Speaking Out Loud: the Art of Presentation

Jeff YirakBy Jeff Yirak, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, O+M

I spend a fair amount of time sharing my passion for mechanical engineering and commissioning with the general public. I enjoy the presentations I’m lucky enough to give to great organizations like the BCA, UW, ACE, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA). These presentations aren’t marketing calls; I’m sharing my past experience or views on upcoming trends with these organizations and their membership. The presentations are usually about an hour and are often pretty didactic; I’m presenting a pretty rigid program and don’t get a chance to really engage the audience. Then there’s the other kind of presenting I get to do.

An Engineering Crash Course for Architects

I teach the mechanical sections of the Building Systems module in preparation for the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE). This is a rigorous and difficult exam architects take to become, well, Architects. The Seattle AIA chapter organizes the classes and I (and others) volunteer to teach the different modules. The mechanical module takes about five hours to teach. This year, I shared one three-hour session with Johnny Hong from Integrus Architecture. Johnny covered the mechanical vignette (think drafting or CAD), and I taught the mechanical design material. On the first day, we cover sustainability from a mechanical perspective, such as water conservation and solar gain mitigation, plumbing design, and some HVAC. I got the second night to myself, and for three hours I covered more HVAC, fire protection, acoustics, and conveyance systems.


The classes are usually a lot of fun. I try to involve the audience so I can gauge their interest and understanding as we move through the topics. Some of the dry theory is pretty tough to sit through, and some audience members are better prepared or more familiar with the subject matter than others. It’s important to keep the audience engaged, especially if the material is in danger of going over their heads. I create an atmosphere where interruption and interrogation of me is comfortable. I’ve never met any of these people before; I wouldn’t have any idea if I was being too basic, going too fast or too slow if I didn’t have some way of getting real-time feedback from the audience during the session. I always start the session by saying “I’ve got to try to teach you in four hours what it took me four years to learn in college.” Obviously that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it does illustrate that

  1. Participants are not going to come out of our time together as trained mechanical engineers
  2. There will be some studying necessary to master the subject matter

So obviously I think I’m doing a great job, but I’m also pleased to report that the AIA chapter distributes a survey evaluation of the session to the audience. The response rate is about 30% of the attendees, but of those that do respond, I tend to get high marks. Sometimes there are surprises; I got a survey comment from someone who said they liked the examples I used, but someone else from the same session complained I didn’t use the white board in any examples. I guess that just shows we all have different learning styles.

photo 3

Survey results from my ARE prep class have generally been pretty good!

Do I like influencing the young minds that attend these ARE preparation classes? Sure. It’s a different vibe than the ACE Mentoring I do (which you can read about in an upcoming blog), but it’s fun to get a higher level of audience interaction than a typical conference-type presentation. I look forward to being invited to do it again next year!


Follow Jeff on Twitter @JYirak_WH

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