During the course of your civil engineering career, have you had to give a presentation? If so, how do you think your presentation was received by your audience? If not, what intimidates you at the thought of being asked to give a presentation? Over the last two weeks, I have had to give two different presentations: one at a state floodplain manager’s conference and the second to representatives from regional architectural and engineering firms. In preparing for these presentations, I realized that due to being out of school for a few years and the rarity of in-person events and presentation opportunities over the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my presentation skills needed some refreshing and I thought maybe you were facing some of these same challenges too. Let’s dive into today’s blog post to discuss what makes an effective presentation in civil engineering!
1. Know Your Audience, Engage with Your Audience
An effective presentation starts with knowing your audience. After all, it is the audience that makes the presentation, a presentation. No, you do not need to know each member of your audience personally, but rather you should be familiar with who will be attending the presentation and what their backgrounds are. For example, are you providing a monthly project briefing to a group of engineers who are all working on the same project (everybody comes from a very technical, engineering background and is very familiar with the project details), a semi-annual update to the leadership of your engineering firm (the audience will consist of high-level leaders in engineering, accounting, budget and finance, human resources, and the President and Vice President of your firm) or are you presenting at an annual conference in a 45-minute time slot to colleagues within your industry?
Each one of these settings will require you to modify the presentation to fit your audience. In the case of the monthly project brief to a group of engineers, you will delve deeper into technical details and everyone will be very familiar with the project since you are all working on it every day. The example of the semi-annual update may require you to keep the presentation to a more broad, high level overview, focusing on project highlights and challenges over the past 6-months. Since not everyone comes from a technical engineering background in this audience you may not go into as much technical detail and when you do you will need to do a good job explaining the details and guiding your audience to a clear understanding. Finally, at the annual conference, you will have only a few minutes to get your audience up to speed with the project so you can make your main points, which you must clearly articulate and explain clearly and concisely throughout your presentation. You will also want to leave plenty of time for questions, at least 10-minutes. I have found that the question/answer period is one of the most informative parts of presentations and sparks further thoughts and discussion. It also respects your audience and their opinions as it gives them an opportunity to participate!
2. Effective Visuals and Complimentary Notes
As of this writing in 2022, the average adult’s attention span is 8.25 seconds and may be interrupted by the ding of an iPhone, the buzz of a smartwatch, the thought of driving your kids to soccer practice later this afternoon, or what to make for dinner. Your challenge is to keep your audience engaged and the best way to do that is through effective visuals!
Effective visuals, PowerPoint slides, etc. should contain predominantly images with very little text. Ask yourself, “If someone found my slide deck on the side of the road and picked it up, would they understand my presentation without me being present to explain it?” If the answer to this question is No, you are on the right track! Your slides should be predominantly visuals and you should use your notes to explain and guide your audience through the visuals. Think of yourself not as a presenter, but rather as a tour guide. Visually engaging presentations hold the attention of the audience and require them to actively listen to your explanation. A common mistake is to provide text-heavy, bulleted list item slides which are difficult to read on a screen and either bore or overwhelm the audience. Check out the example slides I provided in the graphic below to see which is more engaging to you!
Both slides focus on Utility Relocation, but Slide 1 is too text-heavy and loses the audience versus slide 2 is visuals that the speaker will explain using his or her notes to guide the audience through the presentation. Remember to think of yourself as a tour guide to the presentation! Photo by Matt Fanghella
3. Focus on the Purpose
Begin creating your presentation with the end goal in mind. If each member of your audience were to only remember one thing from your presentation, what would you want it to be? If you’re providing a project briefing perhaps you want your leadership to be informed about challenges you encountered on the project and how you overcame them, if it is a technical presentation, maybe you want to share an emerging technology you used within the project that saved the project team time and financial resources. Similarly, if it is a presentation where continuing education credits are awarded to attendees., check with the hosting organization to determine if certain topics must be discussed in the presentation for attendees to earn their CEC’s. (This was the case in my State Floodplain Management Conference presentation). Overall the presentation should have one main purpose and three supporting ideas.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find an opportunity to present in our civil engineering world! After all collaboration and sharing ideas are essential to our profession, If you are out presenting at a civil engineering conference, tag us on social media @theceacademy We would love to see you out on the circuit!
Do you have a topic you would like us to cover in a future blog post submit it to us at https://civilengineeringacademy.com/contact/ We would love to hear from you!
Author: Matt Fanghella
Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
FE and PE Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
Free Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/newsletter
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/theceacademy
Twitter – https://twitter.com/civilengacad
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]