Informing the Runners: Presentation Skills for Engineers

Before every trail race, there is an orientation meeting where the race coordinator gives you the low-down on the event.  The speaker usually goes over important items such as is where stations are located, if the trail is rough at mile 10, and where to turn at a poorly marked Y.  I have been present for some great race orientations but once and awhile you will have the person who just cannot be heard or understood.  This lead to the question, “do I take the left or right trail at the creek?”

I have attended several conferences for different topics in engineering as an audience member and as a presenter.  Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of being told that I am a great presenter and have a great presence on stage.  There is nothing worse than attending a highly anticipated presentation, just to have the presenter loose the audiences interest in the first 10 seconds.   They may have a brilliant and motivating topic, but if it is presented badly the presenter will not be able to capture the attention of their audience.  I have seen this on many occasions and would like to make sure you do not make the mistakes these presenters do.

Nervous Speaker:  I am an introvert.  Speaking to an audience is not something I would choose to do, but I have learned this is a necessary tool in my career.  To calm my nerves for public speaking, I go for a high intensity run in the morning which boost my endorphins and in turn reduces my anxiety.  Additionally, before hitting the stage I have a personal mantra that I repeat in my head.  “I am a spectacular presenter, because I am extremely knowledgeable in the field.”

Practice your Material: My presentations are prepared weeks in advance, giving me the ability to practice how I am going to deliver the material. This helps me to determine when I will need to refocus the audience attention and remove any over the top information that can cause loss of interest.

Entertain and Engage the Audience: No one wants to listen to a thirty-minute lecture, so instead of talking at your audience, speak to them.  I use the practice of correlating key concepts into stories and adding a little humor. Also, to maintain focus on the topic being presented, I like to interact with the audience by asking questions and inviting conversation.  It is also beneficial to chat with some of the audience before the presentations.  This makes you more likeable and approachable and guarantees a response when you ask the audience a question.

Material: Make sure your visual aids are well organized and not jumping from topic to topic. The aid should be a tool and not your speech.  Please do not write large paragraphs of information on your power point slide. This will cause you to try covering too much material, resulting in the loss of the audience interest.  You want to show that you are knowledgeable in your topic, but don’t bombard the audience with extreme technical data such as long equations and how you solved them.  That type of information should stay in a report the audience can obtain later.

It is okay to be nervous about presenting; I promise most speakers were not confident at one point in their speaking career.  I would highly recommend you attend other presentations when you are invited to present at a conference.  You can pick up some pointers while you observe a range of presentation skills from new to experienced speakers.

Share some comments on presentations you have attendant.

Running into Confusion: Tip for Engineering Technical Writing

I am a runner who studies all the detailed information about a race before the actual event.  I go to the information page to determine what items I will need to bring, what time I must be at various locations, where the aid stations are located, or how the trails are marked.  One race I signed up for had one of the worst information pages I had ever seen; there were no titles, just one giant paragraph of information.  All I wanted to know was the pickup time and location for the morning shuttle.  I was able to determine the pickup time after reading the page, but not the location, which resulted in me running to catch the shuttle for the race.

I have memories from college where the professors would request a fifty-page technical report as a semester project.  This document would be full of data complete with equations and terminology only a Material Engineer would understand.  When you start your engineering career your technical writing should not be looked at as a highly-detailed document, but as a way of taking complex information and explaining the information to a specific audience. As you have already found out, communication is one of the most important skills for engineers, and preparing technical documentation is part of this.  Here are some pointers that I would like to share with new engineers in writing a technical report.

Know Your Audience:  I have heard some engineers protest that I do not read their reports, when submitted for review.  Well to tell you the truth, it is because of how the report is written.  If a technical report requires me to hunt for the crucial information, then I will place it to the side because I have a limited amount of time to achieve all my objectives.  Your reports should highlight the important data and only include the crucial supplementary information. Remember keep the report to the point by using the most direct language to convey the information.  The tone of the report is neutral and professional.

Think About the Audience’s Background:  Are they engineers in your industry? Are they in sales, finance, or a board member?  What would be the purpose for them to read the document?   These questions should be answer while you plan the report.  You will want to design the report so that your reader can understand the text and identify the information that is pertinent to them.  Many times, I have written three different variations of a report in order to communicate appropriate information to different audiences.  Usually one for engineers, top management, and non-technical persons.  This may be a practice that you would like to try.

Document Layout: All technical reports should have a plan.  You want the report to be easy to navigate so your audience can find information quickly. Design and outline the document before you start writing.  This will assistance you in determining what highlight information is necessary and where it would fit in the organization of the document.  For my department, a preset temple was designed so all engineer formats their report in the same layout, making it easier for other employees to identify where information is located.  Not all companies have practice, so you will need to be prepared to setup your own plan and design.

Review the Report:  It is very important that you read the document and review it before submitting a final draft. Use the tools you have available to perform spelling and grammar checks.  Then review the document again to verify it is understandable to the audience.  One practice I have is to read the document aloud, which helps to emphasize odd sounding phrases and unnecessary words.  Next, have someone else review the document for you so they can determine if the text is readable and accessible.

These are just a few recommendations to help you create a great technical report.  Please comment with any questions you may have or add any additional tips you use currently in report writing.

Learning To Run: Engineer’s First Job

It is fun to meet first time marathon runners, they all have a distinct perspective on the right way to finish the race.  My favorite first time personality is the person who knows the ins and outs of marathon training.  They have read the books, determined when they will fuel up during the race, what pace they will run at all times, and when they’re going to start their kick.  I remember talking to one of these eager beavers on his first trail race.  He had never run trails or high elevation, but he studied what he needed to do.  He was on my heels for the first few miles and I suggested that he slow down because we were about to ascend.  He stayed with me for as long as possible but had to stop running since he used all his energy.  I congratulated him on his success finishing the race when I saw make the finish line a few hours after me.  He gave the race his best effort but set his goals too high for a first race.

I have been the new employee several times in my career, trying to determine what path would be the correct one to take and have experienced that new employee feeling.  As a manager, I now get to observe the new engineer who was just hired coming through the door.  So what are you expecting in those first few days of your new career?

First thing I’d like to suggest to the new engineers, acclimate yourself to the work culture in the company.  Identify a person that may be a go to person or someone who can show you the ins and outs of the business.

When you receive your first assignment, do not expect it to be the most awesome project in the world.  Trust me, it will be the grunt work and most likely boring.  This does not matter though.  The most important thing is to absorb everything you can so you obtain the experiences you will need.  Ask people why processes are done certain ways, learn techniques and get all the training you can.  All of these things will help you in your engineering career.

The first project you receive may be a giant mess.  Do your best to resolve it.  In my department I assign new engineers a project that has not been resolved in 25 years.  I do not expect a straight out of college engineer to find the solution to the project.  I use the project to determine the new engineer’s work methods.  This project allows me to see if they are willing to communicate with others or try to find a solution on their own.  I can observe what method of problem solving they use, or see if they jump to conclusions.  This assists me with my evaluation of the new engineer and helps determine where I should focus their training.

Please remember your manners in the office environment.  Other members of your team have been with the company and have their work to perform.  When you interact with them be respectful of their time by using brief and clear communication and make accurate statements.  Your team members know you want to learn, but they do have deadlines to meet.

The articles image is from one of my favorite comic writers, The Oatmeal. Please visit his site to see the complete comic, The DOs and DO NOTs of Running your First Marathon.

What Fits the Runner: Finding the Correct Engineering Career?

Ten years ago, I began my fascination with running.  Who would have thought that my passion would be long-distance running?  My very first race was a 5K and I thought it was such an extremely long distance.  As I advanced, the races kept getting longer and I realized that I did not enjoy the 5K/10K distance any more.  They were much too short-lived for my taste.  I started running half/full marathons and found them to be much more challenging and invigorating.  I decided to try trail running and fell in love with the open freedom of the environment and the feeling of isolation on the trail.  I discovered this was my true calling in running.

When planning your engineering future, you will be offered many paths to take, but must decide which direction to go in order to arrive at the career that is best for you.  I did not wake up one morning and decide, “I am going to be a Material Science Engineer, and work for an aerospace company as the QA & Tech Manager”.  I placed a lot of thought into which direction I wanted to proceed in my career.  Through this wisdom I have identified a few pointers that can help you decided what path may be best to follow.

What Interest You:  This is a very important part of deciding your career direction for the future.  You do not want to end up in a job that you dread going to.  Try asking yourself the question, “What job would you do for free?”

Look at your Strengths:  As humans we tend to enjoy things that we are good at.  If you are having difficulty deciding which area to focus on for your career, look at your skills and pick what you do best.

Ask People about their Career:  When you meet a person who already works in a position you think will fit your personality, talk to them about it.  It is amazing what you can learn.

Internships:  I originally started out as a Mechanical Engineering student and was able to get an internship at a manufacturing facility.  I learned very quickly that I would not enjoy being a Mechanical Engineer.  As luck would have it, I met a Materials Engineer during that internship and struck up a conversation about what they enjoyed about their job.  (Ask People about their Career!)  From that conversation, I determined Material Science Engineering would be a great fit for me.

Mentors:  These very important individuals can help you determine what path would be correct for you.  Discuss your weaknesses and strengths with your mentors.  Their knowledge and guidance can assist you with your career path decisions.

You will never be stuck in a career you hate, if you remember, you are always able to take a different path and change direction to achieve happiness in your career.

The Social Runner: Networking Skills for the Engineer-Part 2

Runners have a plan before, during, and after an event.  Before an event, I check the weather, select a running outfit, prepare a drop bag, re-evaluate the course and schedules.  During the event, having a schedule for when to refuel, adding a kick, and when to visit an aid station can help you maintain focus.  After the event, it is so much fun to mingle with the runners from the race, eat some food, enjoy the surroundings and the feeling of success.  At a running event, I usually make two future contacts through networking practices I have gained in my professional career.

We have evaluated great ways for engineers to start their networking abilities.  Now that you are ready to meet professionals in your field you will want to be prepared to do this correctly when attending conferences/Trade Shows. To make the most of these events you will need a little preparation and practice.

Before the Event:

Have an objective for attending the event.  This can be something as simple as learn a certain topic to be presented, reconnecting with contacts or meeting new people.  My goal at each event is to gain knowledge on certain topics and collect three business cards from valuable contacts.

Make sure you dress professional even if the event states business casual.  You do not want your first impression to be a negative one.  I usually layout my networking outfits to determine if they are appropriate for the event. Since I attend metallurgical conferences, I tend to stay away from skirts or dresses, because sometimes you tour facilities that require PPE.  To keep my personal style, I usually wear a vibrantly colored shirt with chunky heels, allowing me to exude confidence.

Make sure you bring enough business cards to go around.  It is embarrassing to not have a business card when someone request your information. Also, make sure to have a professional way of carrying those cards.

At the Event:

When you meet someone new, make a good introduction by maintaining eye contact, smiling, and saying your complete name.  Give a firm brief handshake, from experience, receiving a limp handshake is abnormal.  Next, listen to the other person’s name, then use it while you converse.

When engaging in conversation listen to the other person first.  This is a method of being completely listened to.  Usually the first person talking is not being completely listened to because the other person is occupied with what they are going to say when it is their turn to speak. Ask questions about the other person’s background and work.  This shows the person you are conversing with that you are interested in what they are saying.  When it is your turn to speak, keep your conversation partner engaged by getting to the point in a few sentences.  If people want greater detail you can share this later.

Make sure you take notes on the crucial details of the conversation because you will not remember everything.  I usually have several conversations during breakouts, so before I start a new conversation, I find a corner and write basic notes on the business cards I have obtained.  This makes it easier when I follow up with the contacts I have met.

After the Event:

When you return from the event try to follow up within a few days.  Send emails to anyone you have met that you want to continue networking with.  Make sure you add personalization to the email by using the notes you took and let each person know you enjoyed meeting them.

What suggestion do you have from networking at events? Please share.

The Social Runner: Networking for the Engineer

Running is usually a solo practice but sometimes you just want to be around others.  Joining a running group can help you achieve your personal goals.  These groups give runners the opportunity to socialize with other runners allowing them to find out about methods for improvement, races they may not have known about, and access to coaches that can improve your abilities.  These groups are the best way to network with runners of all abilities.

For engineers’, networking is a must and not just something that is needed when looking for a career change.  Through networking you maintain connection that can help you promote new engineering concepts and ideas, acquire information that may help in solving an engineering problem, and have a mentor to contact who can help you make it to the next milestone in your goals. Most engineers identify themselves as introverts, which hinders our ability to communicate with others. Here are some need-to-know networking tips to help engineers make the most out of their connections.

Find a Mentor:  Mentorships are beneficial to young engineers, because they provide seasoned veterans and new professionals with an opportunity to learn from each other.  This is a great starting point for building a network by having a strong connection with someone in your industry. Mentors can help expand a new engineer’s knowledge in addition to improving their intercommunication skill.  Interaction with an experienced engineer as your mentor can enhance skills that aren’t always called upon, such as leadership and communication.

Join a Professional Engineering Group: Organizations such as TMS were created for two main reasons, sharing knowledge and connecting people.  A professional such as myself has about four organizational memberships. Through these memberships you will have the ability to attend meetings and events, stay continuously connected through the organization blogs and emails, and become more involved in your industry.  If you are trying to create long-lasting relationships in your field, consider joining a committee or serving on a board. Not only will it give you an opportunity to be a leader, but it will help boost your communication skills.

Attend Conferences/Trade Shows: Conferences and Trade Shows bring persons of the same professional background to one location.  This promotes great opportunities for face to face interaction with people in your industry. Key leaders of your industry will be available to discuss topics during these events; use the breakout session to talk to these individuals so your name can become more known.  If you are willing to pitch a presentation, do so.  This will allow you to share your research experience and position yourself as an expert in your field.  Make sure you obtain contact information and trade business cards

Always be prepared with a Personal Pitch:  You will never know when a network opportunity can happen.  Be ready for the surprise opportunity by having a brief pitch prepared about who you are.  This pitch should be short, focused, and Strong.  Include information of your experience, interests, and career path.

Use a LinkedIn Account: LinkedIn is the social media platform that engineers are taking advantage of.  Groups on LinkedIn allow users with common interest to share content, ask questions, share knowledge and identify themselves in their industry.  I personal like to use it as my business card holder.  After I acquire a business card from a new contact, I add them to my LinkedIn following.

How do you network? Please share a comment.

The Runner’s Fear: Adapting to Change for Engineers

Runners love to push themselves to the limits and I am no different from any other runner.  Unfortunately, every so often we push ourselves too far and pay for it through an injury.  When this occurs the reality sets in that we will not be able to run like we enjoy until we fully heal.  We have to face the reality and adapt our workout routine until we are fully able to run again.

During your engineering career there are times when you will be working on a project or career path and modifications will be required.  This is not something that is avoidable, so make the most of it and be willing to become adaptable.  Learning to adapt will help promote your future growth. Here are some tips to remember when changes occur.

Accept the new norm:  Individuals tend to romanticize the past, and often for good reason. However, holding on to the memory of how things once were is counterproductive when changes are present.

Modify your goals and strive to reach them:  Change can leave a person feeling directionless or confused about the future.  When your surroundings change, we have to adapt our plans and ambitions will need revising.

Take control of your own actions: As in all aspects of life, there will always be elements within our careers which are not in our control. Instead of feeling like you have lost control of a formerly controllable situation, focus on specific tasks you can do.  This will give you the sense of fulfillment and significance.

Keep a positive inner dialogue: It’s quite easy to recoil at a new concept, especially when you did not see problems with the previous method.  Maintaining the ability to view any potential change with a positive attitude is certainly essential to our ability to adjust to new situations.

Remember that change is inevitable, and you are able to adapt.  As humans, we have this amazing ability to change, learn and adapt at will.  For a runner like myself, if I am not willing to change my workout when recuperating from an injury, I would go stir-crazy from boredom.  Additionally, I would hurt my ability to achieve my goals to be a more efficient runner.

What recommendation can you add to accept change?