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?

Running to Success: Achieving Engineering Career Goals.

When you run your first marathon the goal is usually just to finish, but as your running career continues this goal changes. Runners begin to set personal accomplishments such as completing a race in a certain time, increasing the distance to become an ultra-marathoner or wanting to finish a challenge like running races in seven continents in seven days. These runners are able to succeed by laying out small feats along the way that help them reach their final objectives.

As a new engineer entering the workforce, it is always recommended that you determine the career goals you want to achieve. When I hire engineers, after about a month I ask what their professional objectives are and which career benchmarks they’d like to reach in this department. Normally, it’s easy to identify the people that have not put thought into their futures. Career goal setting can be the reason why one person loves their work and moves forward, while another finds their job stressful and lacking purpose. After all, you don’t want to work in a position for years only to realize you’re merely spinning your wheels. The key to setting up your career goal is determining what matters to you.

Like runners, you need to setup two types of goals: short term and long term. A long-term goal is usually your overall vision for the future, such as a dream job or how you want to be remembered. For example, my long-term vision is to be a university professor of material science. Once you have established this target, you will be able to determine the short-term goals you need to accomplish along the way.

When setting short-term goals, you want to look at tasks or milestones that can be attained in a reasonable time frame, such as six months or three years. My short-term goals, for instance, revolve around my desire to be a professor so I can use my experience and industry knowledge to educate students. The short-term goals I have completed to move me closer toward my ultimate aspiration include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, acquiring experience as an industrial engineer and a process metallurgist, as well as acquiring quality experience and becoming a department manager. Additional short-term achievements that I have left to accomplish on my path towards my long-term goal include earning my master’s degree and Ph. D.

Now that you have laid out your goals, you want to formulate them properly to make sure you can reach success. Some simple guidelines to follow are:

Be Specific: You might say, “I want to be successful.” But who doesn’t?  A better question is “What does ‘success’ mean to me?” In my case, success is being able to educate prospective engineers and help improve our community and environment for future generations. For another person, it could be only working 40 hours a week so they can spend more time with family.

Don’t Be Negative: Make sure your goals are something you want to do rather than avoid. Otherwise, you might end up abandoning your efforts.

Keep it Realistic: Make sure your long-term goal is compatible with your ability and skills. You will never hear me set a goal like, “I’m going to win the PGA tour.” I can barely golf!

Make Sure the Goal is Obtainable in a Reasonable Time-frame: Don’t set yourself up for failure.  When setting a goal, make sure you include a reasonable time frame to achieve it. Remember to take the large goal and break it down into shorter goals that are easier to manage.

Link Actions to Each Goal: For instance, I needed to become a department manager. To achieve this, I signed up for my Master’s in Business Administration.

Be Flexible: If you encounter a barrier that impedes your progress, don’t give up. Modify your goal accordingly. For me this means it will take four years to complete a Ph. D since I will need to work full time throughout my program.

What items that have helped you achieve your short- and long-term goals?

Running into a Wall: Engineering Problem Solving

Trail runners tend to sign-up for several different events to see nature and experience the feeling of true freedom.  A trail runner will train for a race by learning the different sections of the terrain, studying elevation maps, and reviewing the routes.  Sometimes, last minute changes can occur to the trail route due to unknown events.  A few years back I came across one of these last-minute changes where the race coordinator stated the new route section was going to be EPIC.  Fifteen miles into the trail run, I approached the unknown section and discovered why it was epic.  The new trail section was a good quarter mile of rocks going up the side of a mountain.  What a challenge! Let’s use some problem-solving skills!

For the new engineer coming into the industry, one primary skill that you will need to exercise and perfect is your problem-solving skills.  These skills can be used on small decisions like, “should I wear a jacket today?”, up to the large opportunity such as, “why is their rapid grain growth in solution heat treated 188”?  I work in quality, metallurgy, and management.  Problem-solving is part of the everyday routine. My years of experience have taught me that problem-solving can be implemented in four basic steps: Outline the Problem, Generate Multiple Solutions, Select a Solution, and Implement.

Outline the Problem: You will want to diagnose the situation to focus on the problem, and not the symptoms. A great method is to implement root cause corrective action process.  For quality, we love to implement the cause-and-effect diagram also referred to as a fishbone diagram.

Generate Multiple Solutions:  Don’t stop at one solution.  You should always have multiple solutions identified before starting to evaluate.  This will prevent the common mistake of evaluating as solutions are proposed, resulting in the first acceptable solution chosen and not the best fit. Remember, if you are focused on trying to get results required, you will miss the potential for learning something and allowing real improvement.

Select a Solution:  There are several things to consider when evaluating and selecting the best solution, such as; will all persons involved accept the solution, does the selected solution fit the organization constraints, will the selected solution solve the problem without causing other problems, is implementation likely? Now chose.

Implement:  One of the best ways to implement a solution is to involve others in the implementation process.  This will help you to sell the solution and minimize resistance to subsequent changes.  As part of the implementation remember to build feedback channels to monitor if the solution is giving expected results.  Remember your overall goal is learning for improvement.

As for my trivial problem during the race, I had to act fast and perform a quick outline of what my different solutions were and which to implement. My stubborn personality chose to go through the large rocks by bouldering. The feedback I received from my selection is I am a capable climber and visiting the rock climbing gym has improved my skills. I finished the race and enjoyed my achievement.


Problem: How to get to the top of the trail?




Go Back Run about 7 miles until last check point; DNF; Limited Hydration Finish
Go Around Cause damage to environment; Increase time Finish
Go Through Exhaust Energy; Fall; Strain Finish


What your Runner Wants: Engineering with the End-User in Mind

For a trail runner that loves a challenge and the most beautiful landscape that exists in the Sierra Nevada’s, I rely on organizations such as Ascent Runs.  When I first wandered upon their website, I was drawn in by their mission statement. “To create and host challenging, fun, and memorable trail running experiences that promote the natural environment of the Tahoe Basin and contribute to the success of local businesses and communities”.  I have found this to be true in every event.  This organization knows which runners they are trying to please and they always try to keep the customer in mind when they design a new race.

This is a significant concept that can be incorporated into all professional fields, but is very important for the up and coming engineers to understand, “you must know your end-user”.  Engineers can be very creative in their field when designing products.  But if your end-user is going to have complications with the design, they will not see value added in the product and most likely reject it.

One of my favorite memories of this occurring, was when a young Mechanical Engineer Intern was tasked to redesign a hydraulic pump system that had to fit in a particular location.  He sat at his computer for weeks drawing up the design, and when he requested the installation occur, the proposal was denied.  The design itself would have functioned perfectly for the required performance; however, when preventative maintenance had to be performed on the system, it was impossible unless you took the entire unit apart making it impractical for use.

So what actions could this young Intern have taken to design a practical system?  The first item would have been to take a step back and determine all parties that would be involved in the end application.  The Intern’s focus was just on the functionality of the system and missed the requirement of maintaining the system.  Before I start developing, I find it useful to discuss with different parties to determine who the end-users will be. This allows for idea interaction from various sources.

Secondly, if the Intern would have kept open communication with all end-users, he could have received their input through the design process and modified the system during development. Unfortunately, he decided not to include communication, resulting in weeks of lost productivity and he had to redesign the system in the end. Communication is a key skill in order to create a value added product.

Third, he forgot about the human element.  As engineers we get excited to create something new and innovative, but it is important to remember human interaction will occur.  You will need to determine what physical attribute, cognitive ability, and ergonomics are required for interaction with the user. Always keep the end-user in mind.

As for Ascent Runs, they focus on their end-user by giving them exactly what they expect; 25 miles with a 6700-foot vert, that you know is going to be rough going up. When you reach that peak, and see that unforgettable view, all pain melts away to success. Your awe moment.

Please leave feedback on what you expect as a end-user?