Most engineering programs culminate in a self-directed design project. Under the direction of a faculty member (to make sure you’re biting off enough but not too much), you select a project, plan it, do it, and present it. It’s a chance for you to showcase everything you’ve learned in the last four years.
The class is also designed to help get you ready for the workplace. You give (frequent) presentations to keep everyone informed of the status of your project. You learn how to estimate the scope of a project. You learn how to adjust if things go off the rails. But the most powerful lesson I learned was the power of going first.
- Develop the habit of being proactive. It’s no accident that Be Proactive is the first habit in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. It’s about taking control of your life and acting with intent instead of sitting back and waiting for life to happen to you. The most successful people in any field are the one who learn to take initiative.
- Enjoy the other presentations. Once you’re done, you can sit back and relax. Instead of sitting through the other presentations on pins and needles, you can observe and learn. I’ve heard people try to justify going later by claiming it gives them the opportunity to learn tips, tricks, and techniques from other presenters. This is true, but you know what? This isn’t the last time you’re going to present. Take notes and apply what you learn next time, when you’re fresh and no one remembers the gal before you doing it. Besides, you’ll be more relaxed and better able to observe if you’re done.
- Spend more time on what matters most. Parkinson’s Law says that a task will expand to fill the time you have for it. If you go first, you’re motivated to get it done. You learn to focus on the important elements of the presentation—including rehearsing—and not worry about minutae. Then turn your attention to the next project and move on.
- Keep your options open. You have first crack at every joke, Dilbert cartoon, and analogy you can think of. No one else is going to use it first.
- Blaze a trail. People will cut you some slack for going first. You’re blazing a trail into uncharted territory and they’ll acknowledge it. They’ll be thankful for it.
- Act with confidence. Immediately volunteer and get going. Be a moving target. Don’t give fear a chance to catch up. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, it’s never as painful as you think it’s going to be. Go first and get it over with. Don’t let it drag on through an extra week or two of agony.
- You don’t get bumped. If presentations were running long on Friday and you got bumped to Monday, there went your weekend! By going first—even the first on a given day—you made sure you got your presentation done. (We all tried not to be the one that ran long and threw off the schedule, but sometimes you can’t help it.)
Going first once or twice will benefit you in those instances. If you develop a habit of going first, it will change who you are. You will be more confident. You will learn to prioritize work quickly. There may be legitimate reasons to let someone else go first sometimes, but when I’ve gone first, I’ve never regretted it. The benefit has always been there.