Discussion Thread

Thinking on your Feet

  • 1.  Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-20-2021 09:04 PM
    Over my engineering career, I have been involved in many types of meetings. This includes internal project team meetings, public outreach meetings, stakeholder meetings, and meetings with clients for example. I strive to prepare beforehand and anticipate potential questions ahead of time. Even so, one person may ask a question that myself or my project team did not consider beforehand.

    What tips do you have for thinking on your feet in a live, meeting setting, or for that Q&A session after a presentation?

    Thank you for your feedback!
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram, P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington, D.C.
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-21-2021 02:24 PM
    Hi Jameelah,

    This is a great topic. It's one that strikes fear in my heart. There's no substitute for preparation. Some thoughts when that fails:


    Ask a team member or colleague if they can respond

    Ask for more information, e.g., try to understand what's behind the question, for additional insight that might help you respond*

    Acknowledge their question or concern and honestly answer that you do not have an immediate answer but will investigate (and get back to them if appropriate)

    *) my experience is that many questions while important may not be relevant to the topic at hand.

    Regards,
    Mitch



    ------------------------------
    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 28 days ago
    Hi Mitch,

    Thanks for kicking off the responses with some great advice!  You've certainly laid out some handy tools for me to use.   I will especially remember to use the part about acknowledging the concern and following up with an action to investigate.

    Best,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-21-2021 04:32 PM
    Keep it simple - at public meetings
    "I don't know, but will get back to you.  Could you give your contact information to XXX at the back of the room?"
    Have a person designated to write down questions and contact information.
    Then get back to the person the next business day.  If you can - give them a business card, so they can follow up with you.

    Other meetings
    I don't know, but will get back to you.
    or
    I don't know, but will research and place the information at the end of the meeting notes for this meeting.

    ------------------------------
    Susan Everett P.E., M.ASCE
    Design Manager
    Seattle WA
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 28 days ago
    Hello Susan,

    Thank you for the idea to have a process in place for the items I may not have answers to ahead of time...such as the note-taking or collection of contact info.  I really appreciate your taking the time to respond!

    Best,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-22-2021 09:14 AM
    I can agree with Mitchell and Susan.  Don't be afraid to say "I don't know.  I'll have to get back to you on that."   I think that too often we feel like we need to always have the right answer on the top of our heads.  From what I have experienced (in my little experience so far), you can gain more respect of others faster when you are willing to say I don't know.

    If you always have an answer for every question you can come across as a know-it-all or you may end up saying something that isn't quite true and have to go back to tell them that what you said was wrong.  One additional thing to keep in mind though is, no matter who it is, if you tell some you will get back to them with an answer, make sure you do actually follow through with it.  not following up will not gain respect either.

    ------------------------------
    Nancy Streu EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Muscatine Power & Water
    Muscatine IA
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-25-2021 05:48 PM
    A few additions to an already great list of what, and not what to do.

    Lose the habit of believing when a question is asked in any forum, that
    you either have to answer it immediately or beg off.

    Right after the person asks their question reply:

    "That's an interesting point.
    Please tell us a bit more."

    While you may be an excellent engineer,
    none of us are psychics!

    Stay Healthy!
    Cheers,
    Bill

    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 28 days ago
    Thanks, Bill. Your advice really helps to ease the pressure of Q&A for me! Thank you for sharing these tips, and please stay healthy as well.

    Best,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 28 days ago
    Thank you, Nancy.  I especially needed to hear the part about feeling like we need to have the right answer on the top of our heads!  It is okay to not know but to pair this with follow through to find out.

    Best,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-25-2021 09:04 AM
    It sounds like you are following all of the steps that you can in advance of these meetings already by trying to anticipate certain types of questions. Hopefully, as you gain more experience, you will encounter the same type of question over and over and inherently develop a list of answers that you feel comfortable with. I agree with the other comments here as well, I have not had any issues arise when I admitted to not knowing something immediately. Since you sound like you prep before meetings, you're already reducing the likelihood of not knowing the answer to more basic questions if they come up!

    ------------------------------
    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 22 days ago
    You really hit it home for me with your mention of experience and inherently developing answers, Christopher.  Thank you for chiming in on this!  As the saying goes, there is no substitute for ​experience!

    Sincerely,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-25-2021 01:56 PM
    Great topic Jameelah.

    As an introverted engineer, I can relate to the anxiety that comes with holding meetings or giving presentations.

    One thing I will add (especially for Q&A sessions after a presentation) is to ask the audience the same question that is stumping you. At large presentations, there is a good chance that someone in the audience may know the answer. Also, by asking the audience, it gives yourself a few extra seconds to think of a potential answer.

    In a project team setting, you could ask the team if they have been part of any similar projects where the same question may have occurred. That can at least give you a starting point to see how a similar situation was handled in the past.

    You won't always have the answer to every question, but having a process in place for these unknowns can help you feel less anxious, as you have prepared for the scenario of not knowing the answer. Here are a few tips I used for my "process" when tough questions were asked:
    • Know who the subject matter experts are for the project or presentation. If they are not included in the meeting/presentation, see if they can be included, even if over the phone. That way you can rely on their knowledge if a question in their area is brought up.
    • If its a question that is out of your control or something that you don't have the authority to change, know when your next stakeholder meeting is and let the question asker know you plan to bring this topic/question up at this meeting to see how the stakeholders respond. Be sure to get the questions askers contact information so you can follow up with meeting minutes or stakeholders responses.
    This will also make the audience feel like you have a handle on things (even when you may not, at least not at that exact moment).

    ------------------------------
    Doug Cantrell P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Durham NC
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 22 days ago
    Thank you for this thoughtful response, Doug and your detailed recommendations. I like the idea of having a process in place to reduce anxiety.  Also, I like the idea that I can look to my team and subject matter experts.  (We are not alone out there!)  Also, letting people know a date for when I'll be able to attain answers to a question is an excellent tip for me.

    Thanks again,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------



  • 14.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 01-25-2021 02:45 PM
    I think this is a valuable skill that is often improved with experience. I love the other responses people have provided in this thread.

    One thing I would like to say to the more experienced engineers: Never underestimate the value of bringing a newer engineer along to different types of meetings. Don't view it as a waste of company time or resources; view it as an integral part of their job training. A lot can be learned by seeing how more experienced engineers handle these situations in real time.

    To the engineers with less experience in these situations: Advocate for yourself and your training. If you know your project manager has a meeting coming up for something you are working on, ask ahead of time if it would be okay for you to come along and start to understand how these meeting work. Let them know that you are interested in seeing what you have to look forward to as you gain experience.

    ------------------------------
    Heidi Wallace EI,P.E.,M.ASCE
    P.E.
    Tulsa OK
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Thinking on your Feet

    Posted 22 days ago
    Thank you for sharing this great advice! Your response prompted memories of my first few years out of school.  I recall the curiosity I had whenever my supervisor left the office for a meeting with clients.  Then, my supervisor started inviting me to attend.  These meeting experiences helped me to grow in ways that I wouldn't have by just sitting at my office desk.  Nowadays, I pick up a lot in meetings from just watching very experienced Project Managers tackle questions.

    Thanks again,
    Jameelah

    ------------------------------
    Jameelah Ingram P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington DC
    ------------------------------