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The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

Posted September 18, 2007 12:01 AM by Consultgene

"I have superb technical skills. I put in at least 60 hours a week. My performance reviews are so good, they're suitable for framing. So why can't I get promoted to manager?"

That's a common lament I hear from engineers at large and mid-sized professional service firms. I tell them that if they want to make the transition to manager, they need to have very good communications skills, particularly in public speaking and presentations.

My name is Gene Ritchie. I'm a Certified Global Trainer for Dale Carnegie Training®. Years ago, when I started my career in advertising and public relations, I didn't have good communication skills. I lacked confidence and, as a result, avoided every assignment to speak or present. Even if I could speak, I had no idea how to put together a cohesive message.

Then one day I had to make a new business pitch to a group of human resource executives in Philadelphia. When I stood to speak, I noticed my mouth was very dry and my voice began to quiver. A kind member of the group passed me a glass of water, which I couldn't hold without spilling its contents. I was so nervous. Needless to say, we didn't get the business. The major reason, according to the potential client, was my lack of confidence and poor presentation skills.

I decided I needed help and registered for The Dale Carnegie Course®. Today, I teach that course and help others to overcome their fear of public speaking. How cool is that?

The Two Things Engineers Must Do

Recently, I spoke to a large group of engineers in New Jersey. During the question-and-answer period, I was asked, "What is the secret to public speaking?" My response was that there is no secret.

"You just have to do two things," I told the questioner, "First, just do it - you have to get up and speak as often as you can. There's just no getting around that. Second, you have to become less concerned about yourself (how I look, how I sound); you have to become more interested in your audience's needs for information, inspiration, or for whatever reason they are there."

I told these engineers that they are fortunate. They have many speaking opportunities: new designs, blueprint renditions, shopping mall additions, and the like. The sophisticated software they use and physical-scale models they produce put them head and shoulders over other professional service firms. Why? They present a future that can be seen (i.e., a scale model).

Lawyers, accountants, and consultants are retained - for the most part - on faith. Yes, they can show target numbers, but figures alone pale in comparison to what engineers can do.

The Three E's for Engineers

Where engineers fail, however, is in presenting exhibits in a dry, monotonous way. So I advise them to get excited about their work and to show that excitement, whether it's to the school board, the bank president, or whoever they're showing their work. Excitement is one of the "three Es" I learned from Dale Carnegie Training® that is so necessary to effective public speaking.

The first "E" is about "earning the right" to speak. Engineers' academic degrees and of years of experience in a particular field are usually enough to satisfy this E. Publishing articles and books, and talking on those topics also count.

The second is "excited," which I mentioned earlier. Most engineers can get excited about their work when they think in terms of their client's interests. You may be adding a store or a branch to a network that will produce more revenue, or a creating a new product design that will distinguish the client's products from competitors.

The third "E" is "eager to share." Just like man, no idea is an island. Engineers need to be eager to share their work to persuade others to fund it, mass-produce it, or at least consider it for the future. That means seeking opportunities to present their work, which many avoid.

What Lee Iacocca Knew About Engineers

An engineer who made the transition to management, Lee Iacocca, a graduate of Dale Carnegie Training, wrote in his 1984 autobiography, "I've known a lot of engineers with terrific ideas who had trouble explaining them to other people. It's always a shame when a guy with great talent can't tell the board or committee what's in his head."

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#1

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/18/2007 8:57 AM

Great advice, Gene. Thanks for contributing to CR4!

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#2

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/18/2007 11:36 PM

i am one of the people who are struggling to conquer the fear of public speaking, thanks for sharing.

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#3

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/19/2007 12:37 AM

Senator Alvin Barkley, senior senator for Kentucky many years ago, was an orator of the old school. When asked how he learned to speak so fluently, he replied that he lisped very badly while growing up. In college, he took a course in public speaking to help him overcome to his lisp. First he filled his mouth with marbles then began to speak. As he progressed he would remove a marble, finally when he lost all his marbles, he became a public speaker.

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#10
In reply to #3

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/20/2007 11:56 PM

So the moral of the story is, to be a successful politician and public speaker, you first have to lose all your marbles then?

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#4

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/19/2007 4:04 AM

I learned how to public speak by moving from engineering to teaching engineering. You have to be in front all the time to answer the questions but eventually you get to realize that what you are talking about generates the questions so the answering becomes easier and the higher in the professional level you teach the more competent you become. Managing is the same except that there is something that comes with management that you have to learn it cannot be taught. It is easy to manage a system for an engineer its the people that cause the problem and specifically when you get to the dismissal end of the the situation. You need to become a killer and this end of the job you have to do as well as any other. I would always count it as a failure to have to dismiss someone but in the end some are inevertable, and can cause a considerable amount of unpleasantness. To be a good speaker, a good engineer and a good manager you have to be concerned about others and unafraid to give away what you know for others benefit.

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#5

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/19/2007 4:28 AM

Nice Post.

Here in the Philippines, It's the educational system in engineering courses that makes engineering graduates a poor public speakers.

I was so confident in front of people when I was in High School. I emceed school programs and talk in public a lot.

Five years in Engineering courses dulled my public speaking skills. We were more into reading books and solving problems. You can really graduate in Engineering without moving your tongue much...

sigh!!!

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#6

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/19/2007 8:49 AM

I used to work with an engineer who was my design leader at an automotive OEM and he was arguably the best technical engineer I ever worked with. He knew CAD software and was able to use it very well, he knew the automotive OEM plant and its equipment extremely well, he was very competent at pneumatic and electrical design (PLC's, robots). But he had no business being in a management position because he had absolutely no patience explaining or teaching the knowledge he had to other designers/engineers. Quite sad. But I guess all of us have this problem to a certain degree. Machines love us, people... not so much.

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#7

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/19/2007 9:54 PM

Years ago I quit the Electronics Engineering field for computers, I was blowing up everything I touched and it was starting to spook me (grounded or not even).. One of the first things I did was to take the Dale Carnegie course for Effective Speaking. My new business started off with a success that was a contract that could meet all of my basic expenses.

I put all of the blame for that initial success on the Dale Carnegie course.

Thanks

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#8

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/20/2007 1:29 PM

According to actual practice I've observed during my 60 year work experience, industrious people who have good writing and speaking skills are not necessarily promoted to management positions if they lack the intangibles most valued by upper management. Those intangibles often include a commanding and sometimes sinister aura of power and authority. It doesn't matter if a candidate cannot spell, uses improper grammar, and speaks in gutteral monosyllables if he can command obedience from his underlings in accordance with the desires of his superior. He will get the promotion instead of you.

Fortunately, competent employees can get work done despite the onus of dictatorial management styles. Industrious people usually have opportunities to transfer their abilities to another employer. Unfortunately, they will lose their senority when they do that.

It is beneficial for everyone to develop their speaking and writing skills in addition to their technical skills and good working habits. Always be aware of opportunities for career advancement, if that is your desire, within your present employment situation and elsewhere. Do whatever is necessary to ensure that your managers and prospective employers are aware of all of your abilities. Sometimes even lousy managers might recognize that they will lose something of value if you leave.

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#9

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/20/2007 3:46 PM

I went on an 'effective presentation course' years ago, great fun, but then I was happy doing it in the first place...it certainly showed some of the classic pitfalls. One of the other guys was really shy, it helped him a lot.

The course warned of some Classic Mistakes.

You put up a slide/overhead/whatever.... The audience will immediately read it. Save it for when you want it...else you will just bore them with what they have already seen.(Turn it off or cover it up).... And Don't read it out for them (they can read!)

Don't turn your back on them...with the old overhead projector or a laptop...point on your screen whilst facing the audienc...(yes it will get projected! You don't need to turn round to check!)

Don't be frightened to pause (that's my biggestfailingcosIdon'tstoptalkingforaminute)

Look around the audience (Not just at that lady from Tech' pubs who you fancy )

Remember the old adage..

Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em. Tell 'em. Tell 'em what you've told 'em.

And as Consultgene says a bit of enthusiasm (& humour) goes a long way.

Del

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#11

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/21/2007 8:34 AM

You should all go an read a special book, written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter in his 1968 book The Peter Principle, all is explained in there....

or go to this Wikipedia link:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle

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#12
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Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/21/2007 10:39 AM

"The Peter Principle"

Wasn't that a porn movie back in the 70's????

LOL

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#13
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Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/21/2007 6:03 PM

...you are better informed than I about that.....I have read the book, there was no Porn in that!!! But film makers always take a bit of license!!

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#17
In reply to #11

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

11/02/2007 10:42 PM

Not completely unrelated to Parkinson's Law:

"The extent of executive consideration of an issue, tends to be in reverse proportion to the priority of the issue;

A top executive meeting may include the type and location of a new water-cooler for the staff to take eight hours, while a following discussion about the type and location of a new nuclear power-plant may barely occupy the last five minutes of the meeting..."

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#14

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/23/2007 9:19 AM

I suppose a technical presentation to a learned audience is a bit different to an 'after-dinner' speech but the best advice I picked up years ago was

"Stand up. Speak up. Shut up!"

On a more personal point, I am gradually losing my hearing in the speech range so that (even with modern digital hearing aids) and (especially in a multi-cultural environment with so many accents) I find it difficult to understand questions or arguments from the floor (which come in profusion when the presentation is brief and the subject is interesting) - which of course makes it difficult to give a proper answer or defend your position.

Is there an answer to my problem - other than to stop speaking (which I have).

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

09/23/2007 12:28 PM

I would try and buy or make a fine directional microphone, so that you can aim it at a speaker and it will tend not to pick up other extraneous noise. This may mean standing in the wings so as not to get in the way of others viewing the stage etc..

Use full comfortable headphones, not just earpieces....

This is just off the top of my head, it cannot be difficult to find or make, but its effectiveness only you can rate. Its worth trying......

Now if you attached it to a video camera, nobody would know that you are hard of hearing AND you can go over it later at home on the TV!!!!

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#16
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Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

11/02/2007 8:33 PM

"...Use full comfortable headphones..."

Some of those have surprising rated output. I recently bought a Chinese model (Lexus HF-2011) rated 10 watts RMS at 4Ω impedance.

This could blow the top of one's head clean off.

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#18
In reply to #14

Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

11/03/2007 4:18 AM

Did my ideas help in anyway? We could discuss it further "off line" if you wish.....

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#19
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Re: The Engineer’s Edge in Public Speaking

11/05/2007 12:36 PM

Horace40:

When your remarks are completed--whether it's a presentation or speech, you might open the Q&A this way, "We have time for some questions, who has the first question?" If you're having difficulty hearing, tell your audience that and recruit someone near you to hear the question and repeat it for you." Another technique is to have questions written down and collected so you can respond to each one.

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