No one likes getting passed up for a promotion or project. Especially when you spend years honing technical skills in software development and software product design and you know you deserve it. Long hours. Time-tested products. Happy customers, companies, and clients. But no recognition.
Many people know that they need to speak up for themselves and their work. But it’s not that easy for everyone. What will your boss think? Your peers? It’s a competitive world out there and it can be scary to speak in public, especially if you’re a woman.
This was all too familiar to me and my business partner, Karen Catlin. We knew that staying heads down and hopeful didn’t work. So we decided it was time to share what we had learned and empower other women to put their stake in the ground with Femgineer’s Confident Communicator Course.
We teach this online course once a year to help the technical community—including software engineers and designers—get comfortable sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. This year, we teamed up with InVision to offer a scholarship, which was awarded to self-employed Android developer Seetha Annamraju.
Seetha walked away with three valuable lessons:
First: Pick a topic you really know
It’s tempting when you’re getting started to make a bang with your first talk: to really prove yourself with an advanced, groundbreaking statement. But there will be time for that.
This first talk is all about getting comfortable. You’ll want to share something that you know like that back of your hand. Something you can answer questions about; that you’re passionate about; and that you love to talk about. This will make the entire experience easier and more natural for you.
“For your first talk, pick a topic you know like the back of your hand.”
You’ll still want a topic that resonates, so we recommend the talk topic test. Share a teaser of your talk in a story format with someone in your target audience, then wait for their reaction. If they ask follow-up questions and are eager to learn more, you’re on the right track.
Second: Get consistent, targeted feedback
Remember that you’re not alone in this. Many first-time speakers go through the entire process of creating their first talk without any help. But it’s more efficient and effective to ask for feedback from peers who are more experienced. They’ll not only encourage you, but can help pinpoint areas for improvement in both delivery and content—saving you time and energy.
Both Karen and I provided consistent, targeted feedback to keep Seetha on track during the Confident Communicator Course. She received positive reinforcement in areas that she wasn’t sure were her strengths, and was able to focus her energy on making improvements.
Third: Practice makes perfect
Just like getting feedback, practicing your talk with others and in different formats helps hone your new skills. During the course, Seetha learned three effective ways to practice her talks:
- Start with an outline. You don’t need a fully-written speech or memorized talk. By providing yourself with bullets, you’ll get more comfortable with the conversational tone of a speech, and it will be more natural.
- Record yourself. Use your phone to document your speech, then watch and listen. Seeing and hearing yourself is a powerful tool for improvement.
- Find a mini audience. Speaking in front of a just a few people (who could be your friends) helps to quell those first-time nerves. Ask for feedback so you can make the final finishing touches.
At the end of our Confident Communicator Course, every student delivers a five-minute lightning talk. When we asked Seetha how she felt after hers, she said:
“I sounded a lot more polished. In general, my project demos outside of this class consisted of slapping together some slides. This time, I sounded like one of those confident technical women I see at conferences that I’ve always wanted to be. Seeing that gave me a lot of confidence. Now I can give talks at conferences.”
Seetha isn’t alone in her success. We’ve had a lot of students go on to become confident communicators, speaking up and sharing their expertise through their own authentic voice.
If you’re still on the fence (we’ve been there!) about giving a talk, consider checking out a few free lessons in our Femgineer’s Confident Communicator Course. We’ll be rooting for you.
Senior editorial, digital and content strategist at APC, Inc. Editor, ibm.com home page. My opinions are my own. UX devotee. Linguist. Tech marketer. Design fan. Photographer.
Poornima Vijayashanker is the founder of Femgineer and was previously the founding engineer at Mint.com, where she helped build, launch, and scale the product until its acquisition in 2009. She's also been an entrepreneur-in-residence at 500 Startups, a lecturer at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, and the author of How to Transform Your Ideas into Software Products and Present! A Techie's Guide to Public Speaking. Poornima holds degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering.