What I Learned from Listening to Four Hours of Engineering Presentations

I was teaching a session on presentation skills at a recent engineering conference.  Although I wasn’t expected to attend, I decided to join the conference attendees for the four-hour morning session. Torture is what you may be thinking—unless you are technically-minded yourself.  I actually was intrigued by what I saw and heard.

Two speakers were in sharp contrast: an engineer who stood behind the lectern and turned his back to the audience as his eyes stayed glued on his slides, and an economics professor who stood behind the lectern but made eye contact with the audience.  I watched audience members show interest when he began speaking in a voice that commanded attention.

There were perhaps two speakers who actually grabbed our attention with their opening comments.  Most speakers began their presentation with, “I was asked to speak about…..”. It doesn’t get any more boring than that.  That statement guarantees a dull response from your audience.

The presentations that were memorable included stories, photos, charts or graphs—all were easy to understand.  Several times I cringed as the speaker chanted the mantra of “I know you can’t read this but….” as he referenced one of his Power Point slides.

Speaking of slides, I saw hundreds of slides that looked like thesis documents.  I observed several situations where only one bullet point was referenced from a slide with many bullets. If you aren’t going to talk about it, remove the bullet from your slide.

(By the way, have you ever wondered why in the heck they are called “bullets”?  Why don’t we just call them lines of content? Because the very nature of a “bullet” is short and concise.  A bullet should never have a subject and a verb. It also does not require punctuation.)

Once the four-hour session ended, I had some really good content for my break out session and it came straight from the horse’s mouth!