Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adventures at GHC - part 2 - Communicating for Impact and Influence

Adventures at GHC part 2 - Communicating for Impact and Influence - a workshop with Denise Brosseau

This was the third session I attended on the first day of GHC. I thought it was interesting enough that I'd dedicate an entire post to summarising it. Hopefully I can use this to come back to if I ever want to review the material.

This session focused on how to present information about projects to (more senior) stakeholders (although some of the skills are definitely transferrable). I had initially thought it was going to be  mostly another "here's how to project confidence blah blah" talk, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive concrete advice on how to present a piece of information in an effective way.

I liked Denise Brosseau's soundbite quote from the intro to her workshop:
"Good communication is a gift ... to your audience, and to you"
 She explained the reasoning behind this:

  • You will feel less frustrated (your audience understands what you want and is thus able to give it to you)
  • Your audience will feel less frustrated (they can understand what you want)
  • You will be more effective (because you are able to get more of what you want)
  • The effect of the above is good for your team and your company too
The workshop focused on "the three P's":  Preparing, Presenting and Prevailing.

[image of my notes on the three P's in the handout we were given]

Preparation is key

This is from the handout + my notes. I re-ordered them a little in a way that makes sense to me.
  • Think about what's in it for them (if you don't listen to them, why should they listen to you?)
  • Think Big! (What do you know is possible? Think bigger than that. What's even bigger than the the thing you just thought of? For various reasons, women tend to pitch only the part that is obviously possible, call it "E", while men are pitching to "Z". You have to trust that by the time you get to "E" you'll know how to get to "F", "G", "H" ...)
  • Do a dry run or write a rough draft (what are your arguments, get them in order in your mind before you do it for real)
  • Think through their possible objections (who will disagree and why? You need to recognise and respect their views otherwise they will not change their mind - think about various political groups, anti-abortion groups come to mind)
  • Make contingency plans (what should I do if someone disagrees? how can I address their argument?)
Once we'd gone through these, we did a little exercise on preparation. We were told to think of something we wanted to ask for, or to use asking for a promotion as an example, and prepare a one-sentence pitch. A few people shared theirs with the room. Here are a couple of ones I remember:
"It will be bigger than GMail."
Nice and memorable, but lacks details.
"Given my continued performance on project foo, I believe I could be more effective if you promoted me."
 Not too shabby, but lacks impact.
"I'm in this for the long term, but to do this I need to be recognised and compensated better."
This one is supposedly the best example of a one-sentence pitch that was given by an attendee. I like it, it's punchy and to the point.

I have to admit, I'm a little unclear on what the difference between the second and third examples are other than buzz words, but somehow the third one does sound better to me too.

When you Present

  • Present your ideas clearly and succinctly. (For example, when writing an email, put the ask up front, or head it with "FYI")
  • Sell yourself AND your ideas. (You're not just pitching a thing, you're pitching for the stakeholders to invest in you doing/making the thing. Make sure you also put your credentials out there)
  • Listen well. (You need to be able to hear or see people's responses and adjust your angle accordingly)
  • Respond well to criticism or objections. (What was your plan B? Don't be defensive)
  • Make the ask clear. 
  • Make it easy for the stakeholder to agree. (Break it down into smaller things for them to agree to if you can.)
  • Build their trust in you before asking for something big. (Builds on previous point. Denise Brosseau shared anecdotes about two women who wanted her to mentor them. One straight up asked "will you be my mentor?" and that was too big for Denise to agree to. The other asked for a single, specific piece of advice, used it, then a couple of months later, asked Denise out for dinner to thank her and tell her what happened. Then another couple of months later asked for another piece of advice. Rinse and repeat = eventually a successful mentoring relationship. Also, people like to know what happened when you give advice - did it work? Was it helpful? Feedback is good)
We did another exercise here, which was a bit cheesy but was quite fun. In pairs/threes, one person would say something they like about themself, and another would "amplify" them. The idea of this is to show how easy it is to boost/promote someone else, even if we don't know them very well - so if we can do that for someone we don't know, why not ourselves?

That led us into the third of the three P's:

Prevail after the presentation has finished

  • Assess what happened. (Preferably with someone else. A post-mortem if you will, or a debrief to make sure you know how to move forward.)
  • Get help to win buy in. (What if other people reinforced your idea? Maybe you won't win something if only you go to your boss about something, but what if your boss hears it from 5 different people?)
  • Don't take a "NO" personally. (A no is NOT a stop sign, it's a push in a different direction. Collect no's - they are learning experiences)
  • Follow up. (See previous anecdote about Denise Brosseau's mentees. Make sure you hold your audience and yourself accountable to do what you said you'd do)
  • Try, try again.


I enjoyed this workshop, and I think it included lots of helpful advice. I will be thinking of the three P's before I do high stakes presentations in the future!

Adventures at GHC - part 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent 3 days last week at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In this post, I'm going to write about the first two sessions I attended: the opening keynote and a new managers session.

Since these sessions were at the start of the conference, I feel like they're already partly lost to time in my memory ( :( ), but I'll see what I can do, for my own record as much as anything else! Here goes:

Opening Welcome and Keynote - Shafi Goldwasser (MIT)

I had to leave early to conduct an interview during this session, so I didn't get to see much of it, so I'll just add some links, because other people can say it better than I can...

Shafi Goldwasser is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and in her keynote, she talked about cryptography. A major theme of her talk was about paradoxical abilities enabled by cryptography (e.g. securely exchanging secret messages without meeting first), and how the presence and ability of an "adversary" (a malicious entity who wants the data you're attempting to protect) defines and determines the solutions to a problem.

I really enjoyed the first 10 minutes of this talk, would attend full session if it was offered again. Here are some links about this talk:

Recording: http://gracehopper.org/2014-grace-hopper-celebration-wednesday-livestream/

Nice write up by Huma, who also did good writeups of several other sessions: http://i-thinq.blogspot.com/2014/10/ghc14-keynote-shafi-goldwasser.html

AZ Tech Beat: http://aztechbeat.com/2014/10/shafi-goldwasser-cryptography-grace-hopper/

New Managers - What's your challenge? (Birds of feather session) - Emily J. Leathers (Brigade)

This session was primarily for mildly guided discussion between attendees who are new(ish) managers and tech leads. While it was an interesting discussion, I didn't feel like I learned very much. - I think I'd been a tech lead / manager of interns for a little longer than the other people in my group. (Interestingly, writing that feel funny, even though it's factually true and easy to check. Impostor syndrome?) It was nice to hear that the kinds of issues I've had are not dissimilar to other at least. I hope that the other attendees had something interesting to think about when they go back to work...

I went to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing!

Last week I went to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. It was a fun experience, well, mostly, so I thought I'd write about what I saw and did there.

I attended a variety of sessions, and I think most of them were pretty good this year. I think that means I did a better job at choosing which ones to go to this year! Here are the titles of all the sessions I went to. I'll do posts about the ones I found most interesting / have Opinions about, and may or may not say much about the others.

  • Opening Welcome and Keynote - Shafi Goldwasser
  • New Managers - What's your challenge? (Birds of feather session) - Emily J. Leathers (Brigade)
  • Communicating for Impact and Influence - Denise Brosseau
  • Male Allies Plenary Panel - Penny Herscher (Moderator, FirstRain), Mike Schroepfer (Facebook), Alan Eustace (Google), Blake Irving (GoDaddy), Tayloe Stansbury (Intuit)
  • Keynote (day 2) - Satya Nadella in Conversation with Maria Klawe
  • Accountability and Metrics for Gender Diversity - Denise Menelly (Bank of America), Lazlo Bock (Google), Danielle Brown (Intel), Theresa Kushner (VMWare), Jeanne Hultquist (Anita Borg Institute)
  • The Dynamics of Hyper-Effective Teams: How inclusive environments drive innovation - Lori Mackenzie, Caroline Simard (both from the Clayman Institute for Gender Research)
  • Reverse Male Allies
  • Keynote (day 3) - Dr Arati Prabhakar (DARPA)
  • New Perspectives on Gender-Inclusive Game Design - Elisabeth Gee (Arizona State University), Gillian Smith (Northeastern University), Carolee Stewart-Gardiner (Kean University), Gail Carmichael (Carleton University), Kate Compton (University of California)
  • Addressing Stereotype Threat in the Education System: Brainstorming Possible Approaches - Beccie Magnus, Danielle Del Rosario (both from ThoughtWorks, Inc)
Aside from the sessions, I had a blast meeting tons of different women from around the world and talking to them! Overall, I think the conference was a net positive for me (although next year I think I will decline to do so many interviews - I had to miss several sessions, including part of the opening keynote!). I hope the Anita Borg Institute listens carefully to the feedback and media attention this year's GHC elicited, and improves on the parts which were not so good.