I can’t emphasize enough how important your public speaking skills are as an engineer. Depending on your discipline and specific job description, you very well could have to deliver multiple presentations per week throughout your engineering career. The quality of your presentations will undoubtedly have a huge impact on your engineering career development, specifically on your ability to advance from engineer to manager.
I have some good news to share with you on this topic. Public speaking is not a talent or gift that you are born with, it is a skill that must be developed and constantly improved. The best public speakers in the world were probably just as scared as you are to get up on stage at one point in their lives. That is not justgood news, it’s great news, because it means that no matter how much you fear public speaking, you can overcome your fear and shine with the best of them.
I wrote this post to serve as a Public Speaking for Engineers 101 crash course to give you some key pointers in developing the speaker inside of you. So here goes nothing:
- The more you speak in public, the better you get. This is the cardinal rule in improving your public speaking skills. You must get up on stage in front of real live people and present. Please don’t stand in front of your mirror talking to yourself—it doesn’t work. The difference between standing in front of a mirror and standing in front of a crowd is monumental. You can’t capture that feeling of looking out over 20 or 2,000 people. You have to experience it several times to be comfortable with it. Every time you do it, you become more and more comfortable in front of the crowd. To accomplish this task in a safe atmosphere, join a local chapter of Toastmasters International.
- Talk slowly and clearly. Before I became a professional speaker, I had one really tough challenge to overcome when presenting. Whenever I got up in front of people, I would talk very fast, like I was rushing to get it done so I could get off stage (and I was!). Once I began training to speak professionally, I started to really focus on this habit. In fact, at one point it was the only thing I focused on. I didn’t care about the content or subject of my speech, I just focused on slowing down my pace. After repeatedly speaking in front of people, everything slowed down for me. Now when I speak, I naturally speak very slowly and project very clearly. In fact, sometimes, a 60-minute speech feels like three hours to me, because the pace seems so slow; yet it’s comfortable. This is key to ensuring your audience can hear and digest your message.
- Pause periodically. This is another trick that I learned from some great speakers. By nature, we rush from beginning to end when we do something, without ever pausing for a breath or a break. Pauses at key points throughout your presentations can be extremely powerful. These pauses allow your points to really sink into the minds of your audience and can even add suspense to your talk. Use them often.
- Never, ever read when presenting. Unless you are reading a passage from a book or a statistic off of a slide, you should try to avoid reading to your audience at all costs. Even if you are new to presenting, prepare as much as possible and try to use the bullet points on your slides as a guide, not a book! Reading is a sure-fire way to totally lose your audience. You want to connect with them, and when you are reading, your attention is on the literature, not on them.
- Integrate stories and/or jokes into your presentations. I know you are an engineer and many times you are presenting technical information, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be funny once in a while. Whether it’s an inspirational story, a personal joke, or a real-life example, taking your audience away from the contents of your slides and connecting with them through one of these methods can improve their overall experience tenfold.
- Give your audience more value than they know what to do with. I have always prided myself on giving my seminar attendees tons of value when I speak. I consider “value” to be practical strategies and recommendations that my attendees can put to use immediately in their engineering career and get results—and typically they do. That is how you become a memorable speaker. You change someone’s life forever by giving them something that they can use regularly to create a better experience for them moving forward. In my opinion, there is no point in getting up in front of an audience if you don’t do this.
- End with a bang, but not a loud one. I like to end my presentations with something inspirational in nature, whether it be a quote, a story, or even a challenge. The end of your presentation is what people are really going to remember. Remember that when you are preparing and delivering it.
This has been your impromptu crash course on Public Speaking for Engineers 101. Believe it or not, this may be one of the most important courses you take in your career. Remember, the more you speak, the better you get. Enough from me. It’s your turn to speak.
“There are three things to aim at in public speaking: first, to get into your subject, then to get your subject into yourself, and lastly, to get your subject into the heart of your audience.” – Alexander Gregg
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success