Skip to content
ICE Community blog

How I used cake to explain engineering in just 200 seconds

13 February 2019

After smashing the competition with her baked goods demolition demo, Imogen Graves wants to encourage all ICE members to use their skills to tell the world about the wonders of civil engineering.

How I used cake to explain engineering in just 200 seconds
Imogen Graves, assistant design manager at J Murphy & Sons Ltd, used jam roly polys and rich tea biscuits in her pitch.

I first heard about Pitch 200 in October 2017 - ICE was promoting its new competition as part of its 200th anniversary and wanted some engineers to be in the promotional video.

On the day of filming, we were told we all had to come up with a topic we would talk about for our pitch that might fire the imagination of potential engineers.

At the time, I was working on a package of demolition works for LM JV as part of the HS2 Phase One enabling works contract in the West Midlands, and had recently attended a presentation given by one of my environmental colleagues on waste reduction in demolition.

I chose this topic for the video, as I’d felt so enthusiastic leaving the presentation that I thought, “if it inspired me, surely it’ll inspire someone else…”.

‘At first, I wasn’t sure I’d enter’

When entries opened for the competition, I initially wasn’t sure if I’d enter. I didn’t know if I could explain such a broad topic in 200 seconds and I’m not renowned for my creativity, so the call for novel pitches scared me a little.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I wanted to be a part of the competition, and more importantly, part of the ICE’s bicentenary.

So, I developed some ideas, prepared my short entry video and then spent a chilly January afternoon sat at home writing and rewriting my pitch until I had something that I felt was interesting, accurate and engaging.

Smashing cakes

Cake demolition was born! The weekend before my pitch, I remember walking around Tesco with my mum, trying to find the right sort of cake, feeling very disappointed that the supermarket didn’t offer pre-packaged cake structures, ready for an overenthusiastic engineer to smash.

On the day of the regional heat, I remember building my cake structures backstage at the venue, then spending the next hour until I gave my pitch worrying about whether they would stay standing long enough for me to demolish them.

The pitch itself went by in a flash, I’d been so enjoying listening to everyone else’s pitches that I’d not really had time to feel nervous.

The one thing I remember vividly from my pitch is the moment it nearly all went wrong and I almost knocked my trays of cakes off the table!

Inquisitive kids

The Q&A session afterwards left me feeling thoroughly impressed.

In the Midlands, we gave our pitches to children and they didn’t hold back on the questions - they asked probing, interesting questions and it was a pleasure to see that they’d understood my pitch and had engaged with the topic.

After winning the regional heat, I had nine months to wait until the final, but I kept the pitch fresh in my mind by presenting it at the West Midlands awards dinner and at the Big Bang @ B7 fair, celebrating ICE 200 and 50 years of Arup in the Midlands.

As the day of the final crept nearer, I started to feel a mixture of nerves and excitement.

I made anyone who would listen sit through practice runs and made endless tiny tweaks to try and make sure it was just right.

The Pitch 200 grand final

The day of the final was a wonderful chance to meet the other finalists and to celebrate what we had achieved by getting to that point. We were treated to a delicious lunch at One Great George Street (OGGS) with ICE directors and our company directors, given some words of wisdom from Rob Bell, the host for the competition, and finally given a tour of OGGS.

When the event began, all the finalists were sat together at the front of the theatre. There was a real sense of camaraderie and everyone was encouraging each other before their pitch. I was straight after the break.

Up until the break I’d been really enjoying the evening and had been wowed by some of the pitches being presented. It was only when we stopped for the break that the nerves started to hit me - although a couple of sandwiches cleared the nerves right up! When I finally got up on stage to give my pitch, the nerves had gone and I was excited to show everyone what I had worked so hard on.

In the end, I think my friends and family had been more nervous than I was.

When it came to the judges announcing the winner, the nerves came back. When it came to the point of Sir Peter Bazalgette explaining their reasoning for choosing the winner, I’d come to the conclusion that I probably hadn’t won, so when he mentioned rich tea biscuits, it took me a minute to realise that I had in fact used rich tea biscuits in my pitch and that they were talking about me.

Most of the rest of that evening went by in a bit of a blur, I was very excited and a bit shocked by the whole thing.

Taking part in Pitch 200 was my highlight of 2018. It was an experience I will always remember.

Moving into 2019 in my role as ICE ambassador, I can’t wait to use my communication skills to continue to engage with the public, ICE members and the next generation of engineers to show the world all the brilliant things that we as engineers can do today.

  • Imogen Graves, 2018 Pitch 200 winner