Dr. Alexa Chilcutt is an Executive Education faculty member of Johns Hopkins’ Carey Business School where she develops and delivers presentation skills, team communication, and leadership training and is the co-author of, “Engineered to Speak: Helping You Create and Deliver Engaging Technical Presentations” (IEEE PCS Professional Engineering Communication Series) with Dr. Adam Brooks. In her role as the Director of the Public Speaking Program at The University of Alabama, she was the Communication Instructor for UA’s aeronautical and mechanical engineering NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program from 2011-2019.
What is your background?
I like to tell others that, “I am not an academic, I just play one on tv.” My background is in public relations and advertising, hence a focus on communicating to external audiences and creating buy-in. I have a doctorate in Communication and Information Sciences but have maintained a very applied perspective, creating communication training and curriculums for various professional programs. As an Associate Professor and the Director of The University of Alabama’s Public Speaking Program, I learned to teach practical public speaking skills to a diverse undergraduate audience. My passion, however, is creating and delivering executive education and professional development programs that enable others to gain credibility through sharing their expertise effectively.
What motivated you to write this book.
We see brilliant engineering and technical professionals who are unable to communicate their knowledge and ideas effectively. This hinders career placement and advancement. Creating an engaging (and purely applied) communication curriculum for mechanical and aeronautical engineering students from 2011 to 2019 was a fabulous challenge for me! I had to practice what I preach – the importance of understanding your audience to make them see the relevance of effectively communicating what you do and why it matters! During this time, my colleague Dr. Adam Brooks, and I were also delivering corporate training to a variety of technical audiences. We knew, intuitively and through our research, that there was a direct correlation between a professional’s ability to communicate and their career advancement. This led us to write a process-oriented book/workbook that paired anecdotal evidence from technical professionals around the world with the proven steps to creating effective presentations we teach.
Who is the primary audience for this text?
Executives, management, teams, new hires, and educators. While most engineering degree programs require some element of communication training in their curriculum, few provide the time or true expertise to give enough guidance and build the necessary skills. As a result, many professionals are not equipped to maximize the variety of speaking opportunities they encounter.
This is a resource for workforce readiness, professional development, and a helpful tool for leaders to utilize when investing in their team’s communication abilities. With the advances in technology, the need to recruit and develop technical talent is imperative. We wrote this to help develop that talent it in a way that saves time and reduces costs.
How does your book solve this need/challenge?
Whether preparing for an interview, upcoming presentation directed toward a non-technical audience, team meeting project update, or a conversation with a colleague, this book provides a roadmap for how to create and deliver effective oral messages. Whether the goal is to teach employees how to synthesize ideas, take them down the hall, up to management, or out to broader audiences to increase your organizational value, we walk readers through the why and how of communication and then through the active process of skill development. This is not a simple how-to book. Included throughout the book are assessments, practical activities and feedback materials that provide measurable outcomes and help track improvement. In working with both academic engineering programs and corporations, we saw a need and developed a unique training curriculum which can be implemented in part or in whole and is included in the book as a supplemental resource. Remember, clout is communicated not assumed.
What have been the biggest rewards?
Hearing from practicing professionals that they read the book, immediately applied techniques in their next presentation, and saw immediate improvement in audience engagement and response. Some of our favorite reviews have included:
Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2019
As a person who comes from an engineering education, this book is a lifeline that the scientific community needs. It shows that presentations/public speaking on technical topics don’t have to be the stereotype of boring monotone science teacher. It is a very empowering experience to read this book and know that I can take these skills forward to help further my career among my peers on my everyday life.
Reviewed in the United States on November 7, 2019
As an author of a book on writing for engineers and scientists, I sometimes deliver seminars on this same subject. Now, having read Engineered to Speak, I have completely revised my talk, which used to be a straightforward, bullet-heavy Power Point presentation. First, I learned that I could be more impactful by speaking to what the audience needs and wants, rather than merely summarizing the topics in my book. I reduced the number of slides and the number of bullets on each slide and strengthened overall cohesion by developing a stronger opening and closing and by adding transitions between subjects. Finally, I am incorporating the authors’ suggestions regarding how to project a commanding presence in the room. The reasons and underlying research on all this guidance is well explained in the book. One final thought: the authors make a strong case on the value of communication for career enhancement; I wish I had been aware of this important concept at the beginning of my career.
Robert E. Berger, Author, A Scientific Approach to Writing for Engineers and Scientists
What unique features do you think make the book stand out in the market?
Immediate practical application using our worksheets, self and peer-evaluation tools, and a complete 10 module curriculum for undergraduate programs including lesson plans and assessments. We wanted this to a useful workbook and guide that is referred to again and again!
Where can we find you online?
I welcome professionals and educators to reach out and connect to me on LinkedIn. My profile can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexa-chilcutt-phd/