12 Ways to Improve Public Speaking Skills for Engineers

Engineers spend years just honing their technical skills. But, public speaking skills for engineers are just as important.

Now, many people become engineers to avoid public speaking altogether. They want to hide away and crunch numbers all day long. But, if you ever want to move up the ranks, or become a 10x engineer, you need public speaking skills.

To set the stage, let’s go over why public speaking as an engineer is important.

Important Note: public speaking is giving a live speech to a group of listeners. And 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. 

The importance of public speaking in engineering

mastering public speaking skills for engineers

In engineering, public speaking takes shape in the following forms:

  • Presenting your firm to a potential client, as you compete for a new project
  • Introducing your firm to a prime consultant as a sub-consultant, for a potential partnership
  • Pitching your idea to a group of investors to receive funding
  • Presenting your design work to colleagues and/or your client
  • Speaking to potential employees about your firm at a job fair
  • Teaching crowds about technical subjects
  • Interviewing for jobs

Now, not all engineering positions will check off each of these bullets. Maybe your position only does involve sitting behind a desk all day long. But, at some point, you’ll need to present yourself, your company, and your projects, to others.

If you’re unable to, you’ll fall behind those who can effectively speak publicly. Few people land high-paying engineering jobs with stapled lips. Especially today, where communication is paramount to every project’s success.

To illustrate, imagine the roster of an NBA team. You have two 7-footers who have almost the same skillset. But, one 7-footer can drain 3-pointers from deep, consistently. Which of the 7-footers would you choose for your roster?…

The 7-footer who can drain 3-pointers of course. The same applies to engineers. The engineer who has both technical and speaking skills will win out all day long.

In short, public speaking plays a large role in engineering. This is despite the misconceptions you find in Hollywood and the media.

Important Note: in engineering, public speaking requires a strong technical background. Because to effectively communicate, you need to know your subject. It’s why the foundation of public speaking skills for engineers, is knowledge. 

Interviewers look for public speaking skills

When you go for a job interview, you’re not only tested for your technical skills. But also, your communication skills. This is why an interviewer checks how well you respond to interview questions.

If you just blurt out a jumbled mix of nonsensical words, you’ll get dinged. Because many engineering positions require teamwork and speaking with customers. So, interviewing managers want to be sure you can handle high levels of communication. And I’d go as far as to say, if you have both technical and speaking skills, you’ll be a unicorn in the industry.

Important Note: public speaking improves your day-to-day communication. It goes without question, if you can half-ass speak to 10 people, you can speak confidently to a single person. I know, at first, it’s nerve-racking. With enough practice though, it becomes second nature.

12 tips on how to improve public speaking skills for engineers

engineers working and checking plc cabinet wiring

1) Become more social

Start with baby steps. If you’re an introvert, speak more with the people around you. Speak with friends and family, and bug them to listen to your presentations.

Discuss subjects you don’t usually open up about. This will challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Even more, reach out to strangers over meet-up groups, to further challenge yourself. You can find awesome people in almost every city to meet up with, using apps like Meetup.

2) Take a public speaking course at a local university

Take a public speaking course at a local university or community college. Most universities offer at least one part-time public speaking course. This is a great way to force public speaking, as we all sometimes need a kick in the butt.

Plus, a college course will hold you accountable.

3) Take an online course

Sounds counterintuitive, but online courses do help even though nothing beats in-person classes. Because sometimes, you need to improvise when only online courses fit your schedule.

You can search on Udemy, and brick-and-mortar universities. I suggest courses, which offer plenty of digital presentations.

4) Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters heavily promotes public speaking as a nonprofit educational organization. I find it to be a very positive atmosphere, with everyone trying to better their public speaking.

You give speeches to your peers, and receive constructive feedback in return. I have several friends who’ve joined and they love it. They tell me how it challenges them, and they always pick up new helpful pointers after every speech.

For example, you receive a recording of your speech with constructive comments. Also, you can re-listen to your speech, to catch areas you can improve in.

5) Create public speaking sessions at your job

At your company, set up an hour every week where employees can present to one another. The presentations can be on current design projects or anything else. The goal is just to speak to an audience.

What’s great is, your colleagues can critique your technical knowledge. This isn’t feedback you can receive from most of your friends and family, or even at Toastmasters.

6) Strengthen your technical skills

Public speaking skills don’t trump technical skills. But, the stronger your technical skills are, the more confidence you can speak with as an engineer. So learn subjects inside and out without memorizing.

For example, Elon Musk perfectly understands the theory and real-world applications of rockets. He even understands the work behind all the different types of engineers at SpaceX. This allows him to speak as if he were a professor in a classroom.

7) Know your audience

Know the pulse of your audience.

Say you’re speaking with a group of reporters. You don’t need to be overly technical. Instead, water down your content, and you’ll better retain your audience’s attention. In return, your confidence will boost, allowing you to deliver an even better speech.

What’s more, by knowing your audience, you can better cater to their wants and desires. Just imagine, your audience is a bunch of expert engineers. By knowing this beforehand, you can prepare a speech, which includes the following:

  • Information sources
  • Explanation of all analysis studies
  • Technical assumptions
  • The theory behind technical subjects

As an engineer, your job isn’t to entertain your audience. Rather, you’re educating. But, if you can add in some jokes and personality, then even better.

8) Improve your writing skills

You’d think writing has nothing to do with speaking. But, both are effective ways of expressing yourself, which intertwine. So, by improving your writing, you’ll improve the following parts of your speaking as well:

  • Content structure: in public speaking, your ideas need to flow. And properly organized written content helps with structured speeches.
  • Punctuation: your usage of periods and commas will reflect in your speaking. By properly punctuating your writing, you’ll make the proper pauses in your speeches.
  • Concise: writing shows you where you need to trim the fat from your content. You can then deliver concise speeches without extra fluff.
  • Content: writing forces you to flesh out your thoughts. You then can discover knowledge gaps in your content, which you can fill.

In short, writing helps you express your thoughts in spoken words. For writing tips, check out my following articles:

Important Note: you never want to write and read your entire speech word for word. Because you’ll sound mechanical, while not properly engaging with your audience. Also, your listeners may think you don’t know your material.

9) Understand your learning limitations

With how deep some engineering subjects are, you can’t learn everything. Frankly, it’s not even possible. So don’t worry if you can’t answer every audience question. 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. The best of the best do it. Plus, these statements bleed confidence. Because you’re not afraid to pause your talk and think in front of an audience. You’re showing you’re human.

10) Create your own public speaking style

You don’t need to model your speaking, around people like Obama or Tony Robbins. Both these men are amazing speakers, who have years of experience under their belt. 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 unique style of speaking.

I bet many public speaking experts would tear apart Elon’s speaking style. But frankly, who cares. Elon communicates his ideas confidently, and everyone hangs on to his last word.

But, do learn from great speakers. Study them, like you’d study any other subject you want to master. 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 quite impressive!

11) Fake it until you make it

Fake it until you make it, is insanely powerful despite what anyone says. At the very least, it’ll allow you to get the ball rolling to practice public speaking.

Now, I’m not saying to misrepresent yourself. Rather, act confident even when you don’t feel confident. Because when you fake being comfortable, you can better maintain your composure. This then leads to a positive feedback loop. Eventually, your fake confidence will morph into real confidence.

12) Practice and practice some more

This is pointing out the obvious, but practice makes perfect.  My first public speaking experience as an engineer was less than ideal. I remember I was sweating and nervous. I had out-of-control 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.

What I felt, was totally natural though. You’ll feel nervous the first couple of times you speak. The trick is, to learn from each speech to become better and better. The more you practice, the better speaker you’ll become.

Conclusion

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’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the major shortcomings of formal engineering education.

Because good public speaking skills are like a cheat code in engineering. You’ll set yourself apart from your peers and become high in demand.

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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