Feeding our protein interface…

Most people working in TouK are tech people. Geeky people. As such we are so much more used to silicon-based interfaces than to face-to-face communication with another human being. We speak OO and markup languages and when starting conversations we send interruption requests rather than saying Hi.

The problem

GeekMost people working in TouK are tech people. Geeky people. As such we are so much more used to silicon-based interfaces than to face-to-face communication with another human being. We speak OO and markup languages and when starting conversations we send interruption requests rather than saying Hi.

By the way I really like this stereotype of a programmer geek, dressed badly, unable to small talk, etc. I’m using it all the time as an icebreaker and conversation starter with non-tech people and it works brilliantly.

On the other hand, everybody, even a programmer, needs to deliver a public presentation from time to time. The content, audience and situation varies; sometimes it is a conference talk, sometimes it is a project kickoff or product presentation, sometimes sales meeting, and, last but not least, most of us are being occasionally interviewed for a new job.

Having said that, to address this issue, some time ago we decided to engage as many TouKers as possible in some form of training focused on the presentation skills. In November we actually got in touch with someone who convinced us that we can improve.

The solution

HamletWe started planning a workshop with a professional theatre actor. The workshop was supposed to present the basic toolset actors are using when performing and to improve the way we behave “on stage”, focusing on gestures, eye-contact and speaking. We checked out a few companies claiming they do such trainings but eventually decided to work with an actual actress doing such workshops as side projects to her daily job.

This project started with presenting our situation and problem to our trainer. Quickly we agreed on the workshop agenda and the schedule. The workshops were split into two parts, half day long each. First parts were organized on Fridays (which is our development day anyway) and the workshops continued on Saturdays. We decided that everybody in TouK will be able to participate, if willing.

In the end – more than 60% of TouKers applied. We split into 10-12 people groups and off we went.

Reception by participants

groupAfter a few weeks the project was finished. We asked all participants to fill in feedback forms. This is what we found out.

Almost all participants rated the workshop either 4 or 5 (in a scale of 1-5, 5 being max). Even taking into consideration the fact that people rarely rate stuff 1 or 2 (unless they really hate it – that’s my impression after a few agile conference ratings), the average score of the workshop of 4.4 is pretty high. The thing that was reported as the most difficult was preparing a short presentation (2 mins) on a given topic in a short time (10-15 mins). The commonly reported takeaway – reduction of stress and increase of self confidence. The thing to change or improve – more presentations to make during the workshop. 60% of participants said that the duration of the workshop was ok, and 30% – said that it was too short.

We also found a surprising yet unplanned side effect. Many of the participants admitted that the workshop had a huge integrational impact. The possibility to have fun and play with colleagues, perform in front of them and see them perform allowed us to see each other in a non-professional situation. Tasks requiring groups to prepare a short scene together were also focused on collaboration.

My personal review

From the technical point of view (I mean presentation techniques) almost all the stuff that was covered wasn’t new to me. That’s definitely mostly due to the fact that I have been spending a lot of time watching and reviewing professional talks (I highly recommend watching ted.com – both for the technically excellent speakers and the ideas worth spreading). The thing that was a kind of enlightenment for me was information that pronunciation needs working out (now I think it’s kind of obvious but I hadn’t thought about it before) – our trainer gave us funny exercises for mouth and tongue – unfortunately I think I’m not having enough time to do them on a regular basis. Still they can be used to warm up before speaking.

DangerBut that was what I expected. The main reason behind organizing this kind of event was to allow people that are not experienced speakers to get some practice. And this aspect turned out really well, as more people than I expected took part in it and most of them were satisfied.

There is one more thing to mention here. Acting in front of colleagues was hard. Stressful and frightening. Definitely for me, but I guess that for many others as well. And having an opportunity to force oneself out of the comfort zone we live in is something I am looking for all the time. During last year, having attended several international conferences I met quite a few great public speakers. Even though I got some positive feedback after my talks I learned how much space is there for me to improve. And I’m pretty sure this improvement needs to be hard-fought with practice, often under stress, often out of my comfort zone.

What now, what do we do next…

Red-pill-blue-pillFinally it’s time to decide what’s next. An easy and obvious thing is to make one more workshop – even though over half of our staff took part already and everybody was allowed to, there were some people who couldn’t attend and maybe with the positive feedback a few others will be convinced.

But what beside that?

After the workshop I spent some time with our trainer discussing possible future actions. She suggested three things. One is that doing more of the same will not be helpful. So I guess we won’t be making “Round 2” workshops focusing on similar skills. The other thing suggested was to organize a workshop focused on anti-stress techniques (based on psychology). I think this is something we’ll be trying in the nearest future…

The third thing that was suggested was that if someone is preparing an important talk or presentation we could be working together in more one-on-one manner. This is definitely something to be considered in the future.

Trainer

Geek…
Hamlet
The group
myself
Danger: High Voltage
Red pill Blue pill
Our coach
myself
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