Motivational Public Speaking for Non-Tech Audience
29 November, 2020
VP of Engineering at Fieldwire
I transitioned from an EM role to becoming a director and then a VP of Engineering which denoted the change from an organizational leadership role to a company’s leadership role. I was already fairly comfortable with public speaking because I would often talk to my team, but my career progression demanded that I speak more engagingly to a non-technical audience.
More specifically, I was expected to be able to do well at weekly all-hands and that was hugely different from how I conversed with my team. I had to adjust to a brief, laser-focused format that would be engaging for a versatile audience. It should be at the same time informational and inspirational and should fire up the broader team and make them excited about things happening in the company. Also, I wanted to be able to represent my team well and have my team members feel that their work is visible, acknowledged, and shared across the company and that they are getting the recognition they deserve.
I was already working with my executive coach who would come on-site to observe how I would do when talking to the whole company and/or my team. She would sit in the back, take notes, and then she would give me substantive, critical feedback. I wouldn’t be able to get that specific and meaningful feedback without my coach being a bit removed from the actual situation. I could have asked my peers, reports, or a boss, but all of them would be entangled in our day-to-day interaction building in their own biases that a neutral third-party observer wouldn’t.
Also, I spent time learning about different communication styles and how they could impact human interaction. I learned to appreciate the storytelling that would require me to know my audience well and adjust my communication style to make it most appealing to them. For example, in a short communication format, I would focus on one key message and reinforce it a couple of times. Short formats are all about conveying one key message and leaving people with a certain type of feeling rather than trying to explain a problem or giving a detailed status update. Whereas a longer presentation should resemble a story that has its own beginning, middle part, and ending -- all nicely structured and flowy. However, one of the key challenges would be to match the right format to a particular occasion or audience.
Then should come the practicing part and “practice makes perfect” would prove to be more than a cliché. Having a partner in crime, someone who can provide on-the-spot feedback and support can be as instructional as encouraging.
I prefer to write a script for what I would like to say. I am not going to read it, but I am naturally more comfortable with written communication and it helps me better organize my thoughts. Then I would single out the main keywords that I would try to memorize. Keywords would help me stay focused on a topic but I could also use them to create slides or for backup notes.
- I thought of my initial efforts to improve my public speaking skills as a necessity and not something I wanted or enjoyed doing. I understood it as a part of my role as a VP of Engineering and all I was aiming at was to be decent at it. As I was getting better I started to get more positive feedback from people which encouraged me to further hone my skill. Week after week of practice and initial nervousness and discomfort turned into excitement and eagerness. Today I enjoy it, feel confident about my skill, and like coaching other people.
- I experimented with the style and messaging that worked best for me and my audience. This takes time and “trial and error” is the best method to craft your skill.
- My efforts had an impact on the business itself. It raised the bar for everyone on the leadership team and we, as a startup, were able to communicate better which gave us a number of tangential benefits.
- My team also appreciated that they are well represented -- other stakeholders knew what they were working on and what their challenges were. I also made sure that more strategic issues were well communicated that complimented our day-to-day, hands-on work.
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