On December 1, I shared the story of one young engineers defining moment. Erin Fletcher was asked to make an important public presentation at the last minute. I shared this story on ASCE ‘s Linked-In group and posed the question:
How do you prepare yourself for having to give a major public presentation for the first time?
Once again, the response I received was overwhelming. The professionals on the list-serv shared many great suggestions for young engineers. The most common recommendation was to join a group like Toastmasters or attend speaking courses, like the Rostrum or Dale Carnegie courses. These organizations will help you develop confidence as you develop your skills. They do this by forcing you to practice speaking. Teaching a course or to a group of kids or adults will also help immensely. If you’re a do-it-yourself type of person, one respondent recommended Brian Tracey’s book, “Speak to Win.”
Beyond basic training, Richard Rhimes (Principal of his own firm) echoed several professionals who emphasized preparation.
For such an engagement it is worth spending a reasonable time preparing for the talk, consider the audience (and the questions they may raise and answer them in the paper or presentation), prepare some cue cards or similar if needed and then do a few dry runs with a peer or empathetic and possibly critical listener.
Ken Headley (training and marketing expert) acknowledged that even well-practiced speakers sometimes feel nervous.
For those of us who do public speaking and training as part of our regular task we forget the early days of our first presentations. Even now I have some that unnerve me but most is like a walk in the park and have an energy and excitement about them. The key is to make sure you have a passion for your topic that will go sooo far in taking the fear away.
Many engineers like Ed Springer (chief structural engineer), emphasized the importance of speaking from experience. This basic rule also extends to the question and answer session.
The best advice I have ever gotten is to give your presentation diectly from your personal experiences and knowledge. Start there and you can build your confidence to speak anywhere to anyone about almost anything. Also, what I feel is my saving grace, is not to be a fraid to respond to questions with “I haven’t considered that’ or “I don’t know, but can find out”. Trying to BS you way through a Q&A never works. I always thought that I had to be the top expert to make a presentation and was afraid that someone in the audience would know more than myself. That’s okay if it’s true. The trick is to acknowledge their expertise and get them involved in the discussion. Look at them as a resource that will enhance your talk. It will help you look like a peer, rather than a subordinate.
Finally, Patrick Healy (project manager), provided some insight on presenting to large groups.
When I was asked by a client to present a proposed zone change to an Annual Town Meeting (300+ attendees and on live TV), I concentrated on speaking to a couple of friendly faces in the crowd of people in attendance.