As a team that engages in our fair share of presentations, we know how important it is to nail it, so we’re always looking for ways to improve our game. That’s why we’re extremely happy to be able to share valuable tips with our readers by offering a free download of the book, Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking, by Karen Catlin and Poornima Vijayashanker. This is a limited-time exclusive—good through the end of the year only!—so please take advantage soon. Note: This offer has expired.
We met with the authors a few days ago and asked them to provide a little insight into why they felt the need to write this book.
Ronan: Karen and Poornima, thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Let’s jump right in. Who are you?
Poornima: We’re two women who love working in tech! I’m the founder of Femgineer, an education company that helps entrepreneurs and engineers level up their skills. I’m an avid public speaker and speak around the world. As your readers may know, I also host a monthly web show called Build that is sponsored by Pivotal Tracker.
Formerly, I was an entrepreneur-in-residence at 500 Startups, a mentor-in-residence at Techstars, a lecturer at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, and the founding engineer at Mint.com, where I helped build, launch, and scale the product until its acquisition in 2009.
Karen: After spending 25 years building software products, I’m now an advocate for women in the tech industry. I coach women on leadership skills and men who want to be better allies for diverse workplaces. I’m also a keynote speaker and a self-proclaimed public speaking geek.
I serve on the Advisory Boards for Brown University’s Computer Science Diversity Initiative, The Women’s CLUB of Silicon Valley, WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Technology), and Women Serve on Boards.
Formerly, I was a vice president of engineering at Macromedia and Adobe.
Ronan: Why did you choose to focus on this topic?
Karen: We had two simple goals. Our first was to share the presentation techniques that work for us and the students we’ve coached. As techies, we’ve spent decades presenting abstract and complex concepts to employees, teammates, bosses, and customers, and we’ve learned what engages audiences and what causes them to tune out. We wanted to share our tried-and-true techniques to help others up their public-speaking skills. Besides, we had some embarrassing stories that were just too good to keep to ourselves.
Poornima: Our second goal was to see more people speak. We believe in making the tech world more inclusive, and part of that mission is to encourage everyone to share their expertise and experience. We hope to bring life to more voices that might be silenced by fear and self-doubt or are simply left out of the conversation.
Ronan: What makes your approach different than other books on the subject?
There are definitely many books on public speaking out there. Ours is unique because of our personal stories and those of our students, all of whom work in tech. Our approach works for a wide range of presentation formats found in today’s tech industry, and we even include a bonus chapter, “Become a Meeting Maven,” to show our readers how to apply what they learned in our book to convey information at meetings and make requests that get approved.
Ronan: Do you have a favorite small piece of advice?
Karen: It’s so hard to choose because our book is chock full of advice! But, if we must, here’s something we heard just last week from a reader. This piece of advice was a game-changer for her: Practice your talks out loud, not in your head.
Why? When we say the words in our head, we’re perfect. Every. Single. Time. We don’t say “um” and “uh,” and we certainly don’t trip over our words. We sound awesome, and we don’t notice errors in logic or phrases that are hard to say. So we recommend saying the words out loud whenever you practice. In fact, we do this ourselves whenever we practice a talk.
Ronan: What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
Poornima: We both like good food, and enjoy sharing meals with friends and family. And we both like to stay active. For Karen, that means pilates, beginner tennis, and walks, ideally with her husband and two college-aged children. I love the yoga studio, along with weekly rock climbing with my husband.