An impressive start to any career

In the spring of 2019, I had the pleasure of being involved in the Product Development Project (PDP) at the Aalto University campus in Espoo. The PDP course is a year-long hands-on training experience that brings groups of students together from multiple disciplines and universities all over the world – simulating a multinational company – to work on real product development assignments from real companies. The projects for the 2018-19 academic year covered everything from portable x-ray machines to detachable cargo ships and robot dog trainers. You can see all 12 of them here, under the heading “2019”:

Dr Sanna Kotisaari, neurologist and CEO of health sector startup Future Memory Care (FMC), asked her student team “Mind Matter” to design a new kind of day care centre for patients with early-stage memory disorders, including a prototype treatment room. The team comprised young people studying business, design, IT and architecture, all of whom combined their talents to complete the project on schedule – as would be required in a professional setting.  

It started in September 2018, and had to be finished by 15 May 2019, when they had to make a 10-minute presentation about their project to the student body, university teaching staff and guests at a campus auditorium. Two days later, on 17 May, they then got the chance to show off their prototype (pictured) at the PDP Gala, a simulated trade fair at the Aalto Design Factory.

A few of them had done public speaking, but the students didn’t have much experience, especially in presenting to an audience this large. But even for very accomplished speakers, launching a new product can be daunting.

My role in this group was to help improve their presentation skills. Using a recording of their speaking performances at the half-way project event in January as a baseline, I first explained what they were doing right. For young, inexperienced presenters, they were surprisingly good – they already had stage presence, clear voices, and impressive slides. I only had to tweak these with a little advice on stance and gestures, adjusting the speed, and simplifying the content for clarity. I’ve seen so-called professionals, years into their careers, who have not presented nearly as well as these young talents.

As good as they were, they were still somewhat unsure of themselves. Confidence comes with experience, but they didn’t have the time to do the amount of practising that would produce a calm self-assurance on the stage. So my coaching then focused on psychology. I showed them how to reduce the nervousness they felt before presenting by changing the way they think. I also gave them a few small relaxation exercises to do beforehand, and a couple of things they can do mentally while on stage that automatically calm them down.

Several members of the team who were not presenting at the PDP event also wanted to practise speaking. This was for two reasons: 1. At first we didn’t know who the final presenters would be, so we wanted to prepare as many people as possible; 2. Presentation skills increase most people’s confidence, and without a doubt, will help them get a job, advance in their careers, build both professional and personal relationships, and generally improve their lives.

The Mind Matter speakers made an excellent presentation on 15 May, and the whole team impressed visitors to the Gala as they pitched the project and explained how the prototype worked. In fact, they won the “Most Popular Exhibitor” vote at the Gala and even moved a few people to tears.

I greatly enjoyed working with the PDP students across this course. Their enthusiasm, commitment and thirst for learning was refreshing and inspiring. I’m sure they’re going to do amazing things as they help to design the future.