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Storytelling for Engineers

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Storytelling for Engineers

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Storytelling is a skill that I wish I had learned in school. This presentation was given on 9/8/12 at the University of Houston's "Maximizing Your Power Weekend," which is the Cullen College of Engineering's "annual fall semester Welcome and Orientation event for” the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies (PROMES).

Storytelling is a skill that I wish I had learned in school. This presentation was given on 9/8/12 at the University of Houston's "Maximizing Your Power Weekend," which is the Cullen College of Engineering's "annual fall semester Welcome and Orientation event for” the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies (PROMES).

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Storytelling for Engineers

  1. 1. Storytelling for Engineers Steve Myles Hewlett-Packard Company 8 September 2012 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  2. 2. Overview Speaker Bio Something I Wish I’d Learned in School: Storytelling How to Tell a Story Benefits of Storytelling Q&A Raffle 2 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  3. 3. Steve Myles HP Experience Lead Technical Analyst (Decision Support and Optimization) (2011 – present) Operations Research Analyst (2004 – 2011) Other Experience Materials Management Coop (Ethicon Inc., 2000) Education* MBA (UT Dallas 2012) BSIE and MSIE (Texas Tech 2002, 2004) http://about.me/stevemyles Certification 3 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Engineer in Training – Texas *I didn’t go to UH, but my wife did.
  4. 4. Something I Wish I’d Learned in School: Storytelling © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  5. 5. Something I Wish I’d Learned in School: Storytelling There is more to life than circuits, thermodynamics, and linear programming Why do engineers need to tell a story? Stories provide summaries of the pertinent details • They give an audience “the basic facts; it doesn’t need to read like Hemingway” (Perry) • This can be very useful in a business setting Audiences may be non-engineers* • Business (and life!) puts engineers in contact with all types of people – They may not have the background to understand technical details – They may have a wide range of responsibilities – They may only be interested in the bottom line • A basic understanding of organizational psychology and sociology is useful for relating to people *In this context, “non-engineers” refers to anyone not working as a front-line engineer 5 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  6. 6. Something I Wish I’d Learned in School: Storytelling There is more to life than circuits, thermodynamics, and linear programming Why do engineers need to tell a story? Engineering education focuses on scientific thought and solving formulated problems • Not all people can relate to information presented as facts and numbers • Facts and figures may not be sufficient to explain a product or process • “No one cares about your facts and figures as much as you do.” (Ruger) Abstract thought is key to innovation (Ben-Heim) and formulating problems 6 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  7. 7. “A story takes all the senseless data that the world provides and turns it into something meaningful.” Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars (qtd. in Parks) © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  8. 8. How to Tell a Story © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  9. 9. The Five Ws (Plus One H) An invaluable lesson from elementary school Who? Where? Who does the story affect? Where will it happen? Who needs to know? Where else could it happen? What? Why? What is the bottom line? Why will it happen? What actions are needed? Why does the audience need to know? When? How? When will it happen? How will this happen? When will it happen again? How many/How much? 9 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  10. 10. The Five Ws (Plus One H) Who? “Characters” Who is the story about? Who is affected? • Yourself • Coworkers • Boss (or boss’s boss, etc.) • Customers/Suppliers • Etc. Audience Who needs to know? • Frame the story for the audience • Avoid technical jargon with non-technical audiences 10 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Mary Paulose
  11. 11. The Five Ws (Plus One H) What? The Bottom Line What is the problem to be solved or the information to be conveyed? • Summarize when possible (get to the point) • Keep details to a minimum – Be ready and able to discuss details if asked Actions What do you want the audience to do? • Is this a status update or a request for action? Relates to “who” • Who needs to take action? 11 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon
  12. 12. The Five Ws (Plus One H) When? When will this happen? Timeliness is key If asking for action, the audience and the “characters” need time to react • Take into account: – Project due dates – Budget cycles – Resource constraints – Seasonal demand patterns – Etc. • Will the actions need to be repeated? Note: you may need to reconcile your timeline with that of your audience 12 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Brenda Anderson
  13. 13. The Five Ws (Plus One H) Where? Where will this happen? If your organization has multiple locations or departments, specify the relevant one(s) • This can implicitly answer some of the other questions: – “Who” could be the employees at a given location – “What” could be a project that is focused on one department – “Why” could be a need of a single location or department 13 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Anonymous Account
  14. 14. The Five Ws (Plus One H) Why? Why will this happen? For example: • Why is the project necessary? • Why is this a good use of resources (i.e., what value will the project add)? Why does the audience need this information? Everyone’s time is valuable; don’t waste it! • A rule of thumb is to spend “ten minutes preparing for every minute you expect to meet” with a manager (Maxwell 127) 14 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Bart Everson
  15. 15. The Five Ws (Plus One H) How? How will this happen? What techniques will be used to solve the problem? • Minimize technical jargon (depending on the audience) How many/How much? How many will be produced? What resources are necessary? • Time • Money • Personnel • Equipment • Other resources 15 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: somjuan
  16. 16. Visual Storytelling A picture is worth a thousand words Rules for visual storytelling: 1. Include basic factual details as necessary • For example, title and/or caption images 2. Any assumption a viewer could reasonably make must be true 3. Use more than one image 4. Know the story before you start and connect all parts of the story • At least know the destination before you start the journey 5. Edit ruthlessly 6. Ensure that the visual story makes sense if it stands alone • For example, a viewer should be able to interpret a graph without accompanying narration 7. Show new things and/or show familiar things in unfamiliar ways 16 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Adapted from “10 Rules for Visual Storytelling” by Mindy McAdams
  17. 17. Visual Storytelling But how to show that picture? A (non-comprehensive) list of visual storytelling tools Traditional tools • MS Office (Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) • OpenOffice Data visualization tools • QlikView • Spotfire • Tableau Design tools • Autodesk/AutoCAD • TurboCAD Etc. 17 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. All logos and trademarks are property of their respective owners
  18. 18. Visual Storytelling Example 18 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Data visualization by Craig Butt
  19. 19. Benefits of Storytelling © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  20. 20. Benefits of Storytelling Helping ensure that the audience understands Stories alleviate uncertainty and doubt They help people cope with change • Change can be uncomfortable They can help audiences understand the need for compromise Stories simplify complex issues They persuade when facts are not enough • “No one cares about your facts and figures as much as you do.” They help the audience reach the desired conclusion by evoking strong imagery 20 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Based on “Storytelling In Business: How Can It Benefit You?” by Kelsey Ruger
  21. 21. “Telling stories is an incredibly effective way of getting information across and making sure it sticks.” Robert Kosara, Associate Professor of Computer Science at UNC-Charlotte © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.
  22. 22. © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Steve Myles
  23. 23. © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. Photo credit: Horia Varlan
  24. 24. Works Cited Ben-Heim, Yakov. “Why the Best Engineers Should Study Humanities.” International Journal for Mechanical Engineering Education . 28 (2000): 195-200. Web. 4 Sep 2012. Butt, Craig. “The Total Medal Count.” Tableau Public Viz of the Day. Tableau Software. 13 Aug 2012. Web. 5 Sep 2012. Kosara, Robert. “Storytelling with Data.” Tableau Software Blog. Tableau Software. 14 Aug 2012. Web. 5 Sep 2012. Maxwell, John C. The 360° Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization. Nashville: Nelson Business, 2005. McAdams, Mindy. “10 Rules for Visual Storytelling.” Teaching Online Journalism. 6 Sep 2011. Web. 5 Sep 2012. Parks, Bob. “Death to Powerpoint!” Bloomberg Businessweek: Lifestyle 30 Aug 2012. Web. 31 Aug 2012. Perry, John. “How to Be a Better Procrastinator” Wall Street Journal 10 Aug 2012. Web. 31 Aug 2012. Ruger, Kelsey. “Storytelling in Business: How Can It Benefit You?” TheMoleSkin. 3 Mar 2010. Web. 5 Sep 2012. 24 © Copyright 2012 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.

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