Communication - no matter what field you work in - is the number one way to get ahead. Yes, even if you’re a developer or an engineer. The truth is that out of all of the ‘soft’ skills, your ability to communicate with a team will make the biggest difference to your career.
We’ve pulled together some tips and tricks to help you level up your career by improving your communication skills with the help of our friend, Poornima Vijayashanker. Poornima was the founding engineer of Mint.com where she launched v1 of the ubiquitous personal finance platform. She went on to become the founder of Femgineer, an education firm that trains technologists on presentation, public speaking, and communication skills.
Communication Is Key
You’re either looking to be hired or to hire top talent, communication skills are vital in being the best of the best.
The same can be said if you’re trying to sell your company in communicating with board members or stakeholders. The ability to express what you do and what sets you apart is a key way to sell both your skills and your abilities.
Poornima: "There comes a time in everyone’s career ─ maybe it hasn’t happened to people in your audience so they're super fortunate ─ where you have to vouch for yourself. You have to sell yourself, as dirty as a word that might be; and that could mean that you're trying to get promoted or you have an idea that you want to pursue or you're kind of frustrated by current practices within your organization and you want to do something about it."
Communication and public speaking is the secret sauce for your career that will help you to stand out among your field. As teams diversify, you want to be known as the engineer or developer who can contribute - not just your expertise with code, but your ability to work as a strong member of a team.
Finding the Balance: Know Your Audience
If you find yourself in a sales meeting or a stand up to give honest updates on a project, you’re going to need to know how to speak to people who aren’t engineers about development issues. If this freaks you out have no fear, a good thing to remember is you’re offering your team something they need to know that only you can explain.
Poornima: “People are listening to and looking for is “How does this information or how does this question apply to me?” When you reframe it that way, what you realize is, oh, so I don't need to be feeling so awkward or feeling so aware of everything I'm doing and saying and that people aren’t going to be scrutinizing every single one of my actions. And that's the reality. They are listening because they want to hear something that's going to apply to them.”
A great way to navigate this is to present the topic from their point of view, take some time to think about what they, from a business or client standpoint and would want and need to know. In doing this, you’ll start to build a great understanding of the type of communication to prepare for.
Put yourself in the position of being the developer with invaluable info with the communication skills to accurately articulate them.
Get Your Go-To Ready
Perhaps you’re looking for more of a guide on how to write a presentation? If so, we’ve got you. In general, you want to start with a simple outline of the topic. If you’ve done your research and have an idea of the questions you’re confronting, talk openly on them to see where you’re most comfortable, and where it is you’re running out of words or ideas.
You want to be comfortable with what you’re saying. People aren’t going to care how vast your vocabulary, they care more if you use simple, meaningful language. The trick here is to come up with the bare bones of your go-to talk so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you’re asked to speak. Poornima developed go-to talk tactic in hopes to hack the system as professionals are busy and need to do things fast and affectively.
Poornima: "It's giving them some strategies around “Here's how you can save time and here's what you need to be looking for and here's how you can get other people to give you feedback.” That's kind of the promise that we make knowing that people are busy professionals."
Practice makes perfect for a formal presentation, Spend a couple of hours a week over several weeks - from start to finish - and you’ll find your groove.
Above all, if the nerves are getting the better of you, remember this: your information is valuable and only you can share it