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Informed Influence: Preparing Graduate Engineers to Present with Power Instead of Just PowerPoint

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Rethinking PowerPoint and Other Acts of Communication

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.875.1 - 22.875.20

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Paper Authors


Christine G. Nicometo University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Christine G. Nicometo is an associate faculty associate in the Engineering Professional Development (EPD) Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Within EPD, she teaches technical communication courses in three programs: Technical Communication Certificate (TCC); Masters of Engineering Professional Practice (MEPP); and Masters of Engineering Engine Systems (MEES). Through the College of Engineering, she also directs the New Educators Orientation Program. She has been an active member of ASEE since 2006.

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Traci M. Nathans-Kelly University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Traci Nathans-Kelly earned her Ph.D. in 1997. At that time, she was also the Program Director for the Scientific and Technical Communication B.S. degree at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. She came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to teach in the College of Engineering's Technical Communication program, the Masters of Engineering in Professional Practice program, and the Masters of Engineering in Engine Systems program. She instructs a variety of topics, including technical communication (graduate and undergraduate), technical presentations (graduate and undergraduate), technical editing, writing user manuals, and other courses. She is active in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) as Senior Member, where she is the Manager for International Technical Communication Special Interest Group, she is a member of the Committee on Global Strategies, and she judges at the international level for the STC Publications contests for scholarly journals, scholarly articles, and information materials. As a member of IEEE’s Professional Communication Society, she serves as a book series editor for “Professional Engineering Communication.” For the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she regularly holds workshops (both online and face-to-face) for practicing engineers all over the globe on how to improve their technical presentations.

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Informed  Influence:  Preparing  Graduate  Engineers  to  Present  with  Power   instead  of  just  PowerPoint      This  session  will  triangulate  three  sources  to  propose  stronger  techniques  for  engineers  and  technical  experts  who  use  presentation  slides  as  part  of  their  work  output.  For  our  assertions,  we  will  draw  from  1)  practicing  engineers  who  participated  in  interviews  for  a  three-­‐year  NSF  sponsored  study  on  how  people  learn  engineering  (n=56);  2)  practicing  engineers  enrolled  in  two  online,  graduate,  professional  engineering  programs  (n=60+);    and  3)  the  work  of  experts  including  cognitive  psychologists  and  visual  rhetoric  experts  that  has  focused  on  the  slide  format  in  professional  settings.        Building  on  the  findings  from  our  NSF  study  of  practicing  engineers,  that  community  voiced  clear  value  for  communication  skills  above  all  other  skills  enacted  by  their  engineering  colleagues.  When  we  culled  through  the  deeper  information  inside  those  responses,  communication,  as  a  skill,  became  more  specifically  defined.    Practicing  engineers  listed  qualities  such  as  an  ability  to  see  the  big  picture  or  to  be  a  systems  level  thinker  as  integral  to  being  a  successful  engineer.  As  well,  being  a  willing  communicator  and  being  a  sincere  listener  were  often-­‐cited  qualities.    As  researchers,  this  window  to  the  qualities  that  practicing,  successful  engineers  valued  prompted  us  to  decidedly  translate  this  data  into  our  own  teaching  of  graduate  engineering  students  about  presentation  practices.    We  applied  this  systems  level  approach  to  our  presentation  instruction  when  teaching  a  Masters-­‐level  online  communication  course  to  practicing  engineers.  Therein,  we  witnessed  some  extremely  positive  results  in  their  abilities  to  influence  others  in  their  organizations  and  be  heard  through  their  technical  presentations.  A  deeper  understanding  of  the  audience’s  needs,  which  is  often  stated  as  less  technical  content  and  more  organizational  prowess,  has  led  these  student  professionals  to  success.      When  formulating  lessons  and  activities  regarding  professional  engineering  presentations,  we  heavily  employ  Richard  Meyer’s  and  John  Sweller’s  work  in  cognitive  psychology  and  multimedia  learning  to  teach  a  new  model  of  technical  presentation  visual  (slideware)  use  to  our  students.  We  also  expose  our  student  professionals  to  other  researchers/writers  (including  Alley,  Tufte,  Atkins,  Duarte,  Doumont)  who  are  informing  best  practices  in  the  use  of  multimedia  theory  and  presentation  design.    Our  interpretation  and  enactment  of  their  findings,  combined  with  our  methods  for  retooling  engineering  presentations,  has  worked  well  on  several  fronts  for  our  practicing  engineers;  techniques  include  malleable  methods  of  deploying  sentence  headers,  rhetorical  visuals,  layering  of  information,  and  archival  organizational  notes,  amongst  others.      By  combining  what  the  practicing  engineers  tell  us  are  valued  skills  in  their  organizations  with  findings  from  cutting  edge  work  in  cognitive  psychology,  we  have  seen    improvements  from  our  own  graduate  engineering  students  (who  are  practicing  professionals)  in  our  technical  communication  courses.  These  improvements  have  been  reported  by  their  own  managers  and  colleagues  and  are  highlighted  as  evidence  for  the  success  of  these  methodologies.  Based  on  the  detailed  feedback  from  numerous  engineering  managers  who  employ  our  graduate  students,  these  alternative  strategies  are  answering  the  need  for  stronger  communicators  voiced  in  our  NSF  study  results.  We  will  report  on  details  of  these  strategies  and  share  feedback  from  the  field  to  support  our  claims  of  success.  

Nicometo, C. G., & Nathans-Kelly, T. M. (2011, June), Informed Influence: Preparing Graduate Engineers to Present with Power Instead of Just PowerPoint Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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