Canadian Consulting Engineer

Note to engineers: improving soft-skills is not a waste of time

September 17, 2013
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Do you fall into the "stereotype" of being an expert engineer who struggles to communicate your message with others in a clear, impacting way?

Do you fall into the “stereotype” of being an expert engineer who struggles to communicate your message with others in a clear, impacting way?

You are confident at what you do, but less confident about how you relate to others and often downplay the importance of this aspect. What happens if you need to promote “you” in an interview? What if you are suddenly called to share information with a group of non-technical staff at work?

Leaders of technical backgrounds desperately need the skill of communicating. It is one thing to be an expert, and something completely different to be responsible for presenting your ideas to a group. As an engineer, you can be a role-model and leader.

The following are three top communication tips for consulting engineers in one-on-one and group situations:


Be aware of your body language

Everything from the way you walk, stand or greet others, to how you provide information leaves an impression. Our body language tells others when we are happy, confident, nervous or indifferent. You may say one thing, and do something else with your posture or body language that knocks down your credibility.

Form eye contact with others when speaking with them. This will allow them to trust you and it will allow you to relax during an interview or group presentation. Both sides benefit.

Let your hands be free to gesture naturally. Remember to keep your hands out of your pockets when speaking to a crowd, and don’t hold a pen or other item during a presentation either.

Stand or sit with an erect posture when addressing others. This displays power and confidence.

If you are presenting before a group, remember to move around and occasionally move toward the audience. Standing in one spot for 30 minutes or more, is deathly boring. Others will tune out.

Speak in non-technical terms

Remember to use language that everyone from all backgrounds can understand and relate with. Imagine that no one from your industry is present at your talk. How would you speak to them then?

Act as a “teacher” facilitating something new. Tell your audience up front that you are very interested in learning about them. Ask the audience if they understand your points from time to time. Gauge your audience and address their needs accordingly.

Having a well-rehearsed elevator pitch handy is powerful, mostly when introducing yourself in unexpected situations. There may be a company dinner that you’ve been invited to, or you are suddenly introduced to someone in business who knows very little about engineering. Think of your elevator pitch as a few statements describing what you do and why you are the best at what you do — something that stands out to people. Even the way you say it, leaves an impression on those you meet. Create something that lasts when you walk away.

Although you are an expert, your credibility will go out the window if you fail to take time with others. Can you create small talk that involves people to discuss their own interests? A good start is to ask people questions about what they do, and what brought them to the particular event or presentation.

And remember that basic social etiquette is key. Can you make others laugh without overstepping your bounds?

Project your voice with confidence

In a one-on-one or small group situation, your tone of voice is a key indicator of whether you are genuinely interested in learning about others. We cannot mask how we feel. Your enthusiasm draws people to you, not what you know. Every entrepreneur and salesperson knows this.

Do not speak in a monotone voice whether you are speaking one-on-one or before a crowd. Vary your pitch, volume, tone and pace when speaking. Practice by listening to yourself on voicemail. How do you sound? Do you speak in a clear, upbeat voice? Do you sound happy?

It is amazing how many technical experts fail to take communication seriously. Some view the psychology behind communication differences as a pure waste of time. Yet, today, these soft-skills are what stand out to interviewers, audience members and business professionals in different fields. Decisions are made based on these differences. To be an expert engineer AND communicator is extremely empowering, and those who are able to demonstrate both skills, will surely soar in the business world.

Nicole Attias is a communications specialist based in Toronto. To contact her, call 416-831-0356


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