Trust me, I’m an engineer

Last week I delivered a presentation skills training to a group of Bell Labs researchers. As a computer scientist who started his own career in R&I, I know that it’s not obvious for an engineer to present a complex research topic, and to cover the necessary technical details while keeping the undivided attention of an (often mixed) audience. Therefore, I can only agree with what Sean Buvala is saying about storytelling techniques for IT and research departments:

“The more esoteric your work is, the more you need to use storytelling in your job.”

Believe me, it is certainly possible to tell compelling –and even exciting—stories about science and technology.  If you want to see some good examples of hi-tech storytelling, take a look at one or more episodes of “Richard Hammond’s Engineering Connections” on the National Geographic Channel.


In this TV show, Hammond (also known as one of the BBC’s Top Gear hosts) discovers how inventions of the past, along with the forces of nature, are helping designers and engineers today. The series explores exceptional technical achievements like the building of the Airbus A380, the Taipei 101 skyscraper, the Millau viaduct over the river Tarn in France, the Wembley soccer stadium and the Sydney Opera House.

Here are a few tips for preparing your next technical presentation:

  • Always comply with the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid
  • The AIDA structure also works for content that may be hard to present
  • Focus on the possible applications, rather than on the technical details
  • Talk about the why, the what, and the how
  • Make it interesting for all (not everybody in the room is an expert)
  • Don’t try to list the details of a full year’s work in 30 minutes
  • Avoid (if you can’t: explain) acronyms and technical jargon
  • Illustrate your points with everyday examples
  • Facts and figures are OK, but don’t overload your listeners
  • You are the expert. You know the problem. You have a solution – PROVE IT!
  • Don’t feed the chameleons

And, as I explained in my post on “How to write a paper”, once you’ve got your presentation act together, it’s fairly easy to (re)create a paper or magazine article from it.


1 thought on “Trust me, I’m an engineer

  1. Pingback: The serious science of presenting science seriously | b2b storytelling

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