When you think of engineering, you don’t think of public speaking. But, public speaking skills for engineers is not only critical but sought after.
I was always a great public speaker. But I never imagined I would do any public speaking as an engineer.
I thought I’d sit behind a desk secluded all day, and crunch numbers. I was so wrong.
Quickly, I found out public speaking plays an important role in engineering. Especially, the higher you move up the ranks.
Now, I’m not saying public speaking is more important than technical skills. No way!
Having solid technical skills is a given in my book to be a good engineer.
Rather, public speaking will set you apart from your technical equal peers.
Before I go over 11 ways to improve your public speaking as an engineer, let’s go over why it’s important.
Important Note: public speaking is performing a live speech. Thus, speaking to a group of listeners.
You don’t need to speak in front of thousands of people to be a “public speaker”. I’d classify speaking to even 5 listeners as public speaking.
Public speaking takes on many forms in engineering
Quit thinking about public speaking as the President giving a massive speech. You don’t need an audience of tens of thousands of people.
Like anything else, levels exist in public speaking.
In engineering, public speaking will come at you in many different ways, for example:
- Presenting your firm to a potential client as you compete for a project
- Introducing your firm to a prime consultant as a sub-consultant, for potential partnership
- Pitching your idea to a group of investors to receive funding
- Presenting your design work to colleagues and/or your client
- Talking about your firm at a job fair to potential employees
- Teaching crowds technical subjects
- Giving interviews
Now, not all engineering positions will check off each of these bullets. Maybe your position only does involve sitting behind a desk all day.
But at some point, you’ll need to present yourself, your company, and your projects to others.
If you can’t do this, you’ll fall behind those who can effectively speak publicly.
To illustrate, imagine the roster of an NBA team.
You have two 7-footers who have the same skillsets. BUT, one of the 7-footers can drain 3-pointers from deep, consistently.
You can only choose one of these players for your roster. It’s a no brainer who you’d choose.
The same goes for engineers. The engineer who has both technical and speaking skills will win out all day long.
Plus, to advance your employment opportunities, you NEED to embrace public speaking. Even more so, if you ever want to start your own business.
Because few people get paid the big bucks while having their lips locked.
We live in a world of constant communication. Thus, you need to be able to clearly communicate your ideas.
In short, public speaking plays a large role in engineering. Despite what the media and Hollywood want you to believe.
Important Note: in engineering, public speaking requires a strong technical background.
In other words, you need to know what you’re talking about. You can’t become a great public speaker in engineering without technical knowledge.
The first-time I did public speaking as an engineer
I was sweating and nervous. I had butterflies, despite having public speaking experience.
My issue was, I had never given a technical speech to a room full of engineers. Engineers who I knew would then drill me with endless technical questions.
The point is, it’s totally natural to feel nervous the first couple of times you speak.
The trick is to learn from each speech to become better and better.
Improve your day to day communication in engineering through public speaking
Many engineers would say, “I’m never going to do any type of public speaking. I got into engineering, to begin with, because I’m an introvert.”
I want to emphasize this point again.
Even if you sit behind a desk all day staring at a blue screen, you’ll still have some level of human interaction. You can’t avoid this.
At some point, you’ll need to speak to your managers and colleagues.
So if nothing else, practicing public speaking will greatly improve your one-on-one communication.
It goes without reason, if you can half-ass speak to 10 people, you can speak confidently to 1 person.
At first, it’ll suck. With enough practice though, it’ll become second nature.
I find learning public speaking skills as an engineer is like diving in the deep end of the pool.
No doubt, it’s scary at first!
But if you can safely dive in a 20-foot depth pool, you’ll manage the 5-foot depth side with ease.
Mastering job interviews through public speaking skills
When you go in for an interview, you’re not only tested for your technical skills. But also, how well you communicate.
You want to respond to interview questions clearly. Not blurt out a jumbled mix of words that make no sense whatsoever.
Plus, for many engineering positions, you’ll work in team environments. Thus, speaking skills are critical.
You’ll need to speak to your team and various outside folks. Maybe vendors, customers, or other engineering firms.
So, interviewing managers want to be sure you can handle this level of communication.
In today’s highly competitive world, you need every edge you can get. Great public speaking skills as an engineer will set you apart from your peers.
You’ll be like a unicorn.
It’s one thing to have amazing credentials on papers. It’s on another level to be technically savvy with speaking skills in an interview.
11 tips on how to improve public speaking skills for engineers
Now, the $64,000 question is, how do you improve your public speaking skills as an engineer?
Let’s go over 11 tips you can use. These are techniques you can leverage no matter your age, or position in your career.
1) Become more social
It’s all about baby steps. You crawl before you learn to walk.
If you’re an introvert by nature, then just start speaking more to the people around you. Go and speak with friends and family.
Bug them to listen to your presentations.
Start discussing subjects you don’t usually open up about. This will challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone.
Then reach out to strangers over meet-up groups. You can find awesome people in almost every city to meet up with.
Use Meetup or any other similar app to find amazing people in your area to connect with.
Again, this will force you out of your comfort zone.
2) Take a course at a local university
Take a public speaking course at a local university or community college. Most universities have at least one public speaking course.
These courses will force you to speak in front of others.
Sometimes we need this kick in the butt to get started.
Plus, a college course will hold you accountable. This accountability can be very powerful, to holding your feet to the fire.
3) Take an online course
Sounds counterintuitive, but online courses do help.
Nothing will beat in-person classes where you speak with people who sit in front of you. But sometimes, you need to improvise when online courses are your only option.
So, find a class that suits you. You can search on Udemy or brick and mortar universities that offer online courses too.
4) Join Toastmasters
Toastmasters is a great nonprofit educational organization. They heavily promote public speaking.
Plus, it’s a very positive atmosphere, as everyone there was once in your shoes.
You can join and then give speeches to groups of people. Then instantly gain constructive feedback from supportive group members.
This will improve your public speaking, while at the same time give you confidence.
I have several friends who’ve joined Toastmasters and they love it. They tell me it challenges them, and they’ve picked up so many helpful pointers.
For example, after every speech, they get a recording of their talk. They can then pinpoint how they’re using filler words after each second sentence.
Like saying, “so,” or “you know.”
5) Create public speaking sessions at your work
At your company, set up an hour every week where employees can present to one another.
Presentations can be on design projects or anything else. The goal is just to speak in front of an audience.
The more you speak to crowds, the better public speaker you’ll become as an engineer.
So, do your best to speak as much as you can!
6) Strengthen your technical skills
As I’ve highlighted, public speaking skills do NOT trump technical skills.
The stronger technical skills you have though, the more confidence you can speak with.
What’s more, try to understand your speech subjects inside and out.
For example, Elon Musk understands the theory and real-world applications of rockets. Even more, he understands the work of all the different types of engineers at SpaceX.
So, in his talks, he’s like a professor speaking with students. This is a huge confidence booster to one’s ego.
7) Understand your audience
You need to be aware of your audience. If you’re speaking with a group of journalists and reporters, you don’t need to be overly technical.
And when you know the ins and outs of your subject, you’ll easily be able to water down your talk.
This will help make your audience vibrate to your wavelength. This cohesion with your audience will improve your discussions and your confidence.
What’s more, you can prepare for the question types you’ll receive if you know your audience.
Imagine if your audience is a bunch of expert engineers in your field. You’ll then know what type of questions to prepare for.
For example, you’ll need to know the following:
- The source of your information
- Types of analysis completed
- Assumptions used
This in itself will put your mind at ease, as you’ll be well prepared.
Also keep in mind, as an engineer your job isn’t to entertain your audience. Rather, you’re educating your audience.
So you won’t have the fear of bombing on stage like a stand-up comedian.
8) Improve your writing skills
You’d think writing has nothing to do with speaking.
But, both are ways to express yourself. It’s like water and turbines. They fit together perfectly!
When you improve your writing, you can improve the following parts of your speaking as well:
- Content structure: in public speaking you want your ideas to flow. Properly organized content in writing creates better flowing speeches. In other words, writing can help you create the perfect speech outlines and notes.
- Punctuation: your usage of periods and commas will reflect in your speaking. Thus, proper punctuation in your writing will carry over to how to best pause in your speeches.
- Concise: writing shows you where you need to trim the fat from your content. This will help you deliver concise talks that are to the point without the extra fluff.
- Content: writing forces you to write out all your thoughts in great detail. As a result, you discover knowledge holes in your content through your writing. You then carry over your written knowledge to your speeches.
In short, writing helps you better express your thoughts in spoken words.
Also, check out the following articles I’ve written on how to improve your writing:
Important Note: you don’t want to write your entire speech word for word.
Otherwise, you’ll sound very mechanical and you won’t properly engage with your audience.
At the same time, people will think you don’t know your material well if you read off a paper.
On the same token, you don’t see professors reading off papers for every class session.
9) Understand the nuances of public speaking in engineering
With how deep some engineering subjects are, don’t think you need to know everything.
In fact, it’s totally okay to say, “I don’t know,” or “give me a minute to think about it.”
You won’t look like an idiot.
Rather, these statements bleed confidence. Because you’re not afraid to stop the talk and think in real-time in front of other people.
10) Create your own public speaking style
You don’t need to model your speaking around people like Obama or Tony Robbins.
These two men are both amazing confident speakers who have years of experience. Plus, they have a knack for public speaking.
Instead, find what works best for you.
If you’re less nervous when speaking slower, then speak slower. If you need to pause more, then pause more.
Just look at how Elon Musk speaks. He has his own style of speaking.
I bet many public speaking teachers would tear apart his speaking style. But frankly, who cares!
Elon communicates his ideas confidently, and everyone understands.
Also, every person in the audience hangs off his every word too. That’s all that matters!
At the same time, learn from great speakers. Study them, like you’d study any other subject you want to badly learn.
For example, hit mute and watch Obama speak to a large audience. Look closely at how he engages an audience with his body alone. It’s impressive!
11) Fake it until you make
I’m still a big proponent of all the other tips I listed.
But, fake it until you make it still delivers a powerful punch. At the very least, it’ll allow you to get the ball rolling to start practicing public speaking.
Now, I’m not saying to misrepresent yourself. Rather, act confident even when you don’t feel confident.
When you fake being comfortable, you can better maintain your composure. This then leads to some positive feedback.
Then the fake confidence morphs into real confidence. Hence, a positive feedback loop.
Engineers are always taught to cram more equations and theories into their heads.
But, public speaking falls through the cracks in most engineering curriculums.
I will say though, I know many super-smart engineers who are great public speakers. And each of them is highly successful.
That said, I’d go as far as to say public speaking is like a cheat code in engineering.
Public speaking will quickly set you apart from your peers. Even more, it’s an essential skill to have if you ever want to venture out on your own and start a business.
In the end, look at public speaking as another tool in your belt as an engineer.
How important do you find public speaking skills for engineers to be? How do you recommend engineers improve their public speaking skills?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.