All posts by The Mathews Group

Engineering a great thanksgiving

It’s time to pause and give thanks for the many ways that some of our favorite people – American engineers – have contributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. This article is lifted from the November newsletter of our clients over at the National Engineering Forum, which you can read in full here.

As you relax on the couch this Thanksgiving, take a moment to thank broadcast engineers for bringing football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade your television. The Macy’s parade has been a tradition since 1924, and designing and filling those balloons takes some serious engineering. For football fans, there’s plenty of action, and the chance to ponder engineering’s impact on the sport, including MIT’s helmet research, Oregon State’s artificial intelligence work, and Carnegie Mellon’s research into technology to help referees make better calls (insert your own joke here). Of course Thanksgiving centers around the food, and there’s plenty of engineering at work in the gadgets for prepping and cooking, but according to this, there’s a proper way to engineer your plate to ensure maximum deliciousness. If Tofurky’s on your table, you can thank the folks in Hood River, Oregon, whose food engineering gives vegetarians an animal-free option. For meat eaters, the turkey is the main event, but not all birds are destined for the dinner table. Some get a pass from the president. There’s some debate on who originally engineered the annual presidential pardoning of the turkeys, but no matter how it began, it’s a sure bet, those turkeys are thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Practice does not make perfect

Every time we work with clients on presentation and communication skills, from college students to research scientists to engineers, when we’re doing training, we give real-life examples and opportunities for practice. People love it. As scared as they may be to stand up and give a presentation, the confidence they gain from doing it and getting immediate feedback is incredible.

Sometimes I wonder if The Mathews Group should start a service in airports where business travelers could stop in and run through their presentations. We could help them tweak their content, presence and visual aids to get to that next level of greatness. You may laugh, but the practice sessions are that popular.

During a recent presentation training for engineering students at the Miami University Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute in Oxford, Ohio, I was reminded anxiety around public speaking often comes from pursuit of an unachievable ideal. It’s called “perfect.” We want our presentations to be perfect.

But as I told the room full of future engineers, perfect isn’t a thing…

We can’t make any presentation perfect.

There’s better. There’s great. But there is no perfect.

Perfect would mean your presentation was without flaws. The harsh truth is that your presentation will be flawed because people have flaws. That’s part of what makes people, and presentations, interesting. Nobody wants to listen to an automaton. It’s boring.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting going to super-flawed status and just getting up there in front of your audience and saying whatever comes to mind without planning and forethought. Your presentation should be organized, engaging, accurate, well-presented, and inspire your audience. But there will always be flaws. Technology will fail you. Someone may fall asleep because they were up all night with a newborn, or taking the red-eye, or partying. You may have to adjust your timing on the fly and skip through some slides. You may say “y’all” as you’re coming up with a real–life example or the dreaded “um” as you are answering a question from the audience.

You – and I – should constantly work toward “perfect,” without any expectations of achieving it. You should make sure everything is ready. You should use powerful language without fillers. But it’s not the end of the world if you should happen to say “yeah” in the Q&A or if the audio system breaks and you have to use external speakers and have dozens of people gather ‘round your podium to hear the audio on a really powerful video. (Happened to me. True story.)

Even practicing your presentation over and over can’t help you avoid Murphy’s Law.

Practice can – and should – get you to the best you can be.

The good news is that’s really what people want: your best. You being confidently, authentically you and giving them accurate, truthful, interesting, useful or entertaining information.

So practice alone. Practice in front of the mirror. Call a friend and practice. Have your coworkers give you feedback. Practice in front of the dog. Get friends and family to be a guinea pig audience. Or get an actual guinea pig. Practice with props and without.

Practice enough that your delivery is natural, your inflections are genuine and you can vary your tone and volume naturally. Practice so that you’re confident enough to roll with those little unexpected twists and challenges that can – and will – happen in any presentation.

Practice, practice, practice. And then, go be wonderfully imperfect.


Photo credit: Fragola Productions

Communication is connection

Whether you’re in a B2C business, a B2B business, or in any other situation that involves getting other people to help you get something done (so that’s pretty much all of us), there’s one thing you have to prioritize.

It’s your audience.

B2C is customer-focused, and if you think about it, so is B2B. After all, B2B isn’t two computers comparing data. It’s at least one representative from each of those Bs communicating. If you’re dealing with a buyer, a board, a panel, or a team member, then you’re communicating your message to at least one person.

Your success depends on how well you connect.

Knowing the audience – the person or people you’re talking to, emailing with, or presenting for – is essential. You need to know what the audience needs and how you can deliver it.

Then you can make the connection that allows you to share your story.

Let us show you the keys to connecting and effectively communicating your message to reach your professional goals.

 

Team Mathews Spotlight: Introducing Susan Connery!

We recently chatted with our controller, Susan Connery, about what it’s like to manage a virtual agency – well, virtually. It is not by coincidence that things run so smoothly around these parts. What’s our secret? We have a Susan.

Q: Can you share a little about yourself?

My husband and I live in McLean, Va., and have three children. We are thinking about adding a dog, but we haven’t taken the plunge just yet.

Q: When did you join The Mathews Group?

I joined the team very early on, when Melissa was starting her business in 2010. My next-door neighbor at the time saw an ad in a local mom’s group for some part-time operations support. I was still a new mom to a baby, so this seemed like a good way for me to transition slowly back into the workforce.

“I love the water and all activities involving balance. Stand-up paddleboard, skating and water skiing are my favorites,” said Susan. “I guess it sort of goes along with the accountant thing – we love everything to be ‘in balance’.”

Q: Tell me about how your career evolved as a corporate controller?

After graduating from the University of Florida in 1995, I went to work for Arthur Andersen as an auditor in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, I got married and my husband and I moved to New York, where I worked in the treasury department for Revlon. Both positions were great for getting me grounded in the financials of running a business. Next, I went to JPMorgan, where I was a corporate controller for AT&T’s real estate portfolio. This was a valuable opportunity for me and challenged me professionally. When my husband was transferred to D.C. in 2001, I became one of the first remote employees at JPMorgan. I used to work from home two days a week and commute the other three. At the time, working remotely was very challenging. Technology was not as developed, we used VPNs that were painfully slow and clients were less supportive of this model. Today, it is a very common practice but in 2001, I was a bit of a trailblazer.

Q: What are some of the challenges you encounter working for a virtual agency?

I think with a flexible work arrangement time management is critical. Because you are not a full time employee and you are not a full time homemaker, you have to be very careful and keep clear divisions between work and home time. For example, I have established days for laundry, cleaning the house and running errands. I always work ahead and prep meals during the day while children are at school because of after-school demands. When I am working, I am completely committed to maintaining a quiet workspace. I focus on what needs to get done that day and make it my priority. It can be exhausting to put your life in boxes, but I find it’s the only way to stay ahead and allows me to really be present in the evenings and enjoy the simple moments with my family.

Q: What do you love most about the virtual agency model?  

The flexibility in working remotely is so valuable. If a child is home sick from school and needs to go to the doctor, it can be managed pretty easily. The ability to reshuffle your work schedule takes a lot of the pressure off the family. The remote model at The Mathews Group affords me the opportunity to work and be a mom – I don’t always have perfect balance, but I certainly feel fortunate to be part of a great team.   

Q: When you are not working, what kinds of things do you like to do?

I love to travel and to stand-up paddleboard (SUP). I discovered SUP while in Hawaii a few years ago and immediately fell in love. It’s an activity that is totally my speed.

I also really enjoy watching my children play sports, especially basketball and baseball games. It’s great family time for my husband and me, while also supporting the children doing something that they love.

 


 

 

A seriously fun Saturday

It’s a privilege whenever we’re entrusted to work with a group to help them elevate their communication skills. This past weekend Katherine (director of training) and Tia (VP and chief strategy officer) –they’re in the middle of the photo behind the student with the #IAmAnEngineer sign – travelled to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to do a one-day presentation skills seminar for 54 students in the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute. As you can imagine, it’s no small task to convince dozens of college students to come to class on Saturday and spend an entire day learning about how to plan and deliver an effective presentation – and practice those skills on the spot. These students blew us away! Getting there early, being great sports and really putting in the work to get the most out of the day, and having a few laughs along the way.

Get your audience to the right answer

Good presentations are like math – they really add up. Now, for some people, those are two really scary concepts: public speaking and math.

But don’t be afraid, presentations don’t have to be intimidating. Just like a complex math problem, they’re a lot easier to do if you break them down into steps.

When you deliver a presentation, all your points have to add up so your audience can clearly see the answer.

Don’t just walk the listeners through your main points, say thank you, and sit down. You’ll leave them hanging.

Instead, finish strong.

Your conclusion should be the answer you’ve been working toward. It’s where you bring everything together and give your call to action or deliver your big, summative statement.

This is the moment that will inspire people to do what you want them to do.

The value of a good presentation is more than a sum of its parts. Let us show you the formula for your presentation, so you can ace your next conference or meeting.

 

Don’t tell me about technology. Show me why I’ll love it.

You’ve got the latest and greatest. It’s the engineering innovation that will revolutionize manufacturing. It’s the medicine that will save lives. It’s a transformation in chemical processes that will save time and money.

Engineers and scientists are making life better for all of us every day. Without their work, we’d all be missing out.
We get that.

In today’s world, it’s not enough to just put something to market or into practice. It’s not enough to talk about what something does or all the hours that went into making it do that thing. Corporate investors, buyers, your team, the media, social media consumers, and even your neighbors, need an emotional connection to your work.

They want a reason to love it, a reason to want to use it.

We get that, too.

When you can effectively communicate your story, you’ll move toward the success you deserve. But many professionals in the STEM disciplines tell us they want to do a better job talking about the work they do. We believe you can be a great engineer (or scientist, or technologist, or mathematician) AND a great communicator.

We can help you get that.

GPS for communications success

Keeping it between the lines

Don Draper, the iconic ad man in AMC’s Mad Men series, says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
Great advice. But it’s hard to follow if you don’t know where you’re going.

You need a good guide.

If you’ve been selected to represent your company or group on a panel discussion, a roundtable, a media interview, or even a team meeting, you’re going to want to know what exactly you can do to keep the conversation going where you want it.

As the authority on a given subject you can anticipate some curveball questions or even some “rude Qs” when you’re facing the public, the media or even colleagues.

While true mind control over other people is tough to master, and frowned on in most professional settings, there are ways to keep the conversation on the right path – or lead it back if it’s started to wander.

We can give you the roadmap and show you the way.

The PB&J of Public Speaking

Most people are terrified of public speaking. You might be one of them. You think everyone else is better at it than you are, and in fact, you don’t even know where to start.

Start with a recipe.

It’s just like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

You gather the ingredients.

You follow the steps.

You serve up something delicious and satisfying. It nourishes the needs of the people you’re speaking to.

And when you’re comfortable, you get a little fancier, adding in a layer of bananas or maybe even bacon.

If you’re out of an ingredient, you get creative. No jelly? Let the peanut butter be the star of the sandwich. Use sliced strawberries. Use honey. All are good, and all serve the purpose.

Let us show you how to use a step-by-step approach to thinking through your presentation, considering your ingredients and planning for possibilities to create a delicious final product. We know you‘re capable of gaining the confidence you need to be the kind of public speaker people admire.

Let us help you create your recipe.