I’m very lucky that I get to work with cutting edge technology day in, day out. I work for a big electronic engineering company and as you’d expect, in my office I’m surrounded by a lot of very clever people. Every day I hear incredible ideas of potential future technology and systems, and discuss how to move our products and solutions forwards. . . .Unfortunately, this enthusiasm doesn’t always come across in presentations!
There is so much enthusiasm and motivation, and people really come alive when they discuss their ideas 1 to 1 at their desks. Unfortunately a lot of my colleagues really struggle to get their ideas across in larger groups, especially in formal settings. Presentations are probably the most common format we use to communicate to larger groups and in my experience, engineers tend to give bad presentations. It’s a real shame, but most of the presentations that I sit in on are dull, long and way too detailed.
It’s a huge problem because even though someone might be a great engineer, if they can’t sell their idea, it’s all but dead in the water. Effective communication is absolutely vital, especially in today’s workplace. Giving good presentations is a big part of communicating ideas to colleagues, bosses and customers. So here are a few tips.
How to deliver effective presentations:
Know your audience - it’s important to think about the people you’re presenting to. It’s reasonable to assume that a room full of marketing and sales staff aren’t interested in the power dissipation of the individual circuit boards in your system, or your innovative solution you came up with for keeping them cool. Likewise, a room full of electronic engineers are probably going to want a few performance metrics and technical details to support your pitch or recommendation. Make sure you give plenty of thought to who is in the audience. Remember, you’re presenting to them, not yourself. Give them the level of detail they want, not the level that you think is important.
Be prepared - Make sure you know your IT systems all work before you’re due to start. That includes fully testing any slides, particularly those with embedded videos, if you’re using them. Attention to the little details before you begin sets the tone for your whole presentation. First impressions really do count, so make sure yours is a positive one. Poor planning will make people think you don’t know what your doing, which will almost certainly undermine your message.
Keep it simple - This is my biggest frustration with presentations, and is especially important if you’re using slides. The focus of your audience during your presentation should be on you. Demonstrations, models or slides can all be helpful to reinforce your points, but the main focus should always come back to you. People listen to people, not slides or handouts. They came to listen to you. So, keep your slides simple. Don’t make your audience read paragraphs of text, as that will only stop them listening to you. Bullet points or individual sentences are fine, as long as you don’t clutter your slides. If you need to provide further supporting documentation, by all means provide a handout for your audience to take away. Make sure that your slides support your message, and not the other way around.
If the engineers I work with focussed on these three points, I know that I would engage much more with the presentations given to me. Small changes can sometimes yield big results and in my experience, communication in the engineering industry is one area where that is especially true.