Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why geeks need public speaking

If you know anything at all about public speaking, your perception of it is probably that it's a playground for salespeople, marketers, and trainers; an outlet for extroverted businesspeople to practice their presentations to upper management. This is certainly true, but there is another group that can gain enormous benefit from learning and practicing public speaking: software developers.

Let's face it, we software developers are not thought of as your typical public speaker. But there is room us to learn this skill. There is room to push ourselves to do something that will not only benefit us personally, but help the people around us as well.

As developers, it's very easy for us to sit in our offices all day and avoid as much human contact as possible. Such conditions make activities like extemporaneous speaking or presenting to a large audience very difficult. Organizations like Toastmasters or local user groups come to the rescue by providing an outlet for practicing such speaking.

The environment in these groups is friendly and welcoming enough to make developers feel comfortable getting outside our "coding cocoon." Yet at the same time these groups challenge us to learn how to communicate more effectively.

We've all heard the old saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." When it comes to speaking, though, "it's not what you say, it's how you say it!" It’s difficult to stand in front of a crowd and explain what we do for a living, or give an educational presentation to a roomful of other developers (many of whom may be far more knowledgeable than we are about the topic we’re speaking about). Speaking under these challenging circumstances puts the way we communicate in a whole new perspective. It forces us to think about how other people hear us and adjust our message accordingly.

We’re software developers. We’re proud to claim that title. But we should also be proud to claim the title of public speakers. The experience we gain practicing this skill will continue to benefit us and the people we know long after the software technologies of today have disappeared. That’s something worth pursuing.


javery said...

What is the real benefit with public speaking though?

Personally I would say the main benefit is networking. When you speak you meet new people and find opportunities.

The secondary benefit is that you learn something much better when you need to speak on it, I have never spoke about a topic and not learned at least a dozen new things about it.

Matthew Bass said...

Absolutely. Networking and learning are two very good reasons to speak. Another is credibility. When you've spoken on a subject, people begin recognizing you as someone knowledgeable in that area.

Allen said...

I agree with Matthew, also, listing Toastmasters or some other group on your resume also tells an employer "Hey--I also have social skills." In my recent experiences in helping with the hiring for my department, we really tend to pay attention to candidates who not only have the script or test-fu, but also ones who can speak in complete sentences.

Jared said...

The benefits of public speaking... it feels like a soft skill, but it's more. It's how we failed to convince our manager to try a new technology. It's why we didn't get that date. :) Or the raise. Soft skills are more important than we realize.

Here's one of my blog posts from a few years ago in a similar vein. http://www.jaredrichardson.net/blog/2005/10/17/

Because speaking feels like it doesn't affect our ability to code, most techies ignore it. Then, as an industry, we get a reputation for not being able to relate or communicate. In the end, we're not effective. And that does impact your ability to code... at least with the tools, technology, and architecture we want to work with.