Dec 10

Next generation engineers

What happens when 110 Year 4 & 5 Primary School children meet a 1,000 mph car?

Last week I was lucky enough to give a talk at a local (Bristol, UK) Primary School about the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (Bloodhound SSC) project. I signed up as a 1K supporter pretty much as the scheme launched (Aug 2009) and as an Ambassador shortly after that. Having done a couple of STEM / Bloodhound Ambassador events and activities, this was my first Primary School and first solo talk.

The pupils at the school had been making their own cars and were keen to know more about how Bloodhound SSC is being made. As a mechanical engineer by first degree, it was an excellent opportunity to talk with the children and pass on some of my passion for engineering!!

One of the great innovative technologies being used with Bloodhound SSC is the use of composite fibres in the monocoque shell that houses Andy Green & the HTP (High Test Peroxide) tank. While a primary school probably doesn’t have access to carbon fibre and autoclaves, they do use papier-mâché (which is a composite material) – so I could legitimately say they were using the same basic engineering technologies as Bloodhound SSC!

I also had the opportunity to show a video of some of the high speed machining that Hanson’s are undertaking for the space frame. While there was no direct link to what they’re doing in the classroom, I wanted to show them actual metal cutting and the preparation needed before you slam £25k of spindle into aircraft grade aluminium.

I had a couple of key things to communicate (mainly around what engineers do, and the level of teamwork and cooperation needed in modern engineering challenges), plus lots of facts & figures about the car itself.  I had to decide what to start with to engage with the children, and keep them engaged for 30min. The animation of Bloodhound SSC racing a Eurofighter is great for this – it’s high tempo and has lots of reference points that helped keep momentum through the talk.

Bloodhound SSC – by a Year 5 student

I followed this with some background details on the car, fortunately the Education Team at Bloodhound SSC make all this stuff available for Ambassadors. We just need to pick it up and flesh out the narrative, and make it appropriate to the audience. At each point when I started to talk about fabricating the structure, or the composite shell – I could pull up a video from BHTV (Bloodhound Television) to illustrate what I was talking about.

I ended the presentation with the video of the rocket test in Newquay on 3 Oct 2012. A really great high point to end on!

After about 30min presentation, I was then bombarded with questions; such as “Why was there all that water when they were cutting the metal bits out?”, and “Why does Andy Green wear a crash helmet?”

Communicating effectively is critical to success in any field; engineering, business, primary school teaching. Having a clear message, sound facts, and a simple presentation really helps tell the story, whether it’s an investor pitch or a class of 8-10 year olds!

That’s (part of) what I do; clarify objectives & ambitions, into plans & narratives, that can be communicated & acted upon.

[In the slide deck below, the blank slides linked to the Bloodhound / Eurofighter race (not officially available), BHTV Episodes 1, 15 and 17]
[slideshare id=15575330&doc=bloodhoundschoolevent-121210124940-phpapp02]

Mar 31

What’s the best way to promote your product?

Red Arrows over London - Uploaded on June 22, 2006 by mundocuadro

Red Arrows over London - Uploaded on June 22, 2006 by mundocuadro

Show people!

<This is a joint post with Craig Hellen from BexMedia.>

People are visual, we like to see stuff. Long thesis and manifestos are great for explaining in great detail the nuance and subtly of your plan, but first to have to get people to read that stuff. Everyone’s time is precious so you need to make a fast, powerful case to spend some of that time on your idea.

You’ve got a fantastic idea and want to tell the world about it!

All communication is ultimately all about the message. Before you even pick up a camera there are three key things to think about:

  1. the audience
  2. the story
  3. the storyteller

Audience
In writing these articles, the first thing I considered was the audience, you. You may be interested in making pots of cash. You probably don’t have pots of cash to start with.

Hello my name is... Uploaded on September 22, 2006 by rick

Hello my name is... Uploaded on September 22, 2006 by rick

But who are you trying to reach? Are you after the Chief Executive of a global business, Angel investor, a respected academic at University, local government worker, an individual consumer or activist, other people like you? All these audiences will have different requirements and expectations in how to be approached with a great idea. They’ll get their news from different sources and in different forms. Unless you’re only interested in people like you seeing your message, really think about who the audience is.

You might want to try developing persona’s and testing your message against them. Make up an example of your target audience. Give them a name and a back story. How old are they, where do they live, where do they work, did they go to university (which one), do they have a family, what car do they drive, what TV/Radio/Newspapers do they consume? The more detail you can generate the better. If you have time, make up a couple persona and try your story out on all of them.

In setting up OpenCoffee Bristol, I wanted entrepreneurs and the professionals that support them to get together once a fortnight to discuss business development and ideas around building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bristol. I researched what type of entrepreneurs started up in Bristol and what they were in to. I spoke to as many professionals as I could to learn about them and what they were in to. Before I launched I knew my audience and was able to communicate effectively to them, as evidenced by the successful launch with support from Starbucks and local PR companies and good attendance.

Story

Super starters - Uploaded on March 16, 2006 by Ranger Gord

Super starters - Uploaded on March 16, 2006 by Ranger Gord

Again, working backwards; what do you want people to do after watching your video? Do you want people to sign up to a service, buy a product, forward the video to their friends / work colleagues, change their behaviour, have a good laugh and move on to the next thing in their day?

Are you a business, charity, volunteer organisation or individual? Are you trying to show how easy it is to use your product / service? Are you explaining how your idea will change the world? What story are you trying to get across?

Whatever you’re trying to do, link each feature to a benefit. We have this feature so you get this benefit. Itty Biz has a great post on this.

If you’re doing a product demo then create a typical journey through your product and explain the features at each stage, along with the benefit to the customer.

A side note on humour; if you can pull it off then use carefully and be mindful of your audience. If you’re not a natural comedian then don’t even try to be funny, just stick to a simple narrative with clear feature-benefit links.

Storyteller
Not everyone is a natural story teller. That’s OK. It’s usually considered a good thing if you can be the outward face of your idea / enterprise and its certainly cheaper than paying an actor! Other good people to tell your story are the people you’re helping, or selling to. Personal perspectives work really well in getting a message across, which is why charities always show an individual and give them a name (even if it’s a dog or cat).

The storyteller doesn’t have to be on screen, narrators can be very powerful. The story teller doesn’t even have to speak, they can reveal the narrative through their actions and images. Remember though that you’re trying to get a message across in a short and compact way, not create avant-garde conceptual art. Large companies with huge budgets can afford to run messages that make no sense for months and then ‘reveal’ the secret product/service that they were talking about; you probably can’t wait that long.

Putting it all together

The end experience should be consistent throughout. If your audience is small businesses, then your message should appeal to small businesses and be presented by someone that a small business owner would be happy to listen to or look at. If your audience is disaffected youth then your story should be in a style they’ll be used to and presented by someone that looks like them.

Here’s an example from IBM. The audience is clear: big business, middle America, white middle-class middle-aged guy. Although this is on YouTube the ads were run on cable TV (I saw it on CNBC), between business news, where their audience would be watching. The story is simple: we’re IBM and if you adopt our technology you’ll save lots of money, and the environment. The story teller is credible, she’s a smart dressed woman that doesn’t look too out of place.

A very different approach is from CommonCraft. The audience is everyone that’s not an uber-geek but geeky enough to be using YouTube and thinking about Twitter. The story is really clear, a very simple way to build real-time informal networks means you can stay in touch with friends, family, work colleagues, anyone without having to do lots of work. The story teller is a narrator but uses plain clear English and cut out paper drawings rather than flashy 3D animation since they’re targeting people that might be wary of technology.

All rules are made to be broken, but you need to know the rules before you break them otherwise you’ll probably end up with a mess that no one will be interested in.

Here’s the classic rule breaker from Apple back in 1984.