more than 7 words per line and 4 or less lines per slide. In many of the presentations Steve Jobs made during his time at Apple, he only had one word on a slide and it made a major impact on the crowd.
Focus on getting the structure of your presentation sorted. Don’t repeat slides and get to the point. A well-structured presentation flows from one slide to the next and actually makes it a lot easier to present.
A picture says a thousand words, your audience will only remember the pictures you present and nothing more. You might think it’s very basic, but that’s exactly what you want to sell and get your clients to remember.
Most complex calculations and the answers to many questions can be shown on graphs, this makes a lot of sense to the technical world and by explaining the graph you show that you really understand your topic in a practical and real-world scenario.
5 No notes
Many engineers start reading off notes when they get nervous and completely miss the connection with the crowd. Talk to the people like you would talk to your friends and try to get into this stride as early as possible during the presentation.
6 Basic English
Don’t try to use big words you don’t usually use; the best way is actually to keep it as basic as possible. If you use difficult words while presenting, the presentation will not feel natural and won’t have the impact you want it to have.
By using humor correctly, you can win over your crowd quickly and break the ice. This does not mean tell a joke or ever worse, tell an engineering joke. It means be yourself and if you find something funny while you present or pick up something witty to say during the presentation, don’t be afraid to use it. It’s also ok sometimes to make a fool of yourself or even use yourself as an example of how not to do something. People relate to this and tend to respect the fact that you are strong enough to take a joke or humiliate yourself during the process. It also breaks the ice and that’s all you want.
8 Eye contact
Make sure you talk to everybody in the room. Engineers often find a point at the back of the room and stare at that point while praying for the session to be over. This won’t work, and you won’t relate to anybody. You should thus practice to include everybody you present to and make eye contact with as many as possible people in the crowd.
The latest technologies help a lot and leave an impact on the crowd. Thinks like AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) and normal videos can help you to keep the crowd interested, but remember, it’s still what you say that counts. Keep the technology portion of the presentation short and sweet and get on with what you want to say. Nobody in the crowd is interested in your finite element analysis except the fact that it’s a nice picture to look at and the answers says your solution works, that all.
10 The crowd does not know what you were planning to say
It often happens during a presentation that you have rehearsed the presentation in your head or even in the mirror the night before and then when you present you go off script. You suddenly panic and try frantically to get back to your script before somebody notices that you lost your direction. In actual fact, nobody knows what you were planning to say in your head and in most cases, they do not even realize it until you start to panic. Just stay calm and go with the flow, you will soon be back on track.
11 Don’t fidget
When people start to get nervous, they often feel like they need to do something with their hands or feet. So, you have people fidgeting while they present, they don’t even realize it. Make sure you find a comfortable resting position for your hands before you start presenting. Many people choose to fold their hands while talking to avoid them from fidgeting. Another way to also overcome this, is to use your hands and arms while presenting. Don’t swing them like a crazy chicken, but if you use them when needed to get your message across, it works well.
12 Move around
Engineers often find a spot in the room, a corner or podium that they nail themselves to when they present. Ideally you would like to move around on the stage or in front of the crowd to keep it interesting and also relax yourself by keeping it informal.
13 Keeping it informal
Presenting is like talking to a girl you want to impress, you can make it very formal, be so worried that you mess up and almost pass out stressing about the situation. Alternatively, you could relax, keep the discussion light and informal and make your crowd laugh. This will work well to win over the girl and the crowd.
14 Dress code
In many cases, people and especially older people think you have to be dressed very fancy to present. You don’t even have a tie in your wardrobe, but you have to find a tie and jacket for your presentation. This is nonsense, you need to be comfortable, that’s all. If you like to dress formal and you usually do it, then that’s fine. But if you like to dress informal and you feel comfortable that’s the way you should dress. Even your jeans and tekkies will work seeing that we will have to publish another article telling engineers how to dress as well…
15 Practice makes perfect
Nobody gets born knowing how to present, even Richard Brandson admitted that he was very scared of presenting when he started in business and had a few presentations that he was not proud of. It’s a skill that you can train yourself to master and it gets easier every time you do it. If public speaking and presenting in front of a crowd frightens you, then you should try to present as much as you can. At first it will be difficult, but after a few of these presentations, you will feel that it’s actually nothing and it’s all in your head.
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