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Engineering Communications

Engineering Communications is the place for conversation and discussion about communicating effectively at work.

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Communication - a Voyage of Experience: Part 1

Posted October 27, 2010 6:30 PM by English Rose
Pathfinder Tags: communications Toastmasters

You'll find the Introduction to this series here.

Part 1: Communication and Speaking

Communication isn't just about giving speeches from a podium or lectern. It's not all about using PowerPoint™ in a particular way.

Communication is the effective sharing of ideas and is a two way process. Our listening skills are as important as, if not more important than, our speaking skills.

In practice, we often use these two complementary skills simultaneously. However, like many of the equations and models we use in Engineering, when analysing them it is easier to consider them separately, as we would two orthogonal quantities.

Firstly we'll consider speaking, most people's first thought when communication is mentioned.

Whenever we speak, we should have in mind at all times the idea or concept we want to convey to our interlocutor. For even the longest speeches, it should be possible to summarise this aim in a single sentence. This sentence can then be used as the yard-stick against which the relevance of any part of the speech or the need for any visual aid, can be judged.

In addition to choosing the correct words to convey the idea, we also need to choose the correct format for the subject, the audience and the context. In many situations, people default to a PowerPoint™ presentation when they may have been more effective without it or with an alternative type of visual aid or prop. Of course, PowerPoint™ can be used to great effect and can be considered vital in a lot of presentations, however, its overuse should be avoided.

A classic speech format, which is equally suitable in two minutes summaries and forty minute in-depth speeches, is:

Introduction (Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em)
Body (Tell 'em)

  • First Point and supporting material
  • Second Point and supporting material
  • Third Point and supporting material

Conclusion / Summary (Tell 'em what you told 'em)

This format works well with all audiences, which leads me to think that it must gel with something fundamental in how the human brain takes in and retains information.

It also important to remember not to go on any longer than necessary. As Will Rogers said, "Never miss a good chance to shut up"

Personally, I like to tell a story, even in the most technical presentations, as I find this leads the audience logically through the material to the point I want to make, whilst also engaging the creative right side of the brain and thus lodging the message more firmly. Often this means not presenting things in a chronological order when that would confuse the audience as they are taken up and down blind alleys discovered during the development stage, but rather grouping similar components or processes together and describing their individual development.

In Toastmasters, these skills are built up over the first few speeches a new member makes from the Competent Communicator manual:

  1. The Icebreaker: where the aim is to get up and speak in front of an audience
  2. Organise Your Speech: use the Beginning – Middle – End structure in the speech
  3. Get to the Point: use the previous lessons to convey a particular piece of information or point of view to your audience

The remaining seven speeches in the manual work through other speech skills such as vocal variety, gestures, body language, use of words and language to enhance your speaking and presentation skills and get your message across more fully.

In my next entry, I'll look at impromptu speaking skills and how we can practice these within and without Toastmasters' meetings. More importantly, we'll look at where these skills can be used in real situations and how they can enhance your image.

©ER Productions


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Re: Communication - a Voyage of Experience: Part 1

10/28/2010 4:45 AM

Good stuff.
I like point 3. 'Get to the point,'
How often am I waiting to get some important message only to be confronted with a Dinnie Corbettesque monologue with no forseeable point or end.
In those situations I like the summary, then the padding and waffle...
Like a technical abstract, then the body, then the full conclusions etc.
<Leans forward conspiratorially in chair fingertips pressed together>
...'only the other day....'

health warning: These posts may contain traces of nut.
United Kingdom - Member - Hearts of Oak Popular Science - Paleontology - New Member Engineering Fields - Mechanical Engineering - New Member

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Re: Communication - a Voyage of Experience: Part 1

10/28/2010 4:55 AM

The other irritation is "And finally.." being followed by another 20 minutes of waffle...

Watch out for the entry on timing...fair warning for the gagmeisters!

Chaos always wins because it's better organised.
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Re: Communication - a Voyage of Experience: Part 1

10/28/2010 7:44 AM

Even though it's text and not speech, that's what I like about CR4, every single thread and post gets directly to the point.

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