You know the joke. People would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy. But let me give my own extra twist: sometimes a speech seems so lifeless to me, I’d rather be in the casket (metaphorically!) than sit in the audience.
Whether giving a presentation or sitting for an interview, many people are discouraged from public speaking and are dissatisfied with the outcomes they achieve. If this sounds like you, I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be you. I’m a firm believer that all speakers—and yes, engineers too—can engage an audience when they have the right mindset about the task.
Why do I have such faith in people? To put it simply, I don’t know anybody who can’t be spirited and animated about something in their everyday lives, even if it’s just an argument with parents on the phone. We all have the capacity to have engaging conversations about what we are passionate about.
That’s my first and most important tip on public speaking: have a conversation with your audience, just like you would speak (or shout, or laugh) with someone dear to you. If you can convince yourself that you’re always having a friendly chat, you’ll be far less likely to speak in a muffled, monotone voice whilst staring at the screen.
Interviews are much the same. My best interviews have begun as conversations before the formal interview and have continued on as conversations whilst outside the door, and this has been true for me on both sides of the interview table.
In August I facilitated Sydney’s launch event of Engineering Week at NSW Parliament House, conducting a live interview with Frank Sartor, the former mayor of Sydney and state minister (the full interview is available at expressiveeng.com.au). From the moment we met in the foyer our conversation had started, discussing Middle East politics and Mars rovers right up to the moment we were called on stage. The rest felt natural and candid, and all our public speaking should feel the same.
Reflect on that mindset during your final step towards Chartered Status, the interview with a panel of Chartered Members of Engineers Australia. As you approach that stage, just remember that the interviewers have already considered your Engineering Practice Report to be at the right standard, so they’ll want you to succeed. Their main desire is that you present yourself as a true reflection of your written competencies. The interview is one of those few opportunities in which you can celebrate your knowledge and your achievements. Do it with a style you’ve always reserved for the lunchroom and the kitchen table.