Yesterday was our annual "Medical Extraveganza" day at the IMechE. This is always a tough day, but once again, I'm very proud to have been a part of it. The quality of some of the undergrads competing for the prizes is quite startling! I remember there being little in the way of teaching presentation skills while I was an undergraduate, and my experiences today suggest that either the kids are just naturally better at it, or that they are being well taught. I was also struck by the excellence of the postgrad competition entrants: I don't remember being as confident, thorough and well rehearsed at that stage in my career!
One talk from a postgrad called Mike Strickland stood out particularly and he (rightly in my opinion) won the prize for best presentation. So what did he do right that made him such a clear winner?
The first thing he did, we can all achieve with effort: he knew what he was talking about. Maybe not so surprising considering he's been living and breathing his thesis for 3 years, but the lesson is that we can never expect to make an effective presentation without knowing what we're presenting in detail. If we're not confident that we know more than our audience on our chosen subject, then this can show as an absence of complete confidence in our material, paving the way for the subsequent beating we'll receive during questions.
The second lesson is again within our control: he set out clearly what his work was about, where the assumptions lay, the questions it might answer and, most importantly, the questions it dit not answer. If you lay these caveats out openly, then you've already answered half of the questions that the audience may have. This kind of honest appraisal of your work wins respect from academics and engineers more than people may realise: pretending you have every base covered and the perfect solution invites a critical eye. If you play your own "Devil's Advocate", the no-one else can!
The last thing that Mike had we can't all learn quite so easily: charisma. He's simply a good talker; someone you enjoy listening to. The criticism was made that he maybe spoke a little too fast for an international audience - and I would agree - but this is easily remedied.
So what can I say? I was mildly jealous of these young men and women, so confident and on top of their game so early in their lives! I've grown old enough now to realise that I can learn from people significantly my juniors, and today, I hopefully did. I wish them all the best in their future endeavours and hope to see more of the same excellent quelity at next year's competition :)