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 “Learn why you should always be prepared to make a presentation as an engineer”

By John D. Gaskell, Retired Consulting Engineer

Author of “The Complete Guide to FORENSIC ENGINEERING

Forensic engineering is defined by the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (NAFE) as “the application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution.” These engineers serve as consultants to the legal profession and as expert witnesses in courts of law.

In your consulting engineering career, you will be required to speak before both small and large groups. This reminds me of one of my less auspicious experiences as a public speaker.

On my first or second year in practice as a consulting engineer, I was hired to do a “light emissions” study. This was in conjunction with an environmental impact study, relating to the proposed expansion of a local airport. I don’t know if I was chosen because my resume included “Member of IES” or because I was too new to properly quote a fee for such an unusual assignment. In any case I visited the airport at night, under varying weather conditions and (with a light meter) measured the light produced from the approach lights. My final conclusion was that the amount of light was less than the light emitted by a “full moon” and therefore, had no significant impact on the environment. I submitted my report to the environmental firm that had hired me and it was accepted.

After about 6 months, the environmental firm called me and asked me to attend a Public Hearing at the City Hall to answer questions, if any. I re-read my report and with a copy I sat down in front with the other members of our team. The remaining 500 seats were occupied by very angry neighbors, with many more standing around the perimeter of the room. The head of the environmental firm was called to the podium and, after a few introductory remarks, said “And now I would like to call our electrical engineer, Jack Gaskell to the podium to present the Light Emissions portion of our report”. I considered running for the door, but I didn’t think I could make it down the center aisle.

I rose with wobbly legs and walked to the podium with my report in hand. When the heckling from the crowd quieted down a bit, I said: “I have to start out by apologizing; it was my understanding that I should be prepared to answer questions (if any) and therefore did not prepare a presentation. But I have a copy of my report and will paraphrase it for you”. I opened my report and stumbled through. When I was finished everyone BOOED and I took my seat. Even after all of these years, I still break out in a sweat when I think of that Public Hearing.

The lesson here is: Always be prepared to make a presentation.

Litigation consulting is interesting, challenging, and profitable. If what is involved interests you, I recommend adding “Forensic Engineering” to your practice as a consulting engineer. As a forensic engineer you should always be prepared to make a presentation.

Get Jack’s new book: The “Complete Guide” to FORENSIC ENGINEERING to learn the details. Also, the largest chapter in his book: The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING covers the “highlights” of Forensic Engineering. Visit to find out more.

Learn how to be a forensic engineer. Learn how to be a forensic expert witness. How to be an engineering expert witness. How to obtain training as a forensic engineer. How to obtain training as an engineering expert witness.