Grant Bellis, a graduate member of ICE, gives his experience of taking part in the ICE’s Pitch 200 event this year.
On 22 October I competed alongside fellow engineers from across the UK in the national final of the ICE’s Pitch 200 event, representing the Yorkshire and Humber region.
Pitch 200, which was first run last year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the ICE, involves giving a 200-second presentation about a civil engineering topic. The event is being run again this year, though despite it now being the 201st anniversary of the ICE, there are still a nice round 200 seconds for each presentation.
To reach the national finals, I've taken part in a heat Pitch 200 event hosted in Hull, and then the regional final, which was hosted in York.
In these qualifying events, a large range of civil engineering topics were presented, some people such as myself gave presentations related to their day-to-day work.
Other topics presented included the engineering behind iconic structures, how to promote engineering within schools and how the internet of things may be used within civil engineering in the future.
Presentations are encouraged to be creative, and so many of the presenting competitors have used props or videos to try and demonstrate their engineering concepts, though equally many of the presentations were more conventional and simply involved explaining a concept with Powerpoint slides – it's certainly possible to present a simple yet engaging presentation without props, too.
Deciding to take part
I first became aware of the Pitch 200 event when my colleagues who are involved with the regional ICE graduates, apprentices, students and technicians (GAST) committee, were organising the regional heat in Hull.
The previous year there'd been a rather low turnout in our region for the Pitch 200 heat, so this year there was a push to try and encourage more people to enter the competition.
I was initially quite reluctant to enter, as I didn't relish the idea of presenting in front of an audience, though eventually decided that it would be a good idea as it would be useful practice for giving presentations in the future, during my work and also for the ICE professional review process.
How I chose my pitch topic
I then needed to decide the engineering topic that I would discuss in my presentation.
After some thought, I chose the title “How are bridges maintained?”
My job as engineer is primarily related to bridge engineering, so I considered this to be a topic that I could talk comfortably about, and hopefully have some interesting things to say.
Furthermore, carrying out maintenance works to bridges often results in disruption to the public, in the form of road closures for highway bridges etc. so I felt that it would be helpful to try to explain why this disruption is necessary and how we as engineers try to minimise it.
Generally, the maintenance of bridges follows a cycle – inspections are carried out to determine the condition of the various bridge elements. From this, the required maintenance works are identified, schemes of works are developed and carried out, then regular inspections continue indefinitely until further maintenance works are required, and so on.
On this basis, I tried to show the progression from inspection to maintenance works in my Pitch 200 presentation.
To begin the presentation, I explained why bridges need to be maintained and the consequences if they are not, using the recent bridge collapse in Genoa as an example.
I then explained the regular schedule of inspections which are carried out for bridges, including some of the methods used for accessing various elements.
Though I didn't use any props in my presentation, I tried to use some interesting photos from my own experience of carrying out bridge inspections, to try and demonstrate how they're carried out.
Finally, I then discussed some of the elements which comprise a typical bridge, explaining how they'd be replaced and also how the replacement may impact public users of the bridge.
Put on the spot
After each presentation, the judges and the audience were invited to ask questions.
In many ways answering these questions was the most difficult part, not knowing what to expect and being put on the spot.
>One of the questions I was asked was “how small can a bridge be before it is no longer a bridge?” which was not something that I'd considered before, and so struggled to answer. Even now I couldn’t give a precise answer to that question.
So, this is where I make another pitch, this time to any readers who are potentially interested in taking part in future Pitch 200 events.
Heats are organised within the different regions but they can only take place if there are enough competitors.
Essentially any type of topic can be presented – if you're considering taking part in the future, then don't be put off by your choice of topic.
Civil engineering is a wide-ranging subject and it's always fascinating to see what other engineers are working on or where their interests lie.
If you're lacking any creative ideas for the presentation like I was, then that's also no problem.
Most of the pitches I've seen at the events were simply PowerPoint presentations, and it did not hold me back in progressing to the national finals.
If nothing else, it will give you practice presenting engineering topics to an audience, which may come in useful in your careers.