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Memory Maps: Helping Engineering Students Fashion Words on the Spot in Their Technical Presentations

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication as Performance

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1145.1 - 26.1145.11



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Paper Authors


Michael Alley The Pennsylvania State University

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Michael Alley is an associate professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer-Verlag, 2013) and founder of the website Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science (, which receives more than 1 million page downloads each year.

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Lori B. Miraldi The Pennsylvania State University

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Joanna K. Garner Old Dominion University

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Memorizing, Reading, or Fashioning on the Spot: An Engineering Student’s Source of Words in a Technical Presentation In traditional speech courses, the words that the speaker says arise from four sources: (1)memorized; (2) read from a script, notecards, or slides; (3) fashioned on the spot with noplanning (impromptu); or (4) fashioned on the spot but with planning and practice [1]. Inengineering and science, how the speaker comes up with words often affects the presentation inseveral ways: how much engagement the speaker has with the audience, how much credibilitythe speaker has with the audience, and the confidence that the speaker has in delivering thecontent. In this paper, we will examine a series of three research questions that address howengineering students, as opposed to experts, come up with their words for technicalpresentations. The first research question is as follows: How do experts come up with their words in atechnical presentation? To address this first question, we will interview several engineers andscientists who are widely considered to be excellent speakers. Examples include the following:Brian Cox, a physicist leading the Large Hadron Collider [2]; Hans Rosling, the world healthstatistician [3]; and Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroscientist who delivered the most popular talk [4]. The second research question is as follows: How do engineering students (novices) comeup with their words in a technical presentation? To address this question, we will interviewengineering undergraduates at a large land-grant university. Tangential to the second research question is the third: What are engineering studentstypically taught as far as the source of words for presentations? To address this question, we willsurvey textbooks used in high school and college speech courses and textbooks used in technicalcommunication courses. In addition, at a large, land-grant university, we will compare theteaching instruction from liberal arts instructors who teach a required speech course with theteaching instruction from engineering faculty who teach presentations in their courses. Results of this investigation are being incorporated into an online instruction moduleconsisting of training films and exercises to help engineering students deliver their presentationsin a fashion similar to what the best speakers in engineering and science do. Funding for thesefilms and exercises arises from a grant from the National Science Foundation [5].References1. Stephen Lucas (2011). The Art of Public Speaking, 11th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.2. Brian Cox (2008, March). CERN’s supercollider. Monterey, CA: TED Talk sponsored by Autodesk.3. Rosling, Hans (2006, February). Debunking third world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen. Monterey, CA: TED Talk.4. Taylor, Jill Bolte (2008). Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight. Monterey, CA: TED Talk sponsored by AT&T.  5. _____________, _____________, ___________, and _________, “Type 2: Creating a National Network of Engineering Ambassadors: A Professional Development Program with an Outreach Mission,” National Science Foundation Grant 1323230 (College of Engineering, _____________________, 2013-2016).  

Alley, M., & Miraldi, L. B., & Garner, J. K. (2015, June), Memory Maps: Helping Engineering Students Fashion Words on the Spot in Their Technical Presentations Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24482

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