General Engineering Introduction/Presentations
Engineering presentations are the most important part of an introduction to engineering class. Typically they are the easiest way to get points. Getting an A without making presentations constantly should be impossible. Words, concepts, tension, inspiration, materials, tasks, success, and next steps are all sharpened in presentations. It is impossible to engineer without presentations. Presentations help engineers figure out how to create project documentation that doesn't need talking to be complete.
Engineering presentations fall into these categories: Problem Statements, Status Update, Project Review and Final. These are any presentation's goals: planting questions, inviting participation, and getting help.
Engineering presentations are similar to art evaluated by the instructor in front of the class. Unlike other school work, art and engineering work is evaluated in comparison with the rest of the class. The project is displayed with the work of all other project teams. And you don't get to do it over if you messed up. There it is, for everyone to see. You can't talk your way out of it.
"Messing up" is very different in an engineering class. Engineers don't hide ugliness. Ugly can have still be functional (see Kludgy). Engineers don't hide failure. Describe the failure. Let other engineers in the audience define the problem or suggest solutions.
The toughest criticism is going to come from your instructor during presentations. Suppose you can not attract an audience among your classmates. Suppose you start the presentation with "it's not working", "it's not finished" and stop because short presentations are good. Your instructor is going to start lecturing. "It's not working" is life/food/joy to an engineer. The definition "Finished" is never clear. Ever heard of "shoot the engineer?" "It's not finished" immediately starts a host of scale/scope/cost/time/materials/alternatives/availability conversations that are critical to engineering success. And you use "not finished, not working" as an excuse to not talk? that is not engineering.
Artists have art shows, engineers have project days. Professional engineering art is on permanent display and is juried by consumers. It doesn't matter how hard you work. It doesn't matter what your experience or expertise is. Nothing is fair. Engineers can fail because they are a day late in the real world. Be prepared to present at any time. Expect help not judgement.
Assume you are presenting to fellow engineers. Do not try to educate them with a tutorial or snow with details. Engineers want summary statements that provide starting points for conversations. Strive for short presentations (where the agenda is controlled) and long conversations.
Engineering presentations are an art form that involves skipping over some detail. Detail needs to be set up like a joke. Some detail needs to be skipped. Some detail needs to be shrunk to a sound byte. Some detail needs to be covered in a foggy, unclear way that stimulates questions. Communicating all detail is impossible. The goal is to communicate enough detail to create respect. The goal is to have all the details at ones finger tips and be able to plunge to the depths if stimulated by a question.
Unsolved, non-trivial problems stimulate an engineering audience. They will begin asking non-trivial questions. Try to anticipate the questions with clearly planned answers. Write unplanned questions down and prepare answers for the next presentation.
Projects start with trying to figure out what's wanted. The audience is other engineers within the firm. Do not start with a solution and then try to reverse engineer back to a problem statement. This will loose respect.
Problem statements are short paragraphs. The next step is list requirements. Requirements are words describing characteristics or features of the project. Requirements are translated into numbers and then tests.
The best problem statements cause engineers to dream about possibilities at night. The problem gets stuck in an engineers brain like a song. There is no way to get rid of it. Thoughts about the project inspire a flood of ideas. They inspire the audience.
Early engineering presentations start off harvesting the collective mind of the audience. Engineers should present to a variety of audiences for this purpose.
The goal of a progress report or status update is to reassure the client, principal investigator or instructor that the project is proceeding on track, ask for a re-assessment of the project, ask to renegotiate the problem statement or solicit ideas/opinions from the audience. A decision matrix requires solicitation of ideas and opinions from the audience.
The Design Review is the most interesting of all engineering presentations. Design reviews occur within medium to large engineering companies. The goal is to present clearly the problem, propose some solutions and solicit the creative thoughts of all other engineers within the company.
Design Review presentations can appear brutal to a non-engineer observer. The goal is to come up with all possible failure scenarios, all possible solutions. Facts are important. Politics, economics, ego, feelings and opinions are not. A design review is not kind.
Managers select engineers for project teams. It is during design reviews that managers see which engineers might work together. Projects can be long or short. Projects can be taken from one group of engineers and handed to another. Individual people on a project may be there only for a specific part of the project. Design Review is really the beginning of the project.
Some four year engineering colleges have a design review once a week. This is where students see each other present their projects. Students get ideas about character, enthusiasms, and abilities of their classmates. This is where project teams begin to form.
A design review is uniquely an engineering institution. If the engineering firm fails, it looses money and dies. If design fails, people may die. For these reasons, design reviews ignore feelings and often people come out of them mad, misunderstood and motivated to set the record straight. All this serves the engineering firm well. Design reviews are where the brilliant, the bold and the hard working engineers shine.
Both in real life and in college, you will attend trade shows, paper presentations or special events where potential customers, clients, employers, donors, and investors are walking around. They are all looking at posters .. which are eye catching graphics and information. Engineers try to stand by their posters and engage people walking by in one on one conversations. Crowds may gather to listen in. This is where engineering business gets done. These conversation are called "face time." This is where respect is won, contact information is exchanged and everyone is inspired.
Poster sessions may last for an hour and then one moves to deliver a final presentation.
Presentations are 10 to 15 minutes. They are like a Ted conference video. Poster sessions often feel more rewarding because more information is delivered in better personal context. The goal of final presentations is to talk to the collective. The goal is to NOT stimulate questions or engage the audience. All questions that the audience may come up with should be known ... because of all the other presentations given. Each question should be answered with a respectable sound byte. Other questions should be avoided ... by not bringing up the topic or sequence of topics that caused them in the first place.
Final presentations are practiced, polished performances that attract donations, make other engineers want to work for your firm, work in the same area, sell product/services and hopefully go viral once uploaded to the internet. Perhaps the goal is to secure funding for more work on the project.