7 Secrets to Successful Presentations for Engineers and Technical Brains

7 Secrets to Successful Presentations for Engineers and Technical Brains

Do presentation skills still matter for engineers and technical brains? Evidently so.

Recently, one of the world’s largest petroleum companies, Saudi Aramco was on a quest for new talent and this time they decided to try a unique strategy for Aramco. In fact, in order to drill for this new talent within their own vast prospective staff numbers management from Operations & Business Services saw fit to devise a contest based entirely upon presentation skills. They wanted to see and hear from their exceptional, enthusiastic and committed employees directly, rather than merely relying on written internal reporting within the typical channels where real aptitude may be lost or diluted.

“We are introducing competitions that allow everyone in the organization to participate so that hidden gems can be unearthed and shine by their own initiative and drive without imposing the usual formal hierarchy”, said Ibrahim Khawaji from the O&BS Service Line. For more information on this contest visit saudiaramco website.

How refreshing to hear this comment.

As many of you know, personnel in the oil and gas industry are predominantly engineers by trade; they are trained, focused and adept at the sciences.  This is not an industry that traditionally necessitates an inherent natural ability to present. Or is it now expected? Can it be learned or is it a natural gift or skill? Are presentation skills now an important component and pre-requisite for a professional’s skills set today?

Technical people do what technical people do best.

Make the complex simple.

Create elegant solutions from seeming chaos.

So, let’s not hide that under a barrel … of crude or hidden away.

My professional ideology dictates that perhaps one of the greatest skills to advance your career is the ability to display competent presentation skills.  These are skills over and above what is traditionally known as communication skills like reading, writing and speaking for usual business practice. Excellent presentation skills comprise expertise that transcends the typical meeting conversation or discussion over the phone or report writing.

In my guest lecturer position at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, I have the pleasure of teaching business presentation skills to our budding petroleum engineers from around the world. For many, this is the first time they have received instruction in some of the myriad of techniques required to present in front of an audience.  I constantly remind my international students that the moment they say anything, that is a presentation. They are always presenting their ideas whether in a report or just in dialogue with another, in any professional or personal context.

Every interaction, every day, is a presentation of some kind.  The good news – there are many opportunities to enhance your presentation ability in the course of a day. It may in fact be simpler than you think.

Here are 7 secrets and tips that will enhance your speaking skills and boost your career.

  1. Take every opportunity to speak. Don’t be content to sit in meetings without contributing. If you are in a meeting, attending a conference, or in a forum where you are not known:

a. Introduce yourself – say your name and the organisation for whom you work and/or your role

b. Give a compliment – by making a brief comment about the proceedings to date

c. Then ask your question or make your comment

With this simple process, you will become more confident in formulating comments and speaking in a forum. Plus, people will learn who you are and will be able to approach you directly.

During my years of presentation skills and public speaking coaching, I have seen way too many accomplished people being overlooked for their important and clever ideas just because they did not contribute to the discussion. May I encourage you to develop the habit of creating other opportunities to engage with strangers as you wait in line for your favourite beverage, in the lift, or commuting to work.

A Secret: You don’t have to be the best in your profession to be a competent presenter. So take heart in your expertise, be proud of your achievements and knowledge and allow others in the business and the community the pleasure, benefit and privilege to hear about your work and your ideas.


  1. Always be prepared. Prior to engaging with your audience do your homework. Who are these people, what are their backgrounds, what is important to them today? In order to engage your audience, think of ways that you can integrate your business or personal interests that is respectful to them and is relevant. Preparation will help overcome nerves as you can rehearse what it is you wish to say. Consider what questions you may be asked and plan ahead.

A Secret: The best presenters are always, always prepared.  Even if they look relaxed and it sounds like words just roll off their tongue, they will have prepared. Great presenters make it look easy because that is their trade. They may not reveal their level of preparation, but be assured they may be as fully prepared as any top class barrister. Competent presenters do not risk winging it, at any level. So nor should you.


  1. Become a keen observer. Seek out those people who, in your opinion, speak well and are excellent presenters. A great source of inspiration and technique is www.ted.com. Make every effort to train yourself to take notice of how people deliver their message, not just what they say.

With my great interest and studies in neuroscience, I observe more and more how the unconscious mind dictates most of what we do and what we think and especially how we feel. Therefore, we need to pay even greater attention to become even more aware and develop our turn of phrase or modify our tone for the occasion.

A Secret: Great presenters pay attention to great words or phrases others use; they are avid learners. Many of the best presenters in the world have coaches and mentors. They are great because they have great coaches. Look at the best tennis players, golfers and Formula One drivers. All are coached by top class professionals in their field and all have mentors who work with them as they hone and improve their skills each and every day.


  1. Take Notes. Be it digital or hard copy, record words or turns of phrase, quotes or references, that catch your attention. Don’t be embarrassed to keep and refer to the list and try to incorporate some of them into your language.

A secret: On my first trip to the National Speakers Association conference in America our exceptionally talented opening keynote speaker revealed something to me I will never forget.  She admitted to me, in a brief conversation as we rode the hotel lift together, that she designed her speech while walking endless miles of beach taking notes along the way. She would rehearse out loud or read to herself and continue to refine her presentation. It mattered to her to be superbly well prepared and polished. The pros make it look easy because they are and have prepared. Did you know Shakespeare contributed around 1 700 words to the English language? I guess Shakespeare had a big notebook of his own.


  1. Learn to quote. Like me, you may have some favourite quotes that seem to work in many situations. A well-chosen quote, well delivered, is sometimes all that needs to be said. There are many leaders, past and present, who have crafted words that magnificently capture a moment or sentiment. Seek out some of the classic presentations that have been handed down for decades. Collect, view and read these speeches and presentations or quotes.  Most importantly, always remember to mention who first said them and cite the source.

A secret: Knowing the right quote to say at the right time can fast track your reputation for being widely read and scholarly when, in addition to your intellect, you may simply have been observant and taken note of the sage words of others.


  1. Practice. Practice. Then practice some more. Nothing replaces having a go. If the presentation is important, so is rehearsal. Mistakes, lots of them, are worth making in front of a mirror or a trusted colleague or family member. Don’t be afraid to record yourself. If it is important, take the time to write out what you want to say.

You can’t learn to drive Formula One, play golf or ride a bike by standing on the side lines deafened at a race track, walking the course at a PGA tournament or waving along the route of the Tour de France.

You have to develop a feel for the subtleties and nuances which only come from repeated practice.

With risk comes reward.

A secret: The speakers at TED Talks are all coached by staff from the TED Talk organisation.  They must learn and have memorised their 18-minute stage presentation. In any prepared presentation, memorise the opening minute so you can connect with your audience and get into the flow. Memorise your ending and remember to pause and look at your audience just before you deliver your final statement to create impact.


  1. The Reward. It is a wonderful natural high to be congratulated on a particularly impressive presentation or note of wisdom by a well-placed comment. Take the acknowledgement of others as a real compliment. This is not about being boastful or conceited. Be proud to know that you have been noticed for contributing and it has been valuable in some way.

A secret: Some of the most powerful presenters are remarkably humble and deliver their presentations in their own quiet manner respectful of their own character. Their audiences are always impressed with their authenticity and their courage to share their lows and mistakes as well as their highs and achievements.  Most importantly, their audiences appreciate hearing what they learned from their mistakes.

In my decades of experience as a presentation skills coach and mentor, I firmly believe that everyone has the ability to confidently speak publicly, to share their message in a powerful way and be heard clearly and succinctly. I trust my 7 secrets will kick start your presentation skills progress.

Finally, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

“Too many people go to their grave with their music still inside them”.

These words tear at my heart and remind my soul that every person has so much to offer. We all need to provide the many forums in which to give each person a stage. Do yourself and your industry justice, develop the confidence and awareness to be able to speak when it counts.

For more articles by Jill Sweatman visit, www.jillsweatman.com

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