Public speaking skills for engineers can be just as important as technical skills for engineers, despite what you may think.
Many become engineers to escape the spotlight and just crunch numbers all day. But if you dream of climbing the ranks or becoming a 10x engineer, you can’t ignore public speaking. I’ll break it down and explain why it’s so essential.
Important Note: Public speaking doesn’t mean you need to address thousands of people. Speaking to even a small group of five counts!
The importance of public speaking in engineering
So, why is public speaking a big deal in engineering? Well, it comes in handy when:
- Presenting your firm to potential clients for new projects
- Introducing your firm to a prime consultant for potential partnerships
- Pitching your idea to investors for funding
- Presenting your design work to colleagues or clients
- Speaking to potential employees at job fairs
- Teaching technical subjects to crowds
- Nailing job interviews
Sure, not every engineering job involves ticking off all these boxes. Maybe you spend most of your time tucked away behind a desk. But trust me, sooner or later, you’ll need to step up and present yourself, your company, and your projects to others.
If you can’t, you’ll be left in the dust by those who can confidently command a room. Nobody lands a top-dollar engineering gig by keeping their lips sealed. In today’s world, communication is the lifeblood of every project’s success.
Picture this: you’re putting together an NBA team, and you’ve got two 7-footers with almost identical skills. But one of them consistently nails 3-pointers from way downtown. Who would you want on your team? No-brainer, right? The 3-point shooting 7-footer! The same goes for engineers. The one with both technical and speaking chops will come out on top.
Long story short, public speaking is crucial in engineering, despite what Hollywood and the media might have you believe.
Important Note: In engineering, public speaking demands a solid technical foundation. To communicate effectively, you’ve got to know your stuff. That’s why knowledge is the bedrock of public speaking skills for engineers.
Interviewers are on the lookout for public speaking skills
When you step into a job interview, it’s not just your technical skills being put to the test. Your communication skills are in the spotlight, too. That’s why interviewers keep an eye on how well you tackle those interview questions.
If you just spew a chaotic jumble of words, you’re toast. Loads of engineering jobs demand teamwork and chatting with clients. So, interviewers want to make sure you’ve got the communication chops. I’d even say, if you’ve got both technical and speaking skills, you’ll be a rare gem in the industry.
Important Note: Public speaking does wonders for your everyday communication. No doubt, if you can wing it talking to 10 people, you can confidently chat with just one. I get it, at first, it’s nerve-wracking. But with enough practice, it’ll be like second nature.
12 tips to amp up your public speaking skills for engineers
1) Get social
Baby steps, people. If you’re the introverted type, start by chatting more with your buddies and family. Have them listen to your presentations, even if they roll their eyes.
Talk about topics you usually steer clear of. This will push you out of your comfort zone. Better yet, connect with strangers at meet-up groups and level up your challenge. You can find cool people to hang with in nearly every city using apps like Meetup.
2) Enroll in a public speaking course at a local university
Sign up for a public speaking course at a nearby university or community college. Most schools offer at least one part-time public speaking class. It’s an awesome way to get a much-needed kick in the pants and practice speaking in public.
Plus, being in a college course keeps you accountable!
3) Give online courses a shot
I know it sounds a bit odd, but online courses can be helpful, even if they don’t quite match in-person classes. Sometimes, you’ve got to roll with the punches when only online courses fit your schedule.
Check out options on Udemy or even brick-and-mortar universities. I’d recommend courses that include plenty of digital presentations.
4) Join the Toastmasters squad
Toastmasters is all about promoting public speaking as a nonprofit educational organization. It’s such a positive environment, with everyone striving to boost their speaking game.
You’ll deliver speeches to your fellow members and get constructive feedback in return. I’ve got friends who’ve joined, and they’re totally into it. They tell me how it challenges them and how they pick up helpful tips after every speech.
For instance, you’ll get a recording of your speech with constructive comments. Plus, you can re-listen to your speech to spot areas for improvement.
5) Set up public speaking sessions at work
At your workplace, create a weekly one-hour slot for employees to present to each other. Presentations can cover current design projects or anything else, really. The main goal? Get folks talking in front of an audience.
The cool part is, your coworkers can give feedback on your technical know-how. You won’t get that from most friends, family, or even at Toastmasters.
6) Strengthen your technical skills
Public speaking prowess doesn’t overshadow technical skills. But, the stronger your technical skills, the more confidently you can speak as an engineer. Dive deep into subjects, but don’t just memorize.
Take Elon Musk, for example. The dude knows the ins and outs of rocket theory and real-world applications. He even grasps the nitty-gritty of various engineering roles at SpaceX. That lets him talk like he’s a professor holding court in a lecture hall.
7) Feel the vibe of your audience
Get in tune with your audience’s pulse.
Imagine you’re talking to a bunch of reporters. No need to go overboard with technical jargon. Instead, simplify your content, and you’ll keep your listeners hooked. As a bonus, your confidence will soar, helping you nail your speech.
By understanding your audience, you can tailor your speech to their needs and interests. Imagine your audience is filled with engineering experts. Knowing this, you can prepare a speech that includes:
- Information sources
- Explanation of all analysis studies
- Technical assumptions
- The theory behind technical subjects
As an engineer, you’re not here to entertain but to educate. However, if you can toss in a few jokes and some personality, all the better.
8) Boost your writing skills
You might think writing is unrelated to speaking, but they’re both essential for self-expression and often go hand in hand. By sharpening your writing, you’ll enhance your speaking in areas like:
- Content structure: In public speaking, your ideas need to flow. Well-organized written content helps create structured speeches.
- Punctuation: Your use of periods and commas will carry over into your speaking. Proper punctuation in writing leads to well-timed pauses in speeches.
- Conciseness: Writing highlights where you need to cut the fluff. You’ll then deliver speeches that are short and sweet, without filler.
- Content: Writing pushes you to flesh out your thoughts, helping you spot gaps in your knowledge that need filling.
In a nutshell, writing paves the way for turning thoughts into spoken words. For writing tips, check out these articles:
Important Note: Avoid writing and reading your speech word for word, as you’ll sound robotic and fail to engage your audience. Plus, listeners might think you don’t truly grasp the material.
9) Embrace your learning limitations
Engineering subjects can be incredibly complex, and it’s impossible to know everything. So, don’t stress if you can’t answer every question from your audience. It’s totally fine to admit, “I don’t know,” or ask for a moment to think.
You won’t look foolish. Even the best of the best do it. Plus, such statements exude confidence, as you’re not afraid to pause and think in front of an audience. It shows you’re human.
10) Create your own public speaking style
You don’t need to emulate renowned speakers like Obama or Tony Robbins. While they’re amazing speakers with years of experience and a natural flair for public speaking, it’s important to find your own groove.
Figure out what suits you best. If you feel less nervous speaking slower, go for it. Need to pause more? Do it. Take a look at Elon Musk’s speaking style – it’s uniquely his own.
Some public speaking experts might criticize Elon’s style, but who cares? He communicates his ideas with confidence, and people hang onto his every word.
That said, learn from the greats. Study them like any other subject you want to master. For instance, watch Obama speaking to a large audience with the sound off. Observe how he captivates the crowd using just his body language. It’s impressive!
11) Fake it till you make it
“Fake it till you make it” has real power, no matter what some people say. At the very least, it’ll get you started with practicing public speaking.
I’m not suggesting you be dishonest about your abilities. Instead, project confidence even when you’re not feeling it. When you pretend to be at ease, you’re more likely to stay composed, creating a positive feedback loop. Eventually, that faux confidence will turn into the real deal.
12) Practice, practice, practice
It may seem obvious, but practice truly does make perfect. My first public speaking experience as an engineer was far from ideal. I remember sweating, feeling nervous, and battling uncontrollable butterflies, even though I’d had some public speaking experience before.
The problem was, I’d never given a technical speech to a room full of engineers, who I knew would pepper me with endless technical questions.
However, feeling nervous the first few times is completely natural. The trick is to learn from each speech and continuously improve. The more you practice, the better a speaker you’ll become.
Engineers are often taught to stuff their brains with equations and theories, but public speaking tends to fall through the cracks in most engineering curricula. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the significant shortcomings of formal engineering education.
Good public speaking skills are like a cheat code in engineering – they help you stand out from your peers and become highly sought after.
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 2020 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.