How Engineers Can Deliver Effective Presentations
What makes a compelling presentation? Here are some best practices for presentations that engineering professionals can leverage to set themselves apart and open doors of opportunity.
For many professionals, presentation and public speaking skills don’t come naturally. Luckily, delivering impactful, persuasive, and engaging presentations can easily be achieved with enough practice and an understanding of the basic principles of communication.
This article discusses what makes a compelling presentation and provides a few best practices that engineering professionals can leverage to set themselves apart and open doors of opportunity.
Why Engineers Need Strong Presentation Skills
As a technical field, engineering is often seen as separate from the schools of marketing and business, but in the real world, engineers must be fluent in both the politics and rhetoric that companies use to hire, make decisions, and launch new undertakings. Building confidence in your ability to present your ideas is the first step toward building others’ confidence in you as well. Moreover, in many organizations, the fastest way to move up the ladder and earn consideration for a role in management is to log quality facetime with company leadership. Even impromptu conversations can be opportunities to practice the speaking and presentation skills. If you are successful in your endeavors, there will be more—not fewer—opportunities to put your presentation skills to work. With practice you will quickly develop your own rhythm, cadence, and even stage presence.
A Brief Overview of the Communication Process
Scientifically speaking, the communication process involves several components:
- A sender
- The message
- A receiver
The primary processes involved are encoding, or how the sender communicates the message in the form of sounds, symbols, or gestures; and decoding, how the receiver interprets the message. Noise in this context broadly describes any interference between the sender’s message reaching the receiver with the intended meaning. It can be mechanical, such as a bad phone connection, or even cultural if they are using different languages or dialects. Feedback, on the other hand, is the signals, cues, or other input from the exchange. One example could be an audible sigh after someone has just received inconvenient news or a change in body language.
Understanding these elements of the communication process might seem fundamental, but it reveals three important things for presenters to keep in consideration:
- The first is the presence of noise, both obvious and not, which has the potential to disrupt your message in transit.
- The second point is to be aware of how you are encoding the message so that it overcomes potential noise factors, whether that is limiting your use of industry jargon, targeting the message to your audience’s specific interests, or simply turning up the volume or slowing down your speech.
- Finally, the third and possibly most important takeaway from the communication process is that even in a presentation setting, there is reciprocity. Paying attention to feedback from your audience allows you to gauge whether your message is landing or not.
Connecting With Your Audience
Ask an engineer about their latest project and they will be able to describe its entire composition in infinite detail. Unfortunately, being an expert on a subject is not the only requirement for public speaking. It also requires an empathetic understanding of your audience. Why empathetic? Because all good presenters care about what their audiences want to hear and aim to empower them by delivering it in a way that’s easy to understand. One mistake that professionals with strong technical skills often make is confusing or intimidating the audience with information overload.
One way to catch yourself doing this while developing a presentation is to ask yourself, am I focusing on features more than benefits? Features describe how a product works and what differentiates it, like functionality or efficiency. By contrast, benefits are the tangible or intangible value received by the user with the combination of those features. An example would be a more efficient pump (a feature) that allows producers to lower their electricity bill and results in longer uptime (tangible benefits), which means fewer failures and less concern about workover crew availability (intangible benefit).
Pinpointing who your audiences are, what they know, and what they care about should be at the forefront of your mind when developing a presentation because it forces you to think about who the message is for, rather than just what you want to say. By constructing benefits around your features that are tailored to the audience’s information needs, you can overcome some of the noise factors that might exist between you and the receiver. Ways to begin personifying your audience are to consider things like demographics; job title; role in the decision-making process; and key motivators, like cost savings, using new technology, maximizing revenue, attracting investors, or otherwise. Remembering that your audiences are, in fact, people can also help you relax and be yourself in the moment, allowing you to make a stronger impression and a more personal connection with the others in the room (or on the call).
How To Deliver a Great Presentation
1. Tell a Story
Regardless of the type of information you’re presenting, you must be able to communicate it in a manner that helps your audiences follow it logically and understand its value. One of the most tried and true frameworks for doing this is through storytelling.
You probably already know that stories have three main parts: the exposition, the conflict, and a resolution. What you may not know is that this arc is also a simple and effective way to develop presentations. You can begin by providing introductions, then set the scene by describing a current gap or problem, and then present your solution. At the end of your presentation make sure to summarize the key points you made and ask your audience to take the next step, whether that is initiating a project or applying the information in some other way.
2. Use Visual Aids
In the modern workplace, meetings frequently involve a visual presentation, ranging from slide decks to printed reports and posterboards. Whenever possible, incorporating graphics, charts, and other imagery into your materials can greatly improve audience comprehension of the information presented. In fact, studies have shown that visual aids improve both immediate and delayed retention of information when presented to various groups. (Ware, 2020). So how do you know which supplements to include? In some cases, the presentation environment will dictate your audio/visual options. Considering your time constraints and other aspects of the communication context will also help you select the right type of supporting material.
3. Practice Your Delivery
Finally, how you practice will determine how you perform. Think about projecting your voice from your ribcage to the back of the room, find points of eye contact in the audience, and settle any distracting movements or fidgeting. Another common issue for nervous presenters is the use of filler words, like “um,” “so,” and “like.” Becoming aware of a habit is the first step to reprogramming it, and a simple solution is to work on your speech ahead of time. Practice what you will say and how, so that you don’t get tripped up on the spot.
In conclusion, effective presentations are crafted with the audience in mind and use storytelling to convey a clear message and prompt further action of some sort. The tips in the article were developed to help you get started, but it’s important to remember that ultimately becoming more confident in your knowledge and own abilities will take you further than perfecting any single technique. Good luck presenting!
Ware, S. 2020. How Visuals Help You Remember Information, TruScribe.