Neil Thompson | Cadaver Bone Implants & How To Get Promoted As An Engineer
Who is Neil Thompson?
Neil Thompson holds degrees in materials engineering and biomedical engineering. In addition to his degrees, Neil has held roles as a product development engineer, freelance writer, patent agent, professional speaker, business development manager, author and company founder, and has some fantastic tips for positivity and success. You can find him online at teachthegeek.com, askuncleneil, & youtube.teachthegeek.com. Neil, thank you so much for joining me today.
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engineering, people, patent, working, presentation, thought, questions, project, neil, presenting, writing, agent, communicate, podcast, bone, job, materials, oftentimes, improve, career
Presenter, Neil Thompson, Aaron Moncur
The being an engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.
Neil Thompson 00:16
At that time, I want kids to have the confidence know that there are no careers off limits to them, but then also know that there are going to be naysayers as they grow older. But even if there are, that’s okay, people are allowed to think you suck. It’s whether you believe what they say. And if you know from eight years old, you have the confidence to know that you can go for whatever you want, doesn’t really matter what anyone else says.
Aaron Moncur 00:51
Hello, and welcome to the being an engineer podcast. Our guest today is Neil Thompson, who holds degrees in materials engineering and biomedical engineering. Neil has held roles as a product development engineer, freelance writer, Patent Agent, professional speaker, Business Development Manager, author and company founder. You can find him online at Teach the geek.com ask Uncle neal.com and youtube dot teach the geek.com. And we’ll be sure to get those in the show notes as well. Neil, thank you so much for joining us today.
Neil Thompson 01:25
Thank you for having me.
Aaron Moncur 01:27
Tell me what made you decide to become an engineer?
Neil Thompson 01:32
My father told me to.
Aaron Moncur 01:36
That’s too short of an answer. Let’s hear a little bit more than that. Although I have the same answer, honestly.
Neil Thompson 01:41
I used to lie about that answer to kind of embarrassed by it. Because oftentimes, when you hear people answer that question, it’s usually pretty interesting. Maybe they were in robotics club when they were in high school. Maybe they play with Legos when they were children. I don’t recall playing with Legos all that much. And I certainly wasn’t in robotics club. I was okay. I suppose that math and science wasn’t the worst wasn’t the best. I finished high school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next, my father said to do engineering. I had no other ideas. So I said, Okay, engineering it is.
Aaron Moncur 02:10
That’s awesome. I had a very similar experience. We’re sitting around the dinner table, and my dad said, What are you going to do? I said, I don’t know. He said, You should consider engineering. And I said, Okay, so why do you think your father suggested engineering for you?
Neil Thompson 02:25
Well, I think it had to do with stability. It’s one of those degrees that you can get in undergrad where you can make pretty good money coming out of school. So I think I had something to do with it. And I think that maybe the the idea of it being more good future thinking, as opposed to some some other things that maybe might be a bit more like what’s the best way? Best way to describe it not as, I guess not as as future centered? You know, engineering and stem in general are very, it’s the future innovation is the future. And I think he saw that back when I even when I was graduating from high school. So he thought thought do that. So you’ll always have a job.
Aaron Moncur 03:04
When he suggested that you become an engineer, did you even know what engineering was at that point?
Neil Thompson 03:10
Oh, no at all. I knew that it had to do with math and science. But that’s about it. All the various different types of engineering, I maybe I knew the names, but I really know what any of them entailed.
Aaron Moncur 03:20
And how did you go about studying what it means to be an engineer? What engineering school is going to be like, where to apply all that stuff.
Neil Thompson 03:29
I mean, I just I applied for the various schools that were in my area, I picked one, the one that was closest to me, so I could live at home still and save money, which actually worked out really well. I didn’t have as much student loans as perhaps those who stayed on campus. And I picked the actual major that I picked was Materials Engineering. And I picked that one because by the time I had gotten into the school, all the other ones were full. So it was either I picked materials engineering or geotechnical engineering, and I thought the materials was a bit more broad.
Aaron Moncur 03:59
Yeah. As you were going through school, did you ever have the thought that all man this is not really for me? What was Dad thinking? Or from, you know, pretty much day one was it? Yeah, this dad knows me pretty well. This is the right fit for me.
Neil Thompson 04:14
Well, it never really crossed my mind. I mean, he said, do it and I said, Okay, I didn’t have any other ideas of what I wanted to do. And so I figured I started it, you know, first year, second year, third year, fourth year, by the end of the fourth year. Okay, I got a degree now. Now, what am I going to do? But even though the entire time I wasn’t thinking, there’s actually something else that I preferred to do. So I just continued on that path.
Aaron Moncur 04:35
That’s hilarious. All right. So you started your career and you spent several years working as a product development engineer. Can you share a few of the projects that you worked on during that time? Just anything interesting that comes to mind, maybe think about one of the most technically challenging projects and how you solved problems there or maybe the most interesting or meaningful part? for you and why you felt that way.
Neil Thompson 05:03
I worked in medical devices, more specifically spinal implants, and even more specific than that, ortho biologics. So what exactly that is, is when you have a spinal implant, it can be made out of a number of materials in ceramics and metals being probably the more known materials that they’re made out of, but they can also be made out of human cadaver bone. So I worked in the group that made devices or implants out of human cadaver bone, it required going to tissue banks every now and then, because that’s where all the bones are. When people die, and they leave there, they become donors or they, they designate themselves as donors, their bones go to tissue banks, typically, and then those bones are used to make implants for other people. So some of the more interesting projects I’ve worked on with had to do with Gordon the tissue bank. And if you’ve ever been to one, you’ll, you’ll certainly never forget it because there’s a distinct smell of human bone being cut. And then there’s also a distinct smell of human fat being rendered. It’s a smell, you’ll never forget.
Aaron Moncur 06:06
I’ve been in a cadaver lab and I remember spilling formaldehyde. Is that part of it? Or is it is really the bone and the fat?
Neil Thompson 06:13
Oh, no, it’s the bone in the Fat. I’ll smell formaldehyde all day, if I didn’t have to smell bone in the fat ever again.
Aaron Moncur 06:21
I just had a thought what was it? Oh, right. So they take ground up bone, cadaver bone, and they somehow use that as a material to create an implant.
Neil Thompson 06:35
Yes. So for instance, if you have a bulging disc, orthopedic surgeon might remove it. And they’ll replace it with an implant and the implant could be made out of human cadaver bone. And then they may take some ground up bone and place it around the implant so that it fuses the to the adjacent bone.
Aaron Moncur 06:52
Interesting. So this isn’t like like a, like a bone anchor, or something like that. This is kind of a replacement for the bone that was already there
Neil Thompson 07:03
is a replacement for the intervertebral disc that was there.
Aaron Moncur 07:06
Okay. Okay. And so the, the surgeon will, what kind of form this? No, I’m sure that was already done by an engineering team, or they formed into various sizes, and the surgeon can can purchase whatever size is appropriate for the patient. And when it comes, it’s more or less ready to go just needs to be installed for lack of a better word.
Neil Thompson 07:29
Indeed, ortho orthopedic surgeons really are the construction workers of the medical medical industry.
Aaron Moncur 07:35
Yeah, that’s really interesting. All right. Well, you mentioned the working at the startup advanced biologics, you were there for several years wearing many different hats. You did wet lab testing, you were a project lead, you wrote journal articles, and presented at conferences and probably many other activities. That’s, that’s probably, at least to some degree, a stressful environment. It’s a startup, you have to wear a lot of hats do a lot of different things. Maybe you had to work a lot of hours to do, do you like working in that kind of environment. And what made you feel okay about working there, as opposed to what maybe would have been a more comfortable corporate type job.
Neil Thompson 08:19
I very much prefer startups, the biggest company I’ve ever worked for, with maybe about 500 people. So I don’t have any experience working for big conglomerates. And I really liked startups, because you mentioned it being stressful, but I mentioned it, I thought it was being more exciting. Because you got you get to be involved with a bunch of different aspects of the business, not necessarily the one where you’re where you’re the expert, I was writing journal articles. I wasn’t the best writer, but I got better at it because I had to write these articles. And I when I during my first job or my second job, when I was a project lead, I had to give presentations in front of senior management. I wasn’t prepared for any of that. But I got better at it over time, because I don’t want to look like a fool. Every time I had to present in front of the CEO. I liked having those opportunities, because it just made me better.
Aaron Moncur 09:07
What were a couple of the favorite things that that you did during that time.
Neil Thompson 09:13
Favorite thing, probably going into conferences, I really I really enjoyed that one of them I got to go to was actually in Venice was my first time in first and last I’ve ever been back. So the first time in Europe, I got to present actually not even just a poster, but I got a an oral presentation. So I got to present the work that we had been doing at the company. And it was really cool. But because there wasn’t a whole lot of companies that were presenting it was mostly graduate students from schools. So it was interesting also to see what was going on in, in academia, that oftentimes what happens is we corporations, you know, industry and academia make partnerships, see what if what’s coming out of academia can be useful in in, in in in an industrial setting at some point you just building up those types of relationships with the the academics that were there I really enjoyed as well, I likely wouldn’t have had those types of opportunities. I don’t think if I’ve worked at a larger corporation, where which I think tends to be more silent.
Aaron Moncur 10:14
Yeah, and at this point, correct me if I’m wrong, you were not necessarily a public speaker, professional speaker yet, was it? Were you nervous presenting at a conference like this? Or was that something that you really enjoyed, look forward to it and had a lot of fun doing?
Neil Thompson 10:30
Well, I was nervous, very much nervous. I mean, when I first started giving presentations, I was terrible at it. I notice a lot of the other engineers weren’t all that much better at it than I was. I think the big issue a lot of us add is we have all this technical expertise. But we’re not the best at putting it in such a way that non technical audiences can understand. Or sometimes even technical audiences. God knows how many of these conferences I’ve went to, and sat down and fell asleep, even if I knew what this person was talking about, but they were just not all that engaging in presenting the material. And I definitely saw that, that issue in myself, and it was something that I knew would be beneficial in addressing.
Aaron Moncur 11:09
So we’re definitely going to get into your transition into a professional speaker. And I think even before that happened, you started to get into writing. Is that right?
Neil Thompson 11:20
Yeah. So I had to? Well, me, yes, I had to write him from my first job. Just writing protocols, writing reports, that type of thing, more technical writing.
Aaron Moncur 11:29
Tell me more about your transition from being an engineer and to being a writer. I know, it’s not black and white. There’s definitely some, some crossover there. But how did that? How did that advance over the years, you mentioned you were doing some technical writing, but but you’ve done more than just technical writing, right? You’ve written for yourself your own business, you wrote a book, even how did that evolution occur,
Neil Thompson 11:56
really was just having interest in seeing where they took me, at least in the, in the instance of the children’s book that I wrote. And then in the other instances where I was doing more technical writing, if it was just being able to convey information better, it’s one thing to be technically adept at your job. But if you’re not good at, at communicating it, whether it’s oral or written, it’s oftentimes it goes, it goes for nothing. I mean, the really the catalyst that caused me to even get better in public speaking was my project being canceled, the project that I was brought to the company to do, I thought I was gonna be out of a job, it really was a wake up call, that I needed to really, you know, get get myself into gear and get better at this presenting in front of people. And certainly what I did, and then as I mentioned, with the technical writing, which is writing in general, it just seemed to be a an appropriate corollary. I think there’s probably an addendum, I guess, addition to the, to the work that I was doing, doing oral presentations.
Aaron Moncur 12:56
You mentioned a children’s book that you wrote, can you talk a little bit about that? Tell us where the idea came from, and why you wrote it.
Neil Thompson 13:05
The books called ask Uncle Neil, why is my hair curly? It’s about my nephew asking me why his hair is the way it is. And I use science to answer the question. So that’s where the idea came from was just him being an inquisitive kid asking me questions all the time. I didn’t even know the answer to at the at the time, but I thought I could figure this, I could find out by doing some, some research. And then I thought this could really be an interesting book, because there’s a number of books out there about hair, but not necessarily why it is the way it is. So that’s why I decided to write the the children’s book kids read for children, ages eight and down. So up to eight years old. And I really wanted to focus on that age range, because at that time, I want the kids to have the confidence to know that there are no careers off limits to them, but then also know that there are going to be naysayers as they grow older. But even if there are, that’s okay, people are allowed to think you suck. It’s whether you believe what they say. And if you know, from eight years old, you have the confidence to know that you can go for whatever you want. Doesn’t really matter what anyone else says.
Aaron Moncur 14:04
That’s a great story. I’m really curious about the answer. Why? Why does hair get curly? What’s the technical explanation?
Neil Thompson 14:10
technical explanation is there is no current explanation. Really? Yeah, there’s a number of theories as to why it is. But there is no definitive answer.
Aaron Moncur 14:19
Oh, that blows me away. I thought for sure you’re gonna have this really material specific explanation for us? How funny. All right. In 2015, you started working as a Patent Agent. Tell us what exactly is a Patent Agent? And how did you get into that? You know, what, what was your experience? Like? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?
Neil Thompson 14:43
I became a Patent Agent because my boss told me to seems like a trend here ever since and that trend my father told me through engineering, my boss said to do become a Patent Agent. Guess I just like being told what to do. And now Now I work for myself. So I don’t like being told what to do. I want I want the The exact opposite. So I was working at this company advanced biologics actually and the boss I had had wanted the engineers to become patent agents, so he wouldn’t have to outsource patent drafting to outside counsel. And I’m the only engineer that ended up becoming a Patent Agent. The other one, the other couple of engineers was three of us. They didn’t bother to take the test to become one. So I became a Patent Agent. And my boss still outsourced all the patent drafting to outside counsel. So for a number of years, I was a Patent Agent with nothing to patent at least while I was at that company. When I eventually left, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I figured, well, I became a Patent Agent all these years ago, let me give this a go. As at least, as a freelancer, I eventually realized that freelancing of the Patent Agent is rather difficult. And it’s better to be affiliated with a firm so that I could get more interesting cases. And oftentimes, people that want to patent inventions have other needs that patent agents can’t fulfill, because a Patent Agent, essentially is someone who can draft patent applications and file them with the patent office. And then if they the patent applications are rejected, the Patent Agent can go back and forth with the the examiner, the patent examiner, to see if the application can be approved and issued as a patent. And the main difference going,
Aaron Moncur 16:16
would this be kind of analogous to like a PA and a MD relationship where you can do a lot of the work, but there’s certain things that are off limits, unless you have that MD, you know, in this analogy, as the Patent Agent, you could do a lot of the legwork and even submitting the patent to the the patent office. But but there was, you know, obviously some things beyond that, that you can’t do without a law degree. Is that a fair analogy? As an
Neil Thompson 16:45
excellent analogy. So essentially, with your analogy, the Patent Agent, would be equivalent to the physician’s assistant. And then the MD would be equivalent to the patent attorney. And that’s the main difference between patent attorneys and patent agents as law school. And because I didn’t go to law school, I can’t be obviously I can’t be a patent attorney. But both patent attorneys and patent agents can draft and filed patent applications. Just the patent attorneys can then do more legal work such as litigation.
Aaron Moncur 17:13
I didn’t even know that there was a role one could have to submit patents without being a full fledged patent attorney. That’s very interesting to me. What was the process of becoming a Patent Agent is there’s some kind of test that you have to study for and then pass.
Neil Thompson 17:28
Yes, there’s a test. But to be eligible for the test, you have to have background in STEM, typically a degree in science or engineering.
Aaron Moncur 17:36
Got it? Okay, how interesting? Well, I’m going to take a very short break and share with the listeners that Team pipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams, develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize inspect, assemble, manufacture, and perform verification testing on your devices. Also, I’m going to add a quick plug in here that we are we’re looking for helps getting 100 reviews on our podcast, and we’re offering a $50 amazon gift card. If you give us a review on I think Apple is the only Apple podcast is the platform that allows reviews. Anyway, a $50 amazon gift card while supplies last we’re not going to give out 100 of these things. If you give us a review on Apple podcasts. So back to the interview. We’re speaking with Neil Thompson today, Neil, you’ve worked as a professional speaker, addressing stem audiences and one of your main focuses being helping STEM professionals get promotions and pay raises at work, which I imagine our listeners are going to be very interested in hearing about, can you share a few of those strategies with us? What should engineers do to get promotions and pay raises?
Neil Thompson 19:04
Talk when it comes down to is just not being quiet? Typically, the person that gets the the pay raises and the promotion is the person who’s able to advocate for themselves. If you’re the type that thinks that your work will speak for yourself, you will be that engineer sitting in their cubicle stewing because somebody else got that promotion and pay raise that you thought you deserved. So really, it has to do with communicating with the appropriate people with people that have the ability to help you out in your career sponsors, mentors, essentially decision makers.
Aaron Moncur 19:38
What is one really tactical detailed thing that any engineer listening right now can do, you know, tomorrow this week, this month, to take a step towards getting a promotion, getting a raise, getting a whatever it is they’re looking for,
Neil Thompson 19:53
say something in meetings often. I remember when I was an engineer, I often be very quiet during the meetings when I was taking everything in, but oftentimes what would happen is you get ignored. And sometimes people don’t even realize you’re there. And you can’t get promoted and get the pay raise, if you’re invisible, you got to be you got to become visible. And you do that by saying something. Although one thing I do remember when I was an engineer, and wasn’t all that talkative, that people would often say things that were said earlier during the meeting. So you could be in a meeting, and somebody will say something, and then somebody will say the exact same thing, maybe 10 minutes later, I don’t, I don’t suggest doing that I do suggest listening well and intently and actively, to be able to contribute to a conversation, as opposed to someone like myself, at least initially, will just sit there.
Aaron Moncur 20:40
Don’t do that. Don’t just sit there. You know, I have a problem myself, where sometimes, I just don’t have a lot to say. And I don’t know, I don’t know what to say. What are what are some strategies that you can think of, for people out there who might be similar to me, where sometimes they just they don’t have a whole lot to say, how do we get ourselves out of that mindset and into a mindset where we’re much more active in the conversation, and we can think of things to say, oh,
Neil Thompson 21:13
one easy way to get around that is by listening when you listen to what other people say, asking them or reiterating what they said, to make sure that you understand what they said. So it doesn’t really require anything else. But just listening, you’re not adding new information, you’re just looking to clarify whatever they said. So I think that’s really that can be really helpful, because another benefit of that is you may very well have not interpreted what they said correctly. So you may very well the person may very well say no, well, actually, that’s not what I meant. I meant this, so that it’s easy to tell people both ways.
Aaron Moncur 21:50
Yeah, that’s a great tip. Not only do you have something to say now, but you also it almost forces you to really listen actively, because if you’re going to reiterate something, you need to know what you’re reiterating. Well, when you started your career as an engineer, did you expect to pretty much just just be an engineer, or was it always part of the plan to branch off into different areas like writing and patent law and entrepreneurship?
Neil Thompson 22:18
No, none of this was known. This was planned. All these interests came up as as time progressed, when I first started working, I got a job as a research associate at a startup that was building was building out a technology to treat lesions and cartilage, it seemed appropriate because I just gotten a master’s in biomedical engineering. So to go into medical devices just seemed obvious. And so that’s what I did. And then the next job I got was as a product development engineer. And that seemed rather obvious to still working in medical devices, but not just not for cartilage, but for spine. And then, even after that, working at Advanced biologics, it was again startups and working with spine and then I did another job, bio structures working with spine, it just everything seemed to be, it seemed to make sense to do. But then once I left the fourth job and real and figure out what I wanted to do next, I think it was then that I realized that I didn’t have to continue down this particular path that it was possible to try out other things and see where it took me. And that’s essentially what I did. That’s where That’s where becoming well working as a freelance Patent Agent came from. That’s where working doing freelance writing came from founding teach the geek helping scientists and engineers communicate better with with non technical audiences came from the idea from the podcast and YouTube channel that I have. For all that came from it just came from me realizing that I didn’t have to stay on a particular path, and I could branch out.
Aaron Moncur 23:47
I think that’s one of the great things about the engineering education is that it teaches you how to think and once you know how to think there’s very little that you can’t do. I was similar in a sense, I got laid off from my job back in 2009. And I had already started a photography business on the side, I had started doing some freelance web design. And so I had a couple of revenue streams that were already active, and I kept doing those things. And then later on, instead of looking for another engineering job, I started my own company, but I don’t think that I would have been super comfortable even believing that I could have done some of those things. Had I not gone through engineering school and and convinced myself that I knew how to learn and I knew how to learn to do new things.
Neil Thompson 24:37
Hmm, that’s an interesting way to put it. I certainly didn’t think going to engineering school that it was teaching me how to think I was just thinking, I need to pass these classes so I can graduate in four years. Maybe not my whole idea, just in general, in general when it came to engineering school is because I didn’t pick it. I didn’t put too much stock in what it is or what it was. So when By the time that was over, I was just glad to have gotten the degree gotten through it in four years to just move on to whatever was next.
Aaron Moncur 25:06
Yeah, yeah. And those were not easy four years. That was at least for me, it was a struggle. Well, same here. Well, I’m I’m really curious, curious about your role as business development manager, this is at a company called dusty, brilliant, if I’m correct, because it’s essentially what I do now at pipeline. And I would love to hear what were a few of the most effective ways that you found to acquire new engineering services business
Neil Thompson 25:35
Sterilite, was started by a couple of former co workers in AI. And the idea behind it was working with typically smaller medical device companies on packaging, because oftentimes, they may have the the the resources in house to, obviously work on the product, but they don’t necessarily have the resources in house to work on the packaging that the product goes into. And it’s a lot of times dealing put all that much thought into the packaging either. And that’s where we come in, we can help, we can help these companies with developing the design of the packaging, that they can then put their product into and so that he can still meet all the various requirements. And going about finding, finding clients and just getting work is just been referral word of mouth doing good work. You know, that that type of thing, reaching out to people that we’ve worked with before, we as I mentioned, we all were used to work together. And so and we’ve gone on to work at different companies. So reaching out to those resources as well. And then they refer us to other people, it’s kind of kind of worked out really well that way.
Aaron Moncur 26:44
I’m going to move on to your company teach the geek now. And I’m going to read verbatim the description that that you listed as founder of your company. Okay, here it goes. As a product development engineer, I had to speak in front of management every month for project status meetings. I was terrible at it first, but improved significantly. Over time, I turned everything I learned into an online public speaking course called Teach the geek to speak, the course is focused is helping STEM professionals communicate effectively with those outside their field, such as management and customers. So you’ve already mentioned this a little bit earlier. And and first of all, congratulations on being able to improve your speaking skills. Was there a specific incident that convinced you that you needed to improve your speaking skills? Or was it just kind of a general sense that you had over time?
Neil Thompson 27:40
Oh, no, it definitely wasn’t a general sense. When I first started giving those presentations in front of management, you would have thought that I would improve the first one, because it went terribly. But I was stubborn. I did. I didn’t have to the first one
Aaron Moncur 27:51
about it went terrible. Like how did you know at the end that that did not go? Well?
Neil Thompson 27:55
Because I was getting questions afterwards, I thought I’d answer during the presentation. But because I didn’t do a very good job of engaging the audience and putting the information in a way that they could understand. I’m getting these questions. And I’m getting more, more and more flustered. I mean, I was already sweating profusely before the damn questions, and now I’m sweaty even more. So essentially, was a waste of time for everybody involved. And I thought I would have gotten the message, but I didn’t even after the second or third. Really what the catalyst for me getting better at presenting in front of people was my project getting canceled. And, and because I was the project that I was brought to the company to do, I thought that this was the end, they’re going to let me go and then I was gonna have to find a job. Luckily, I was just moved on to other projects. But that really was the scare I suppose I needed to make sure that hopefully I was never going to be in that position again.
Aaron Moncur 28:44
Was the project getting cancelled? Do you think related in any way to an inability to communicate progress and items regarding that project? Or was it a totally separate thing?
Neil Thompson 28:56
I’ve always thought that it was my inability to communicate the importance of the project. The ortho biologics group that I belong to at that company was new. So it wasn’t as if we were working on a whole lot of projects. There’s maybe three of them. So when one of them got cancelled, that was that’s one project down. So it’s only two projects within the whole group. So the idea of that of it, if I was just better at presenting the information in a way that they could understand, we could have kept those three projects going as opposed to the two.
Aaron Moncur 29:27
Yeah. What was the journey like after, after you had this epiphany that hey, I really need to get better at communication and my presentation skills. What was the journey like developing those skills?
Neil Thompson 29:40
join Toastmasters. For those of you that don’t know it’s a international organization, with chapters all over the world and their goal is to help people in improving their public speaking skills. So no matter where I was living, I joined a Toastmasters Club. And I would it offers a an excellent forum to practice your public speaking skills. There are three Two parts to Toastmasters meeting. There’s table topics which works on impromptu speaking. So you get a question that you didn’t prepare for, you have about a minute to answer it. And then there’s the prepared speeches, which I think is pretty self explanatory, you prepare speech, and then you give it. And then there’s the evaluations where someone evaluates your prepared speech. And I participated in all facets of the Toastmasters meeting, because I saw the benefit of getting better at both giving presentations that I prepared for. And then also the the impromptu speaking, which is definitely something that I struggled with early on.
Aaron Moncur 30:35
How long was it before you felt like you had achieved some basic level of competence with presentation skills?
Neil Thompson 30:45
I’d say six months to a year, I was very well, especially when I joined when I joined Toastmasters. I was adamant of getting getting good as quickly as I possibly could. So I started participating in meetings right away. Oftentimes, people when people first joined, they may, you know, hang back and not do all that much in the meetings. But I thought if I’m spending my money here, I’m going to get the most out of it. So even if I’m not all that great at first, well, you got to start somewhere. And it might as well be now since I’m paying. So I participated in impromptu speeches or impromptu speaking the table topics. I gave presentations, actually, at one point, I was giving a presentation a week. And I did that for about 10 weeks. So that was close to two months. Every every week, I had to give a presentation that definitely sped up the improvement you don’t get better at anything public speaking included. If you don’t do it. Practice makes progress.
Aaron Moncur 31:38
Yeah. You have a really interesting way of communicating at least at this podcast, you’ve had some very short, very punchy answers to some of the questions and then you’ve been kind enough to go off and elaborate beyond those. But my father told me to do it. My boss told me to do it talk. Toastmasters. Right? So very short answers. Is that intentional? Is that a skill that you’ve intentionally created? Or that’s just how you’ve always talked to people?
Neil Thompson 32:09
I think that’s the way I’ve always been. I’m not the biggest fan of rambler’s. Maybe it’s because I have a short attention span. I’ll stop listening. And another thing, the more you talk, the more opportunity you give people to stop listening.
Aaron Moncur 32:22
Amen. I love that. Well, communication is probably one of the biggest topics that that just seems to come up in this podcast, I always ask people, What are some of the most important skills to have as an engineer and invariably, communication comes up, which in the beginning surprised me a little bit, I thought that I’d hear more about technical skills. But you know, most people, they talk about communication, and there’s a technical skill here and there that’s thrown in. So I love that you’ve built this entire course around it. Can you share a few golden nuggets? What are some of your favorite techniques to help engineers communicate more effectively?
Neil Thompson 32:59
Visualizing success? If you tell yourself you suck, you likely will. But if you tell yourself that you’re improving, you’re you’re likely well. So typically, what I do is, before I give a presentation, I’ll close my eyes. I’ll take a deep breath. And I’ll visualize the way I would like things to go. And also, I’ll visualize me hitting all the points that I need to hit during the presentation of visualize the people asking me questions afterwards and me having answers. And if I don’t have answers being humble enough to say, I don’t know, but I could find out. Yes, depending on the situation, if it’s possible for me to find out and let them know the answers later. Essentially, I, I look at the way that I would like things to happen. And then when you do that, you get into a mind a mind space, at least I do, again, to a mind space afterwards, where I’m a lot more calm, a lot more poise when I actually have to give the presentation. I’m not the sweaty mess today, and originally was my first game and start giving presentations.
Aaron Moncur 33:53
That makes a lot of sense. Anything else that comes to mind any other skills or tactics,
Neil Thompson 33:58
timing, you don’t want to be that person that goes over time. I used to hate those people so much. You know, you see here, as you mentioned that I tend to be pretty, what’s the word economical with my words. So one way to put it, yeah, that’s the way I typically tend to put it. So when it comes to the the presentations that you have to do, don’t be that person that goes over time. That’s the sign of disrespect to your audience. So for instance, if you’re given 15 minutes, practice your presentation so that you finished within 14. Now you have a minute buffer, though, in the event that you go a little over ad libbing something that you didn’t practice, you at least will have that one minute buffer to still be able to finish within the 15 minutes.
Aaron Moncur 34:38
Can I steal that term from you being economical with my words? I love that.
Neil Thompson 34:43
Oh, absolutely. But give me my credit.
Aaron Moncur 34:45
Absolutely. Yeah, credit Neil Thompson for that. One. Last question I have I have often marveled at or been really impressed with people who are up on a stage giving a speech, you know, maybe it’s a TED talk or something like that. And I think for sure TED Talks these people, they rehearse a lot. And they haven’t nailed down exactly what they’re gonna say word for word. Is that is that a skill that you learn at Toastmasters to? How to remember the the entire speech that you’re about to get? Because it seems to me like it can be difficult to remember, you know, all those words, you’re speaking for 10 minutes or 20 minutes, or maybe even more? How do you remember everything that that you want to hit on?
Neil Thompson 35:27
I have absolutely no idea. I would never tell somebody to memorize every word, I would think that’d be extremely nerve wracking. Because in the event that you forget a word, it might throw you off kilter, the big word I typically tend to tell people is to have bullet points and practice to the point where you hit all the points, because that that will have you be a bit more, I guess, in the moment, also, when you give your when you give your presentations, you’re not thinking I have to hit every particular word to make it so that the presentation went off without a hitch. And another thing, if you even if you were to practice to the point where you know, everywhere off by heart, it may very well come across as robotic, we still are human being you’re presenting to other human beings. They want to they want to see, I guess more of a well, I have more of a human interaction with you, as opposed to you just memorizing a speech and spitting it out.
Aaron Moncur 36:19
Yeah. Okay. My last last question. Now, if you could put anything on a billboard for engineers to read that might improve their lives? What would it be? It doesn’t need to be about communication, it can be tactical, can be whatever you want, but something that you were going to put on a billboard to help engineers, what would it be?
Neil Thompson 36:40
Don’t ignore soft skills. You mentioned earlier that you were surprised that communication and more soft skills were something that a lot of engineers would would talk about and needing to improve, he thought it would be more technical, I wouldn’t have thought that at all, I thought it would pretty much be implied. When you graduate from an engineering school, you work in a technical field, that you should have the technical skills on down. If you don’t, then perhaps you’re in the wrong field. But the the soft skills is something that’s not taught in schools, typically, it’s something you have to learn when you start working with other people, you’re not going to you’re not going to just be working with other engineers, you’re going to be working, especially when I was in medical devices. We worked a lot in teams, we work with marketing, sales operations, you know, talking to senior management to do it every month. A lot of these people don’t have any technical background. But you still have to communicate with these people. How do you do it? You can’t just fall back on? Well, I’m the technical person. That’s all I’m going to focus on. You do it to your detriment, you will be that if you do focus on that solely, you will be that engineer that’s mad all the time, and disgruntled because someone else got that promotion and pay raise you thought you deserved. And the only difference between the two of you were they were better at communicating with people that could advance their careers.
Aaron Moncur 37:56
Well, this seems like a great place to end. Neil, thank you so much for joining me today. What? What’s the best way for people to get a hold of you? And I mean, I mentioned in the beginning a few links to find you online. Do you want to go over those again? Are there any other places that people can find you online?
Neil Thompson 38:13
Oh, you teach the geek.com. You mentioned that one. You also mentioned the YouTube channel, youtube dot teach the geek comm I release a new episode every Wednesday. I really enjoy it. I get to interview a lot of STEM professionals, engineers and scientists mainly. And we talk about the importance of public speaking and like myself. They saw the benefit of it eventually as well. And I asked them questions like, if you weren’t all that great at it first, what do you do to get better at it? Do you have a process for putting your presentations together? If so, what is it? If you do get nervous before giving presentations? How do you deal with your nerves, then even outside of just public speaking, it’s really interesting to learn about their career journeys. I had a guest not too long ago, she got a degree in civil engineering, never worked as a civil engineer, went to law school, worked as an attorney for a few years left to become a stay at home mom for about a decade. And now she works as a personal stylist, typical career trajectory if you asked me.
Aaron Moncur 39:11
Yeah, very typical, right. All right. Well, Neil, thank you again, so much. I really appreciate you spending some time with me on the podcast and sharing all your wisdom and insight. Anything else that we should talk about before we sign off?
Neil Thompson 39:26
I appreciate the opportunity to be on your podcast. And really the I guess the last parting words I just really want to emphasize is as to the engineers that are watching or listening is the importance of developing those soft skills you did not something to just put to put aside and on the back burner if you really want to advance in your career and just in this benefit as a person really improving those. Those non technical skills like communicating with others, both orally and written can really put you on that next level.
Aaron Moncur 40:00
Thank you so much, Neil. Appreciate your time.
Neil Thompson 40:03
Thanks for having me.
Aaron Moncur 40:07
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