Communicating effectively in both written form and public speaking is critical for the success of the utility. I have been reading several books on leadership and communication remains an ongoing issue throughout. We see many schools trying to incorporate this into the engineering curriculum, but that leaves far too many outside the training “program.” The problem is that many people think they communicate well, when in fact they do not. Nothing is more of a reality check than college students, too many of which write in “text message form” as opposed to real written words. Presenting utility concepts and ideas to different audiences is an integral part of the profession and unfortunately the technical nature of many of our issues requires technical people to communicate concepts to non-technical audiences. This s far more difficult than it appears, which is part of why the message may be lost. .Knowing this fact, aspiring utility employees must become familiar with using visual aids and computer-based tools to convey the important design details, so that, the client, regulators, politicians, the public and even other engineers can envision what the final product will look like and evaluate their ability to successfully execute the project.
We tell our students that technical communication for civil engineers is essential to the profession and is a prerequisite for a successful engineering career. It assists in conveying information, serves as a thought process tool, and is arguably just as essential as excellent analytical or computational skills. For some, writing well comes naturally, for others, it can be a struggle. The difference can be experience, confidence, and proper planning. Planning makes writing easier. A good place to start would be to make an outline of topics to adequately cover the necessary content and in the appropriate order that allows the reader to follow along in a logical fashion. Of course too many of them resist outlines and read very little.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. If you read a lot, you have a better chance of being a good writer than those o do not. The saving grace of the vampire books, Hunger Games, Game of thrones and 50 Shades series is that someone is actually reading the books. That is a first step. Of course the news is another matter. History, of course no so much. For utility folks, it is technical materials that must be read, digested and conveyed to the ratepayers. People are naturally suspicious of those they cannot understand, a huge barrier for the industry to overcome. I remind our students than when the general public is asked what engineers do, more than half answer: drive trains. Wow. the disconnect!
It is important to avoid overly long documents with too much technical detail, jargon or specialized terms, distractions and tangents.The consequences of poor communications clearly justify the amount of time and effort required to write well because, for example, the written word in a document is permanent; therefore, the bad impression left with the reader of sloppy work can be extremely damaging. We need to engage the public in a positive way. Communication needs to be a more robust goal for all of us than it currently is to engender that needed support.