I owe all my success in life to effective communication. This includes my professional life, my love life, and my social life.
In this article, I’d like to share two tips for effective communication in your professional life.
It’s just three small tips with huge payoffs! Read on…
In my professional life, I work as a sales engineer, data scientist, and master of duct tape. I stick things together to make them work in a high technology field. It’s one of the most affirming and exciting things I’ve ever done in my life and I look forward to going to work every day.
I didn’t go to school for computer science or data science, I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I worked as a Professional Engineer for over 20 years. So how did I get here?
I got into this field by luck, curiosity, hard work, and communication. I had started a blog on data mining that turned into a full-blown career in the startup world and data science, and I couldn’t have done it without communicating complex ideas simply and effectively.
It appears that recruiters are searching for those communication skills as well:
However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.
How did I go from “zero” to “hero?” By learning public speaking, writing with style, and making pretty pictures.
Take a Toastmaster’s class
One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes, I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started a conversation with them I would say, “I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover.”
They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.
Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere.
You must communicate effectively to non-technical people to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.
So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.
Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part.
How do you do it? How do you start? You enroll in Toastmasters.
Yes, you get your ass up in front of people and work toward becoming a certified Toastmaster. To achieve that status you need to give 10 speeches, each one with a specific focus.
The first one is the hardest, it’s the icebreaker. You have to get up in front of people and introduce yourself for 3 to 5 minutes.
Then you progress into speeches to inform, to persuade, or to evoke an emotional response (I seem to make people cry a lot).
My current career relies heavily on the skills I learned being a Toastmaster, as does my partner’s career too.
The best part about joining Toastmasters is that it doesn’t break the bank. Yes, there’s a membership fee but it’s nominal and you have clubs in churches, libraries, and schools. Just visit Find A Club link and enter your zip code. Done!
Joining Toastmasters all those years ago was the best thing I ever did, it yielded the highest professional return in my life for the smallest investment of time.
Elements of style
I met Robert in graduate school. He was a Canadian man in his late 60’s, retired, and living in the States with his wife. He woke up one morning and enrolled in business school where I was.
We hit it off and worked on many class projects together. Over the semesters he started to share his life with me. I was impressed and inspired by the life he had led up till then.
As a son of Chinese immigrants, he settled in Canada, worked in a dry cleaner, then owned a pizza parlor, started and sold a newspaper, and became a writer.
He was the most interesting man I’ve ever known up till that point and he remains a good friend to this day.
As our graduate life came to an end, we went down to the local pub for a celebratory drink. We had spent a good 3 years together, writing, learning, and presenting. We reminisced about all the good times and commiserated on the bad times.
After the second drink, he reached into this bag and handed me a small sliver-looking book.
He looked squarely in my eyes and said, “Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”
Robert handed me a book titled “Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.
It’s a tiny book that packed — and I mean packed — elements of writing compositions, style, and grammar.
Over the years that gift has made a big impact on my writing and I refer to it when I need to edit a lengthy text or just need some inspiration.
Thank you, Robert, you have no idea how your thoughtfulness has impacted my life.
Visuals, it’s about the visuals
The last item that made a big impact on my life is understanding that the majority of people in this world are visual learners. That means they learn best from pictures and visualizations.
A single photograph can inspire a call to action or change the narrative of war.
I took up photography many years ago as a way to express my creative outlet and have spent countless hours reviewing and analyzing photos.
In that time I’ve learned a few things about images and visualizations.
The most effective and powerful images are the simple ones. I’m not talking simple flowcharts, but the ones that are stripped down to their bare essentials and focus on my key thing, whatever that thing may be.
Every commercial and every advertisement we see seeks to focus your eye on one thing.
You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.
How many Nike shoes did you have? You’ll remember the swoosh first.
When you create visuals and images, you have helped the viewer train their eye to the most important part of that image. That’s how you make an impact.
To see a non-commercially inspired set of images, I suggest you visit an art museum. Walk around the halls in the different periods, see what images resonate with you.
I’m partial to the abstractive art and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I like minimalistic art because it makes a powerful statement that leads viewers to read into any way they see fit.
You will need to figure this out for yourself and see what works best in your career!
Sign up for Toastmasters. Learn to write better. Make pretty pictures.