Expect Murphy’s Law to Apply to all Engineering Presentations You Give is a guest post by Shoots Veis, P.E.
I’ve had the honor of speaking to thousands of engineers across the world over the years, which has helped me to understand why public speaking is so important to any professional. It gives you the ability to reach and impact a lot of people.
That being said, there’s been a few times, where I showed up to speak and everything went wrong, and I had to adjust. This happens more often than not and that’s why I am really excited to share the following story with you from our guest author for this week Shoots Veis, P.E, author of Public Speaking for Engineers, about engineering presentations. Enjoy it…
As you go through the process of planning your speech, don’t forget to plan for things not going according to plan.
Our firm responded to a Request for Proposal from the state department of transportation concerning their need for an engineering firm to upgrade a busy state highway route bridge. Our proposal was ranked in the top three, so we were asked to come in for a presentation and interview. We were excited about the opportunity to work on a high-profile project and we prepared diligently. We started our preparation early, developed a good set of objectives and slides, and practiced several times as a team before the interview and went into the meeting well prepared.
What we were not ready for was everything else with the presentation going haywire. We had 20 minutes to give our presentation and we ended up spending about 5 minutes of that discussing the project. The rest was taken up with technical difficulties that could have been avoided with a little planning.
We had checked with them ahead of time and were told they would have a projector available, we just needed to supply the computer. When we arrived at the meeting room and started setting up, their projector and our computer were not compatible. We tried three times to get them to talk to each other, but with no success. We did not bring the projector we had practiced with because we trusted their projector and assumed our computer would easily integrate. That usually happens, but we could not make it work.
An easy solution would have been to bring our projector to the interview as a back-up, which we failed to do.
One of the members of the committee said we could use his computer that was certain to sync with the projector, so we gave it a try. He hooked up the computer and sure enough, his screen was projected on the wall in no time. Then he asked us for an electronic copy of the presentation file. We had not brought the presentation on a flash drive because we were using our computer and no one at the interview had a flash drive on them. Eventually, we shared the presentation via Dropbox, and it was loaded on his computer and projected on the screen.
We are 10 minutes into the interview and finally, the opening slide is projected onto the wall. We begin our presentation, and a few slides in, we realize the version of the presentation on the wall has changed from the one we used to rehearse. So, we had updated the slides on the computer we were going to use but had not updated the file on Dropbox. We had to plow forward with the old version and describe to the committee the slides and graphics we had inserted.
A few more slides into the presentation, our computer decided it needed to update Windows software, so it begins the process of shutting down and restarting with no way to stop the shutdown. At that point, the slideshow disappeared from the wall and we didn’t think ahead enough to have handouts. If we did, we could have at least handed out our slides.
At this point, everyone on the team was very flustered and the committee members were not focused on hiring us. You could tell they felt bad about all the technical difficulties, but their sympathy was not going to get us the job. We spent the last 3 minutes of the interview doing our best to talk about how we would approach the project, but it was not very effective. They asked a couple of questions and then we packed up our equipment.
We walked out of the room to see the next group of engineers waiting for their turn to present. We hoped their presentation would be as much of a disaster as ours, but that was unlikely to be the case.
To no one’s surprise, we were not selected as the engineering firm for the high-profile project. We spent a lot of time and effort getting ready and had what we thought was a good presentation, but unfortunately, the committee wasn’t able to see it.
When it comes to engineering presentations in your career, always be prepared.
About Shoots Veis:
Shoots Veis, P.E. is the author of Public Speaking for Engineers: Communicating Effectively with Clients, the Public, and Local Government. He is a Senior Project Manager focusing on municipal engineering assignments involving water and wastewater systems, land development, permitting, and project management. He served for five years as an elected member of the Billings, MT city council. Shoots enjoy speaking to engineers about engineering presentations.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions on engineering presentations in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success