I’ve been to several engineering conferences in the last couple months. That is a lot of engineering presentations to absorb in a short period. I can tolerate smaller doses, but that kind of volume makes me want to jab a pencil into each ear and eye.
Engineering types seem to be completely unaware of their lack of presentation skills. Either that, or we’ve come to the belief that a boring presentation is a “professional” presentation. I recently made a case for improving your presentation skills to earn higher pay. Now, let’s look at the altruistic flip side of this coin.
People say engineers aren’t naturally social creatures. Maybe so. That doesn’t mean we are all hanging out on the Asperger’s end of the spectrum, though. Most of us feel fear, joy, regret, jealousy, euphoria, and social pain. So, let’s agree that everyone in the conference room or auditorium deserves empathy and respect from you, the presenter. If there are 200 people in your audience for 1 hour, you are responsible for the next 200 man-hours of human experience in that room. Shouldn’t you take that obligation more seriously?
I got the idea for this article while sampling the talks at SAE World Congress. The rooms were packed, and I often found myself standing against a wall in the back. From that perspective, I noticed a sad, recurring process. Each presenter would take the podium, start Powerpoint, and turn 180 degrees to reveal their bald spot to the audience. Their entire show consisted of reading text-heavy slides, word for word.
You may not yet agree (or even realize) that this style of presentation is rude, ineffective, a missed opportunity, and a costly waste of man-hours. But, if you would just turn back to the audience, you might see it my way. If I could just get you to quickly spin another 180 degrees, you’d see an ocean of bald spots. Every time the presenter turned to the screen, the entire audience bowed their heads in unison to peer at smartphones in their laps.
What’s going on here?
Are you that boring?
How can everyone in the room condone this idiotic dance?
The bad news? This is the norm, folks.
The good new? It doesn’t take much effort to stand out in the engineering world!
I saw a few presenters who understood the game. They had lots of interesting images, a few highly understandable data graphs, an engaging story, and persistent eye contact. These were the most valuable presentations if measured against the ratio of information to eyeballs. Even if the content was less valuable than the boring presentations, far more knowledge was transmitted.
If you aren’t going to do it for yourself, do it for your audience.