#28: How to Present Solutions as Software Engineers
Different groups of people demand various details when listening to your solutions. The details you’ll show to a software engineer differs from the level of detail you will show to your product manager, and it will be completely different when you want to present to a C-level.
I've realized many engineers struggle to communicate their work at different levels. Even the most experienced engineers have difficulty presenting their ideas or their achievements. In this episode, I talk about how to present your solutions and create the most profound impact on your audience. I share what I've learned and honed with feedback over the years.
Either listen to the episode to learn more about it or read the transcription below.
[00:00:00] Hello, everyone. In the last episode, I talked about solving problems and I gave you one strategy. In this episode, we will take one more step in the same direction, and I will talk about what is important when you are presenting solutions. As we overcome many, many problems and solve these problems, we have a lot of solutions in our hands, and we need to present these solutions to get the buy-in from others. And I realized many engineers struggle to communicate their work at different levels.
[00:00:57] Even the most experienced engineers have difficulty presenting their ideas or achievements. As they fail to explain their thoughts, they often say, "Hey, give me the keyboard and let me show you how to do it. Give me the keyboard and I can write the code." The good side of this behavior is that it works. If both sides understand each other, if they are at the same level, if they're both engineers, or if they have similar knowledge, it works because they talk at the same level. It works until. It doesn't. The bad side of this is when people keep this behavior, they don't train themselves to explain their top processes using language.
[00:01:40] Words become a burden. And these engineers tend to keep the information in their heads. They become great problem solvers. But not so great engineers. When I've seen these kinds of engineers, they usually find excuses like, Hey, English is not my native language. So it's difficult for me to explain, which is a valid reason. Or they also say it's easier to write the code and everybody understands. And the worst one or like the most popular one, if you have met with one of these people is, Hey, the code explains itself. I don't need to explain it. I wrote it perfectly so that you just read the code, you understand what it is.
[00:02:23] And of course that, like, there are many, many sentences or phrases that I just stopped counting. The problem with this behavior is that it's not only their fault. Right? How the organization treats these people encourages actually these behaviors. In this episode, instead of going into details about the problems in organizations, I will focus on giving some guidelines overall to present these solutions.
[00:02:51] Once you sold the problem and finished implementing it, it's time to explain your approach to others around you. The first step of explaining anything to anyone is learning about the audience, regardless of what you're talking about. If you are pairing with engineers, knowing the knowledge of engineers is crucial. If you're presenting solutions to others, it's important to know their knowledge level. You cannot expect everyone to have the same knowledge as you.
[00:03:24] The most common mistake of any communication style is not learning about the audience, or not even thinking about it. It's not only engineers, but it's visible everywhere.
[00:03:35] Especially experts like software engineers, either assume that their audience is knowledgeable about the topic and dive deep into details. Or they try to satisfy every knowledge level. Meredith Hill once said, when you speak to everyone, you speak to no one. So we cannot stay broad, and we cannot cover every type of audience, everyone in the audience.
[00:04:00] If you try to cover anyone, your message will never be clear. Target targeting an audience and limiting yourself to a certain degree will enable you to have a greater impact on the audience. So, what can you do? How can, you know, your audience? How can you learn about your audience? Actually, it's so easy to define. Just simply ask yourself who is my audience? Where am I going to talk? What kind of knowledge do they have? Are they all engineers? Are they all managers? Am I addressing a department, or the whole company, or just a few teams?
[00:04:41] Because in the end, what you are doing is a marketing activity. You need to take off your engineering hat and start wearing another hat, which is a marketing hat. Most engineers discard marketing's impact on their growth journey. I'm. I'm also one of these engineers. I often discard the marketing's impact.
[00:05:02] But that's a big mistake almost all of us make. Without marketing, nothing can survive. You're spreading your ideas, your products, what's your produced, your solution. If other people don't give their attention to you or to your solution, if you lose their little to no attention, then you lose all. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the room about the topic that you're talking about. And you may want to showcase this knowledge to everyone. However, if you cannot capture anyone's attention, you won't be able to make an impact on anyone.
[00:05:41] Your ability to persuade others depends on understanding them, their perspectives, and their needs. So, define your audience first. Answer the question, who is my audience? And, you know what, write that down, write that down on a post-it. And keep it in your sight, when you are preparing to present your solution.
[00:06:04] Now that you know, who you are referring to, who you are talking to, getting their attention will be a bit easier. One of the things I have learned, I think was from Lara Hogan, from her book, Demystifying Public Speaking, which I will add a link to the show notes.
[00:06:20] If you're presenting something. You probably already have a passion for it. So like you care about the topic. And you present it right. I know that sometimes someone has forced you to do a presentation, but almost always, it's still a topic you care about. Whether it's an architecture presentation and a new technology, a new feature release, and a new project release; it doesn't matter what it is. It is something you've worked on, spent energy on, and cared about it.
[00:06:52] What you should do is show this passion.
[00:06:55] If you want to keep the audience's attention, show this passion. You are taking the extra mile.
[00:07:02] You have to make this mile visible, and fill it with passion. People often ask me how I keep the attention of the audience during my presentations. The most common answer I give is to reflect my passion for a topic in the presentation.
[00:07:18] How do I do that? What are the small actions I take to reflect it? What I do is I try to think about telling a story to the kids. When you are reading a story to a kid, you imitate the characters to make it interesting and fun. You don't read the story in a monotone new stone. That's what I do.
[00:07:40] I vary my voice. I go ups and downs. I emphasize sentences and words that I want to draw attention to. If I'm on a video call or giving a live presentation, I use my body language. I may look like I'm exaggerating things or moving my arms too much. But weirdly enough, it keeps the audience engaged.
[00:08:05] Another thing you can do is ask questions.
[00:08:09] If you are doing a virtual talk. It feels different from asking a question in the audience and waiting in silence in front of a screen. And you are waiting for just a few people to give answers, but it works still.
[00:08:23] Embrace this awkward silence, in the virtual meetings. If you are giving a live talk, it's easier to look at people's eyes and wait for an answer. Because when you look at the eye, They automatically give you some answers. Ask questions that bring easy answers. Don't expect anyone to stand up or unmute their microphone if in a virtual meeting, and talk two minutes straight. Ask clear questions with possible short answers. For example, you can ask a show of hands who is familiar with the X. This is one of the most common interactions with an audience. This way, you get to know how much people know about the topic you will talk about and their reaction is simple: yes or no. Another way of getting attention is giving reference to the presentations before or after you. If you are at a conference, you probably have access to the speaker's lounge and can talk to other speakers about their talks and get information early on.
[00:09:20] If you're in a company meeting. You can ask the moderator to learn what topics will be. If you have no rehearsals.
[00:09:27] If there are presentations before you give reference to them. If there are related ones after you let them know that it's reached the next ones.
[00:09:37] And another thing is at the beginning of your talk set audience expectations. Let the audience know what they will get. You can share an agenda or a quick overview. Tell them why they should care about your point. Literally, be transparent. When it is clear that they should care, and have an interest. They will try to keep their attention on you. Some people would love to give spoilers and some prefer giving some hints about the content. Both work. You just need to choose, which one is your style?
[00:10:11] And another strategy that you can use to keep attention is using humor. I have seen this works well and sometimes not that great. As we are comfortable with our content, we can be comfortable with jokes.
[00:10:26] But there's one thing, check your humor with multiple people to see if they work and if they are not sexist and racist and et cetera. Another aspect is, to be aware of gender differences and how the audience perceives them differently. When women use humor, they're perceived as less knowledgeable on the topic. On the other side, when men use humor in presentations, they are perceived as more experts on the subject because they have this self-confidence. Although the misperceptions began to disappear these days. Research suggests using the jokes carefully. If you're a listener, be aware of these differences when listening to someone next time as well.
[00:11:10] And another thing I have seen work well is preparing an FAQ for details: frequently asked questions. If you need to give some more details on your presentation, but during the presentation, you don't want to dive deep into the topics. You can add an FAQ for your listeners and go over the questions one by one.
[00:11:32] Thinking about the possible questions will also help you become empathetic. You will understand your audience more. Eliminating details from the presentation also helps you move strategically.
[00:11:42] And the last part of presenting solutions is rehearsing.
[00:11:47] You have to put your work where your heart beats. So get the work, put in your effort, prepare your presentation and rehearse. Practice makes it perfect.
[00:12:00] You can use the fanciest theme or animations and prepare a magnificent presentation. But in the end, it doesn't matter if you cannot really use them. We prepare the fancy slides we bogged down in ticking every box, such as don't put a lot of texts into the slides and don't leave them empty. But it's actually, we forget that without practice, none of them will be useful. When very rehearse the presentation, it gets easier every single time. After you get used to having presentations, your next presentation even feels less stressful and needs less rehearsal.
[00:12:33] It's a skill to learn and the best way to improve the skill is to practice it.
[00:12:37] One of the most common mistakes I have seen, and I have also done many, many times, during the rehearsals, is just stopping and starting from the top. Don't stop and start from the top with every mistake. Just take a note where you need to edit your presentation or change your wording and continue till the end.
[00:12:57] And don't practice it in your head. Practice our out loud. Whenever you put the words one after another out loud, you hear what is working and what is not. When I practice my talks and these podcasts as well, I prepare slides while practicing in my head. Then I practice out loud. When I practice out loud. I discover many mistakes in my speech, and in my words and slides as well. Practicing in the head is only for preparing the presentation for me. It might feel weird talking to yourself in front of the screen when you are sitting. But when you hear your own voice, you recognize the tone you are using and discover the nuances you can embed into your talk.
[00:13:41] And another point while rehearsing is to check your timing. When we start talking, we tend to underestimate the time we take. Practicing with time and honing the presentation accordingly means showing respect to the audience in the end. However, when you start practicing, don't watch the clock. Measure it. But don't keep your one eye on it. I'm sure your first rounds will be over time. And it's okay. First, get used to what you're going to say. Once you're comfortable with the content, then start thinking about which parts you can eliminate.
[00:14:20] Also, it will be easier for you to find out the parts, you can cut it out. When you change something, do another run and see if it worked on or not.
[00:14:30] And another part for rehearsing, in case you have an access to a trusted group of listeners that can provide the feedback, rehearse your presentation with them. After you are done with your solo rehearsals, ask them to be critical of your presentation. Create a group of people who don't hesitate to give you concrete feedback.
[00:14:53] The often think about our intention when we say something and don't recognize how we say it. So surround yourself with people who can show your flaws in how you convey your message. If you have nobody, start giving the talk in smaller groups. If you're in a company, if it's a company presentation, do the presentation to your team first because they already know you and they can give you feedback.
[00:15:17] Well, now that we talked about solving the problems and presenting the solutions, let's recap what are the things that you need to consider when you are presenting solutions.
[00:15:31] First, know your audience. Ask yourself, who is my audience? That's the key question. Write down your answer. Maybe even on a post-it and keep it in your sight during your preparation. The second part is keeping the audience's attention. There are multiple strategies I talked about. Such as varying the voice up and down, setting audience expectations, using humor and et cetera.
[00:15:59] But the main part is for me at least is showing your passion. When you have a passion for something, reflect this passion in your talk. And the last part I talked about rehearsing your presentation. The best practice is practicing out loud. Don't practice on your head. Whenever you put the words out one after another, you hear what is working and what is not. It is very, very different than practicing in your head where you don't hear the words coming out of your mind. Well, that's it.
[00:16:35] If you liked this episode, just send it over to one of your friends who will find this episode interesting. Until next time, take care.