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When I created my first major presentation (for an undergraduate thesis defence), I recall the four practices the profs told us to consider:

  1. Language: know my audience and their basic level of knowledge about my topic
  2. Respect: dress well and make eye contact with the audience
  3. Voice: speak from point form notes, look up
  4. Focus: keep clothing pockets empty, so I don’t inadvertently rattle stuff in my nervousness and distract the audience from listening to me

These four practices hold today. 

In every engineering class I teach, I require at least four informal and one formal presentation. Engineers are notorious for having poor communication skills, yet we constantly present knowledge, research and development to each other and to our clients. I believe the challenge is not poor communication, rather is truly knowing our audiences.

I chatted with Marcie Cochrane, P.Eng., Advance Principle Consulting Inc., about recent work she has done with clients to explore inclusive presentation best practices. She provided me with some recommendations for inclusive presentations:

  1. Common knowledge: provide basic definitions to make sure everyone understands the abbreviations you use
  2. Land acknowledgement: recognize the land on which you live and work (see Engineers Canada’s guide, for example: https://engineerscanada.ca/sites/default/files/diversity/land-acknowledgements-guide.pdf).
  3. Intersectionality: consider diverse viewpoints and perspectives; find diversity in examples, images and media — take the time to find examples of female, BIPOC (https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-bipoc.html) and other individuals in addition to white male individuals.
  4. Language: use gender neutral terms (but don’t make a big deal of it)
  5. Interactivity: ask your audience questions to engage them in the discussion, especially focusing on diverse perspectives. As an example, Marcie says that ”if [you are] discussing a transit station design, think about diverse age groups and how they have different needs/uses.”
  6. Authenticity: consider your own lived experience and share a story that demonstrates how you incorporated diverse perspectives in some way.
  7. Accessibility:ensure your presentation itself is accessible to people with diverse abilities, such as minimizing the use of text on your slides, maximizing the size of everything and ensuring you describe each slides’ content. This blog has some great tips: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/11/inclusive-design-accessible-presentations/ 
  8. Implicit Bias: evaluate your own implicit bias and assess how that may influence your content, your approach and your expectations of the participants’ ability to comprehend what you are saying. If unsure, test your implicit bias here, at Harvard’s Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Please reach out if you have any questions — or any other tips I can add to this list.

Katherina (she/her)