Author Archives: tracink

Slides diminish your power

Nobody thinks it’s a good use of time to sit in a room and read slides together.

If slides are ill-conceived, if they contain too many words, if they are a sea of bullets, if they overwhelm your colleagues, then you have given up your chance to be a change-maker.  You have given power to the software and the templates, rather than claiming the power position in the room.

If you use slides, they should be backdrop, not center stage. As a content expert, people gather in a room to hear YOU talk. They never gather for a slide-reading exercise.

Christine Nicometo, my colleague, and I talk quite a bit about retooling slide use because we know it is ubiquitous in engineering and technical fields as a channel for information sharing. There’s very little point for us to talk about eschewing slides altogether, because we know from working with our practicing engineering colleagues that slides are the expected norm.

So, let’s work with what we have and claim our voices again. If we are asked to give a talk, focus on the talk. Use the slides as backdrops, not as the center show. YOU should be the centerpiece, and all attention should be on you, not your slides. People should not be trying to read your slides rather than listening to your words.

And if your slides have to do double duty (support for the live talk + archival use for future teams), see our extensive advice on how to do this effectively (Chapter 10). There are also shorter how-to pieces on this site in Case Study 3 and Case Study 4. More information can also be found at the Assertion/Evidence site, where we also contribute.

–Traci Nathans-Kelly

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Posted by on January 6, 2018 in Uncategorized


Engineering Social Justice book out!

From the amazing Jon Leydens and Juan Lucena, the book “Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice” is now available from Wiley-IEEE Press! I was lucky enough to work with them on this book, and it was a joy. It pushes all of us in engineering educational endeavors to rethink our approaches and the reasons WHY we choose to teach what we do.  It’s a fantastic read.

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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Uncategorized


Giving presentations about presentations

I love talking about engineering presentations. One of the most rewarding activities that I do is helping engineers and technical experts become better presenters. When they succeed, they exceed even their own expectations. At school, they stand out from their peers (in a good way). On the job, they get promoted.

As I was updating my own faculty yearly activities form today, I realized that in the last four months, I have given more than a few presentations about presentations or I have functioned as an organizer or judge for presentation events. I’m very honored that my colleagues, students, and grad students find value in the advice I have to give. Here are some of the fine organizations that I have worked with this academic year on the Cornell campus alone.

2017, March 15 Cornell’s Three-Minute Thesis, finals judge
2017, Feb 27 Cornell Engineers Without Borders; presentation about presentations

2017, Feb 16 Cornell GradSWE; presentation about presentations  
2016 and continuing Cornell’s EERI Seismic Challenge student team; advising on competition report and presentation
2017, Jan Cornell Library Science Immersion Program; contributor and presenter Provide communication instruction to a select number of graduate students in the sciences via Library Programs.
2016, Nov Cornell SPARK talks; committee member
2016, Oct Cornell SPARK talks; student evaluator With the Cornell Libraries, presentation adviser and respondent.
2016 and continuing Cornell AguaClara; presentations workshops Served as consultant for better presentation practices. Workshop training on technical presentations.
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Posted by on March 5, 2017 in Uncategorized


Why did I leave Literature?

This entry comes on the heels of a FB post…here, slightly edited and expanded.

I earned my PhD in English Literature, with emphasis areas in autobiography, feminist lit, Native American prose, and Zora Neale Hurston.  My dissertation was on women’s culinary writing/autobiography.

However, for many years, I have taught technical communication and engineering communication. People ask me this all the time: Why did I cross over?

Because NOBODY tells you that teaching your very favorite literature to students is soul crushing. Most students don’t like literature class; they take it because they have to. And then, when you are trying to bring them the joy of Hamlet or the horror of the “Yellow Wallpaper” or anything of wonder by Erdrich, the students will ask a stupid question (and I mean that in the best way) that will forever alter the way that you encounter that beautiful writing for the rest of your life. Nobody tells you that. (Word of advice: if you teach literature, only teach your second or third tier favorites. That way, your personal favorites aren’t ruined in the classroom.)

I found a haven in technical and engineering communication. As such, I chose to teach something that is not emotionally draining, and I enjoy all of my lovely literature on my own terms. As well, working in the technical fields appeases my need to do something more in the world than theorize (which works better for me). I get to help people who do things in the world with solid/tangible outcomes: my stock is from a pilot, a nurse, lumber store owners, dress sellers, painters, veterans, immigrants, and other hard workers. For me (and I can only speak for my own experience), having some influence in how technical work gets done is satisfying in a way that reading and writing alone did not. My most recent journey is trying to infuse engineering communication + social justice work. The students are smart beyond smart, and they are out to change the world.

I have found that all of my hard work studying rhetorical patterns in literature plays out in fascinating ways in the technical fields, as does storytelling structures, language translation, visualizing words, deep description, etc. Another benefit is this: working with tech/engineering communication,  I never read the same thing twice, because the topics are always new! And the days when you can explain that writing at technical report is much like writing a murder mystery…all the better!

Don’t get me wrong; I loved my PhD. And my Masters. And my undergrad work…all in English lit and ancient languages.  LOVED it all. But that love didn’t work out well for me in the classroom as a career, so I had to find a way to keep my mind engaged and my heart healthy. Other people were built to do theory and lit teaching; it just wasn’t for me.

End note:  As of late, I have also found that I have little patience with fiction (unless it’s Erdrich).  My tastes have moved decidedly towards non-fiction naturalists, a nice counterpoint to technical prose.

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Posted by on January 31, 2017 in Uncategorized



My longtime friend and collaborator, Michael Alley, has launched a new online initiative to promote the assertion-evidence model for presentation slide design for the technical fields. Christine Nicometo and I are honored to be part of his unfailing efforts to help engineers and technical experts present their work in its best light.  See the growing resources at !

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Posted by on October 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


Engineering Presentations download available through IEEE-USA

A while back, I was honored to do a webinar for IEEE USA about how to make engineering presentations better.  If you are interested in accessing that free information, use this link.  You will need to use a WebEx player to see it, but the site provides that for you as a link/download.


Blast from the past

In 1999, I was teaching at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.  It was a great time to be there because it was *the* first laptop campus in the nation, aided by IBM.  Each student had a laptop issued to them, and we were all required to use the web and the laptop technology in class.

I was teaching literature there, and I was puzzled how to make the pedagogy fit with the technology, because just looking stuff up on the internet back then was silly (not a lot of content) and boring.  Instead, I had an idea to send students out into the community to capture the stories of the elders, transcribe them, and “frame” them as  a digital telling for the whole world to see.  We did so, we got the permission slips from each elder, and we crunched out HTML pages for each project. Mind you, there were no real website editors back then; this was handcoding.  The students struggled and made smart decisions about the stories to tell, dealing with quotes, how to represent the often heavy accent of the elders, and how  and when to incorporate photos and/or video.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 3.37.53 PMSo, if you want to see some old-time classroom work, look to Kairos!  That student project was highlighted there and is still “live” because of Kairos’ dedication to keeping their digital files alive.

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Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Uncategorized


A nice way to be recognized

These past few months, Wiley Publishing has been promoting a “Women in Engineering” site that highlights how women are contributing to the many facets of engineering work. When I was first approached, I wasn’t sure if I was a good fit, as I’m not an engineer, per se. Rather, I support the communication work that engineers do.  But the sponsors of the project would not be deterred, and they wanted me on their list.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 2.48.09 PM

So, I’m very happy to share that wonderful effort here.  The specific piece with my story can be downloaded from that page or here. nathans-kelly_wiley-WiEpage 2


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Professional Engineering Communication series by Wiley-IEEE Press is growing again!

I happy to announce the SEVENTH book in the Professional Engineering Communication series is now available. As the editor of this series, I’m proud to work with these professionals to bring their vision to fruition.

Information Overload: A Challenge to Professional Engineers and Technical Communicators. (eds: Strother, Ulijn, Fazal).
A Scientific Approach to Writing for Scientists and Engineers. (Berger).
Negotiating Cultural Encounters: Case Studies in Intercultural Engineering and Technical Communication. (eds. Yu and Savage).
Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in Engineering and Technical Fields.  (Nathans-Kelly, Nicometo). See an excerpted principle from Slides Rules on this page on slide titles
Engineer Your Own Success: 7 Key Elements to Creating an Extraordinary Engineering Career. (Fasano).
International Virtual Teams: Engineering Global Success. (Pam Estes Brewer).
Communication Practices in Engineering, Manufacturing, and Research for Food and Water Safety . (Ed. David Wright).

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Former UW Masters of Engineering MEPP/MEM student receives one of the nation’s highest awards!

It’s always good to see someone shoot right to the top. The hard work and deep commitment pays off!

Commander David Englestad, who is a former cohort member in the Masters of Engineering Professional Practice (now Masters of Engineering Management) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been awarded Engineer of the Year by the US Dept of the Interior. Well done, David!  All of us from the UW-Madison campus congratulate you!

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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Uncategorized