A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I start off this post with the common proverb: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I won’t be writing a thousand words here to describe the picture, but feel free to add your own imagination to it.

For this project, we had to choose a visual aid that would best explain “renewable energy implementations on a farm.” Hence, we chose a site map because not only could we indicate what we implement, but where we do it. Visual aids are effective in delivering presentations because it can tell a lot more than text. See for yourself. Read the following excerpt and consider timing yourself to see how long it takes you to synthesize all the information.

To supplement our presentation, we will be providing a site plan of an imaginary chicken farm. The purpose of the map is to show areas where renewable energy sources can be placed and implemented. Situated in the center of the map is a rectangle. That rectangle represents an aerial view of the main facility where all the chickens live. On that rectangle, we show the integration of photo voltaic panels that will be placed on the roof of the coop. Beginning from the southwest corner of the building is a chain link fence that goes to the leftmost edge of the rectangular property. To the south of the fence is parking for delivery trucks, employees and visitors. Near the northwest of the property is a small hill, where our team suggested placing wind turbines. Directly east of the main building is a smaller rectangular-shaped facility used to convert biomass into electricity. That facility is nested among a forest of trees to make the area more pleasing to the eyes and the nose.

Now, try reading through the excerpt once more and try sketching it out. After doing so, click *here* to see the actual picture and we can prove two theories.

1. Did it take you longer to synthesize the paragraph than the photo?
2. Was your sketch different from the actual picture?

If you answered both YES, that shows the effectiveness of the visual aid. Two main advantages are: visuals can be interpreted more efficiently than text explanations and are more accurate and to the point. Although, visuals can also be interpreted, unlike text, what you see is what you get. Also, it is important to note that although the text tried to be clear, there are a lot of things that are left out: dimensions: width, length, thickness of the lines; size of the trees; size of the hill, quantity of trees and exact location of each tree, etc.

So just for fun, feel free to send in your sketch to adrian (at) adrian chu (dot) com and we can compare and contrast it with the original sketch. Thanks and have a great day!

The Feeling of Change

It is the seventh week of Autumn quarter at the University of Washington. HCDE 333 has been a rewarding class. During the past seven weeks, we had the opportunity to work on a fine tune skills in various important documents. So far, this class has changed my abilities and provided me with a number of valuable skills that can be applicable after graduating.

I received wonderful feedback in improving my resume and cover letter. We had the opportunity to prepare and make an effective proposal package (in both written and Power Point formats). Also, since this class began, I have gotten in the habit of updating my blog more frequently. I feel more comfortable in writing blog posts as well as working in team-based writing projects. Through this class, I have gotten more exposure in leveraging web-based productivity tools like Dropbox and Google Docs.

The other benefit of collaboration is the opportunity to network. Through this class, I have had the chance to work with a number of new people and learn to adapt to team working environments. The structure of the class provided us the chance to work with our project team for the majority of the course on a number of different projects. Having worked with a group of four other people, I have no hesitation that I would want to work with them again on future projects outside of this class.

Although at times I do feel nervous when delivering a presentation, this class has given me the chance to practice more and see what areas I can improve on. Sometimes I may get too involved in the presentation and deliver it extra dramatically. As discussed before, presentations are important in school as well as in the work place.

So, overall, change is good.

The Challenges of Collaborative Writing: Sharing Files

Recently, we’ve been working on a collaborative writing project in our HCDE 333 class. So that each of us could work on the same document at the same time, we decided to use Google Docs for the first draft. Each of us was responsible and accountable for an assigned section of the proposal, so we weren’t as concerned about others accidentally removing content that was intended to be there. However, there were some limitations on Google Docs. One of which is formatting. Since our document was designed for print, Google Docs had limited abilities in terms of visualizing the print layout for the document. It is also more difficult adding tables, graphics and charts onto Google Docs. Overall, when printed, the documents don’t have the “look” of Microsoft Word.

In order to benefit from both worlds, we used Google Docs for our first draft and later moved it to Microsoft Word for final version. Yet, the conversion from Google Docs and Microsoft Word was a bit of a challenge as some of the alignment was not perfect. Also, sharing Word documents with each other was not feasible either. Our solution was to have one team member work on the Word document and then we would fix it up as a group in a physical face-to-face meeting before the class. Another method we could try is to use Dropbox to share the files, so that we can all access it without having to email the attachment around after each revision.

How to Deliver an Effective Presentation

A few days ago, we presented our mock consulting proposal to our Advanced Technical Writing and Oral Presentations class. There are a number of key elements for giving successful and effective presentations. It is very important to practice; have succinct and well-designed slides; and deliver the presentation with the correct vocal and physical demeanors.

Practice Makes Perfect

In general, every time I give a presentation, I’d like to script out what I plan to say and then read over the words a number of times. It is exactly what I did for this presentation. In the actual presentation, I would not necessarily be reading the words from memory, but practicing the script allows me to thoroughly understand the content of the presentation and it’s easier to elaborate on-the-spot if you know the right keywords. By practicing, you also gain confidence in your presentation skills, because you feel like you know your presentation topic well. I’ve been told that the success of any presentation is mostly dependent on your state of mentality. So, it is a good idea to be calm, relaxed and confident while giving a presentation.

The Succinct and Well-Designed Deck

For all Power Point presentations, it is a good idea to have them look visually appealing and be clear and concise. You don’t want to be reading off your slides directly. If so, it usually means you are not elaborating enough or your slides are way too wordy. A common saying says: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” You don’t need to have 1,000 words for each picture in your presentation, but the words you select to place on your slide should tell more than the word itself. They should basically be words or phrases that can be used to represent the underlying meaning of your message. For this presentation, I tried doing something new: having a keyword and one or two photos with caption fill a slide, instead of having a bulleted list of details. This way, it allows me to focus and present without having phrases to read off from the slide.
Ideally, a presentation should have the following elements: introduction (engages the audience, clearly states the purpose, establishes credibility and previews main points); body (supports your message, adapts to the specific audience, and should be organized in a logical manner); conclusion (restate your main idea and closes the presentation with a call for action). Some people have told me not to provide handouts to the audience of the deck, while others have told me to do so. There seems to be pros and cons for each situation, but I think the best thing to do is provide the handout after the presentation is over. People in the audience will try to read ahead on your handout while you present, which will distract your connection with them during the presentation.

Vocal and Physical Traits Both Matter

People generally look for two things about you in the presentation: how you speak and how you look. Things to consider in terms of vocal delivery are: volume, rate and pause, conversational tone, enunciation and enthusiasm. Many of these traits are dependent on your type of audience as well as the environment you are in. Being in a small conference room versus a huge auditorium without a microphone can make a huge difference. Rate and pause is also important; depending on the type of presentation, this may be different. I’ve always had a habit of speaking too quickly, so I try my best to speak as slowly as I can. The tone of voice and enunciation is also for each type of presentation. This presentation is supposed to simulate a consulting pitch, so a B2B professional persuasive (different from late night infomercial) tone is good. Enthusiasm is always important. There are things we like to do, and many times there are things in life we don’t like to do, but have to do. No matter what type of presentation you give, even if you aren’t interested, you should look interested and be happy about it.

In addition, people look at the way you position yourself during a presentation. It’s important to have good posture and not be fidgeting too much. Also, it is crucial to pay attention to your facial expressions. I’ve always had the habit to be slightly more fluid and moving in my presentations. But with practice, it has become easier to pay attention to my physical delivery.

The Big Picture

Practice, practice, practice; make a good set of slides and watch the way you speak and stand. Overall, the opportunity to work on different styles and types of presentations is a great idea. Practicing and learning new things is always great. There are a variety of situations we must adapt to in the future. Especially as an engineer, not only is it important to have a strong technical background, having good soft skills is vital in the workplace. Wish you the best of luck!

Managing a Successful Project

In our Human Centered Design & Engineering class, we are working on a mock consulting project with a sustainability focus. Similar to a case competition, these projects are supposed to help us learn about typical business projects and provide us with the opportunity to build leading teamwork skills. There are a number of elements that make a project successful. First, we started off established guidelines for teamwork and created an agreement to reinforce the rules. Next, we had our initial project kickoff meeting that determined our research focus and generated a list of action items for each team member. Then, we presented our initial oral proposal (sales pitch) to promote our skills, credentials and our project vision. To help us in the process, we used two Google applications: Groups and Docs so that we can work together collaboratively. Several important tools one must consider using when working on team-based projects are: written agreements that set the procedures, policies and objectives for the project; information systems that suit the needs; and efficient methods of communicating.

First, we drafted a team work agreement that sets out rules that we must follow.

Team Working Agreement (TWA)
I. Meetings
When meetings are necessary, they shall take place on either Monday or Wednesday, one hour before class. The meeting place for these meetings will be prearranged in an appropriate location (i.e. in the classroom (Low 101), or a library). An advanced notice email will be sent out at least day prior to the planned meeting in the event of a cancellation, or project emergency.

In the event that a team member becomes sick, or needs to miss a meeting due to conflict, it is expected that they will let the group know through email ahead of time. On the account of several absences, the team member in question will be confronted and talked to.

II. Communication
Communication will be done via email and Google Group. Everyone must check these sources of communication at least once a week (more during more busy parts of the project). In case of urgent situations (members need help and/or are behind in work), groups members will call each other to resolve any issues.

III. Contributions
Each member is required to contribute to the team project. Every group member will be responsible for communicating with the group, updating their work status with the group, attending group meetings, and completing their portion of the project.

Team members are allowed to ask for help from other members when there is trouble in research, or when the team member is unable to finish the assigned work by the agreed deadline.

IV. Behavior
All team members will be respectful of each others ideas, and follow the agreed TWA. If team disagreements occur, the argument will be talked over by creating a compromise that everyone can agree to. If no compromise can be met, a majority vote will rule. This means a vote of 3 out of 5 will decide the outcome of the argument.

V. Additional Material
In the future, TWA amendments may be changed if the majority vote (3 out of 5) agrees. The time and place to do so is at group meetings.

If the TWA is not being followed, the following 3 actions will take place:
1. An email warning will be sent out.
2. If problem persists, a verbal confrontation will take place at group meetings or in class.
3. If problem still persists and cannot be resolved, there will be a reporting the instructor.

Although it is not as stringent as the typical legal document, it establishes a criteria for us to follow. Also, the process of drafting the document was an opportunity to work with the newly created team and to get to know each other. So, it is generally a good idea to have one of these types of agreements, so that when issues occur, there is a policy to enforce those situations.

Having the right software tools and information systems is also very important. For our team of 5 people, we like using Google’s series of applications. They are quick and easy and they serve our needs. Google Groups enable us to message each other and share necessary project files in an easy-to-use place. Google Docs allows us to be working on the same presentation at the same time, without having to worry about merging slides from different files with different formats.

Another one of the most crucial factors that determine success is effective communication. Working in a team environment with more than two people, there is often “politics” involved. If a team member is having an issue with a particular action item or deliverable, we ask that that the member speak up and share with the group, so we can work together and get the project done. The number one goal is actually getting the project done in a timely and quality manner. We each can communicate each other via phone, SMS, email, instant messaging, Google groups, Facebook and of course in person when we see each other. Lastly, I’d like to stress the importance of interpersonal communication. In many cases, it is important to communicate the person. As I stated in one of my earlier blog posts, “Eating lunch with people who are going in the direction you want to move in“, liking someone’s status update on Facebook isn’t really “communication”.

Overall, we decided to establish standard objectives and procedures. We utilized two different methods of collaborative communication in our project team: Google applications (Groups and Docs) and face-to-face meetings. And we emphaisezed the need to communicate effectively.

What Skills Do I Need to Get Hired?

“What Skills Do I Need to Get Hired?” emphasizes that soft skills are required, especially for technical-based engineering positions. It also discusses how to be successful at the workplace. Collaboration is very important within large enterprises as there are very many learning opportunities that one can learn from his or her coworkers. This video also reinforces the common proverb: “It’s not only what you know, but who you know that counts.” I agree with the messages from the video. Having essential soft skills are crucial for getting hired, working efficiently and climbing up the ladder.

It is quite obvious that during interviews, employers want to see you beyond what’s written on your resume. Your resume will tell about your experiences but it only shows your ability to write. It doesn’t reflect your personality and your ability to express yourself verbally. In many cases, employers will ask questions that may seem random but are actually not. In behavioral interviews, employers get to see how you solve complex problems and your thought process. No matter how good one’s technical skills are, if he or she cannot express it, then those skills would not be as helpful when seeking a job.

From my work in organizations of different sizes: startups to FORTUNE 500, it is evident that communication is important. In small companies, one tends to interact with a lot of external customers and vendors. In large companies, one will end up working with plenty of internal customers and vendors. Groups and teams are like systems. They generally have inputs that are dependent on the output from other groups and they group (system) would typically have an output in which other groups are dependent on. In addition, many large companies have leverage Web 2.0 and social networking technologies to encourage collaboration. For example, large enterprises have similar processes within certain groups. People who don’t normally work together can do so through a corporate social network, such that work can be shared and does not need to be repeated. Hence, to be efficient, one must collaborate. If one can solve the problem more efficiently by consulting another person or having another person ask another person, then that can be a more feasible way to address these complex problems. Efficiency is a key performance measure in a number of organizations – hence it is important to know how to communicate to be effective.

Promotions typically require the candidate to be able to extend his or her influence beyond his or her own work and into the tasks of others. Generally, one enters a company directly after college at an entry-level stage, where he or she is responsible for doing the grunt work of problem solving. As stated above, if he or she does not know how to solve the problem, then he or she must find some way to take care of it. Then, there comes an independence stage, where an independent worker has the ability to influence others through mentorship or sharing of experiences. One needs good communication skills to be an independent worker and to start influencing others. As one move up the career ladder, one’s job shifts from solving detailed problems to more leading and guiding others how to solve those problems. At that point, it is effective to communicate in a way that people are willing to work to their fullest efficiency. So to be successful at leading and managing people, one would need solid communication abilities.

Currently, I am taking a course offered by the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington, focused on advanced technical writing and oral presentations. One of the key objectives of this class is to better prepare engineering students in the working world. In the workplace, it is important to present effectively. At meetings for example, there are opportunities to present your work or proposal to senior managers and executives. Successfully delivering the presentation will provide you with added visibility within your organization. Likewise, if things don’t turn out too well, your image may be impacted adversely as well. Therefore, before entering the world of work, it is important to enter with a solid background in delivering effective presentations and communicating effectively.

In reviewing the course syllabus, the projects and activities are all very useful in real life. So far, we have completed an elevator speech and begun on our journals and group project. Not only will the elevator speech will come in handy inside an elevator at the high rise office building, but . Journaling allows for ideas to sprout. Additional projects planned for the quarter include: portfolio, oral proposal, written proposal, team work status reports, posters and final presentations.

Often, presentation abilities improve with practice. Not only will this class will provide additional opportunities to sharpen presentation skills, but there will be more chances to work collaboratively in team-based environments through group work and delve deeper into technical writing projects, whether they are documents or presentations. Overall, this course will cover important subjects that will enable one to succeed in the workplace from the initial interview to the everyday work and beyond.