Gain career advantage by showing you can speak “user”

A big part of success as an engineer is being able to communicate your insights to non-engineers -- specifically, telling them about issues that may affect them. Generating useful content can show your abilities to do this, to show yourself to be someone others would like to work with. This article talks about "meteor" content -- about fast changes -- and "glacier" content -- gradual developments.

One of the most important skills for getting ahead as an engineer isn’t about technology. It’s about communication. It’s how well you can put your ideas into terms that a non-engineer can understand. Great communicators get great opportunities — to lead teams, to do presentations to clients, to develop influence.

One of the best ways you can show your abilities to communicate in “user” language — for laypersons is to just do it. You can demonstrate good communications skills through the speeches you give, as well as the content you generate — articles in client-focused publications, blog posts, newsletters and other tools you use to stand out and get noticed.

Working with a lot of engineers as I do — but not being an engineer myself — I can say that one of the frustrations us laypersons have is understanding what all that technical expertise means. Even if I understand the technical terms, I don’t always understand what it means for me, or why I should take action.

You can show that you understand the world of your clients, or prospective employers, through content that showcases your understanding of changes that may affect them. These ‘changes’ can come in two speeds — fast and slow. 

“Meteor” content shows you stay up with the trends

Imagine yourself as a Brontosaurus on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago. Looking up in the sky, you see a bright light that seems to be coming closer and closer. With a crash, the Chicxulub meteor lands, creating a dust cloud that envelops the earth and wipes out some 90 percent of life. It’s literally the end of an era — specifically, the Cretaceous — and the start of the mammal-friendly Paleogene.

“Meteor” content is like that — it discusses a sudden, possibly cataclysmic, change in the target market’s environment. In business terms, it might be a new law or piece of legislation, a new and disruptive technology, or a new form of competition. It could be a game-changer like 9/11 in the US, or 7/7 in the UK, that ushered in a whole new era in everything from work visa applications to airport design.

Whatever the change, it will cause either problems or opportunities for your firm’s clients. If your firm has a solution that will help them survive and thrive the meteoritic event, the content you create needs to demonstrate that.

 To be effective, “meteor” content needs to cover these points: 

·       Describe the event in terms that the target market can understand

·       Speculate, in an informed way, about the effects the event will have on the target market

·       Anticipate the ‘objections’ they may have — that it won’t affect them, or that any effects will be inconsequential

·       Recommend actions that can be taken to avoid a problem or gain a benefit

To understand how to apply ‘meteor’ content, consider the case of a civil engineer who focuses on stormwater management. She’s in a jurisdiction that has recently enacted tough new laws on the size and configuration of facilities to manage sudden rainfall on highways and parking lots. Regulators want to be sure that stormwater doesn’t overwhelm watercourses or cause excessive sedimentation.

The new regulations would qualify as a “meteor” affecting road construction plans in that jurisdiction. This engineer could write content explaining the regulations, how they are different from those previously in place, and provide advice to municipalities, road builders and others on how to change their designs.


Now, let’s imagine that you’ve evolved a bit past the dinosaur era. It’s now 10,000 years ago, and you’ve become a woolly mammoth, grazing on the prairie near what is now Calgary. You’ve noticed that a high wall of ice seems to be moving closer each year, taking over a bit more of your favorite pasture. If you’re particularly clever mammoth, you’ll discern that the ice is a glacier, and its movement is due to a long-term trend called the Ice Age. Your best choice is to start heading south, now, before you become one of those frozen mammoth carcasses that future paleontologists will dissect.

In business today, there are many slow-moving trends that can, like a glacier, trap the unwary. It’s like a meteor, but in slow motion, so it’s harder to see until you wake up one morning and realize that the world has changed. A “trend” might be the effect that Wal-Mart is having on retail, Amazon is having on the sales of many consumer goods, and Apple’s iBooks program is having on textbooks. The current drive towards “sustainability” is a glacier that is bulldozing many business plans. So are “transparency” and “accountability” (and that’s a good thing).

You may be in position to see many “glaciers” or trends as they unfold. Sometimes, the people in your target market won’t have as clear a vision. You can provide a valuable service to them by creating content that covers these points:


·       Describe the change — and provide some background to demonstrate that the world really has changed

·       Speculate on how the trend might unfold

·       Anticipate objections

·       Recommend options


Using the example of our stormwater management engineer, maybe there isn’t a major new regulation or law on the books. So, content about this issue might point to several factors — increasing news reports of flooding that overwhelms existing stormwater management systems, new standards proposed by engineering societies, laws and regulations in other jurisdictions — to demonstrate the reality of this particular “glacier.”

The design of “glacier” content is much like that of “meteor” content, although you may need to do more to convince your reader, viewer or listener that the “ice” is real, and it’s really moving.

If your clients expect you to engage in original thinking around their problems or opportunities, it helps if you can show that your firm understands those trends. Generating “glacier” content shows that you’re current on developments, and will take the initiative to point out those developments and their implications.


This article is adapted from my most recent book, “Your Expertise Edge: how firms supporting a more sustainable future can use their thought-leaders’ expertise to grow, available on Amazon and Kindle. Learn more about showing thought leadership on my website at