This week, I filmed my experience as a first time speaker at PASS Summit in Seattle. No blog post, just a video to relive the experience.
Communicating Effectively at the Workplace
This post is a response to this month's T-SQL Tuesday #119 prompt by Alex Yates. T-SQL Tuesday is a way for the SQL Server community to share ideas about different database and professional topics every month.
This month's topic asks to write about what in your career that you have changed your mind about.
In my first years as a developer, I used to think that being a great programmer meant you knew the latest technologies, followed the best design patterns, and used the trendiest tools. Because of this, I focused my time strictly on those topics.
On the flip side, what I didn't spend a lot of time on were communication skills. I figured as long as I could write an email without too many typos or if I could coherently answer a question someone asked of me, then communication was not something I had to focus on.
Over the years I've changed my mind about this however: communication skills are often just as important (if not sometimes more important) as any of the other technical skills a great programmer uses.
The Importance of Communication
In my experience, I've found three major improvements from spending some of my learning time on improving my communication skills:
1. You get ideas across clearly, the first time.
Nothing is worse than spending a significant amount of time talking about ideas, requirements, and next steps, only to have to go through all of it again because not everyone had the same understanding. Not only does this waste valuable time, it may result in development rework and cause frustration among team members.
2. You leave everyone feeling good
Unclear communication, or lack of communication altogether, leaves doubt in the minds of those you work with. Not communicating clearly about your own progress leaves teammates questioning if your dependency will allow them to finish their work on time, makes your manager question whether the project will be delayed, and makes your customers concerned about the stability of the product.
Taking a proactive approach to communicating clearly sets people's expectations up front, leaving little room for any doubt.
3. You get your needs met quicker
Once you learn to communicate more effectively, you start to notice when others aren't doing the same. This allows you to recognize potential problems or unclear information from the start. Once you start recognizing this, you'll be able to reframe a question or follow up with more specifics, resulting in your needs getting met quicker.
Below are a few techniques that have helped me become a better communicator. I'm by no means an expert, but I have found these few things to work really well for my situation.
1. Put yourself in their shoes
Before sending an email, reread it from the perspective of everyone you are sending it to. Even though everyone will be receiving the same exact text, their interpretation may vary based on their background or context. You will be doing yourself a huge favor if you can edit your message so that each imagined perspective interprets the message in the same way.
2. Keep communication concise
Be ruthless with self-editing before you speak and with cutting unnecessary thoughts in written form. When writing, put your most important ideas or requests first. If anything needs to be seen beyond the first line, call it out by bolding the text or highlighting it. Don't risk someone skipping over the important parts of your message.
3. Follow up
People are busy. You aren't always a priority. While you have to handle it politely, reminding someone that you need something from them is important. If you communicated clearly from the outset, this is easy to do. If you reread your initial request and realize it wasn't as clear as it could be, this is your opportunity to do a better job.
The best way to get better at communicating is through practice. Be intentional about it. Write only what matters and speak as succinctly when it comes to project work. I'm far from being where I want to be in these respects, but every time I write an email, write a video script, or speak up in a team meeting, I want to make sure what I'm saying is clear and as easy to understand as possible.
Dipping into the Cookie Jar
This post is a response to this month's T-SQL Tuesday #112 prompt by Shane O'Neill. T-SQL Tuesday is a way for the SQL Server community to share ideas about different database and professional topics every month. In this month's topic Shane asks us to describe past accomplishments that help keep us going.
Before the start of each presentation I give, I'm a nervous wreck.
It's not that I don't like presenting (I do) but in the minutes before my presentation start time I'm always filled with dread . Once I start my talk and am in the flow of my content the nerves usually subside. Those first few minutes are always rough though.
Before speaking I try to calm myself by going through a few various techniques, one of which is thinking about previous successful speaking engagements.
You've Done This Before
I rarely focus on a single past speaking engagement; rather I look at all of my appearances and pick one that best helps for the current situation.
Every presentation I give has some kind of new elements associated with it; some of these might be environmental like a bigger audience or a strange room setup, but others are self-imposed like wanting to try out a new story-telling technique or an interactive audience exercise.
At this point, I usually have enough previous speaking experiences to try and rationalize away any stressful thoughts:
- "Speaking is scary." - You've done it before, you can do it again.
- "This is a big audience." - Your online audiences have definitely been bigger.
- "This joke will bomb." - You won't know until you try. And your past session reviews indicate that people think you are funny.
The great thing here is that I'm always able to find a way to rationalize some successful past experience as having been comparable or more difficult than the current scenario. Even when I only had a couple of speaking sessions under my belt, I could think back to when I successfully taught my coworkers something, or had to teach my family members how to do something technical.
100% Survival Rate
I still get nervous before speaking, but at least I can also remind myself that I've survived every previous time I've done it.
I'm not sure my nervousness will ever go away, but having past successes to think back on always helps quiet those nerves just a little bit.