Up through my college years, I was notorious among my peers to be the perfect picture of a shy guy. I was pretty good at science and knew all the technicalities but talking to others was my biggest pet peeve.
As I graduated and got my head into the Data Science ‘cloud’ I came to realize that communication was everything. It started when I was on an internship working with a professor, a research scientist who would compliment me every single time on my analytical skills until he figured out that I have that common setback: The phobia of public speaking. He helped a lot by giving me instructions and letting me face the public whenever we were doing any presentation. It was REALLY tough for me but it helped a lot.
As I kept living up to his advice I developed that habit to ‘have a word’ no matter what the situation looks like. To spike it up I had to add a few tactics myself to come to that point. Here is how I developed that skill.
1. Going live
Oh yeah! When I say ‘Going live’ I mean it.
Whether I complete a teeny tiny data science project or the one that took months to complete, I hold live events on Zoom or Youtube Live to explain the hidden idea of my analysis. Some of the participants challenge my ideas and experienced folks would give me advice and tell me what’s missing.
2. Interacting with the data science community
An anthropologist once proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he gave them the signal to run they all took each other’s hand and ran together, then sat in a circle enjoying their treat. When he asked them why they chose to run as a group when they could have had more fruit individually, one child spoke up and said: ‘UBUNTU’ which means in the Xhosa culture: “I am because we are.”
This shows how important community is and I found a way to belong in a community where I can share my thoughts and start a conversation. The most exciting part of a community is that there will always be someone out there ready to give a hand whether you’re learning a new skill or trying to overcome a weakness.
There is a load of communities out there for data scientists. Pick one and go through the motion. Interact, interact and interact. Don’t be shy. Speak aloud when a window opens up.
3. Throwing myself a big show
Some people lack self-confidence. They can’t come to convince themselves that they can do something. Those who excel in storytelling have typically learned what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.
It can be a long process to come to that point but hey, making a few steps at a time is a million times better than staying still. Imagine yourself reading each slide out loud during a presentation. There is nothing worse than that. It creates a painful audience experience. You have to know your audience to give a good presentation and this means practice, practice, and more practice. Your slide can remind you of the next topic but shouldn’t act like your speaking notes.
I tried to solve that the best way I can by getting comfortable with the material as I prepare for the presentation. I always manage to have a data science project in hand no matter how tiny it is and do the following to practice my communication skills.
- I Write out speaking notes with the important points I want to make with each slide.
- I then practice what I want to say out loud to myself: this ignites a different part of the brain to help me remember my talking points. It also forces me to articulate the transitions between slides that sometimes trip up presenters.
- I give myself a mock presentation or even invite a friend to be in my auditorium. After rehearsing, I ask myself these questions:
- Was my tone established according to the importance of the point I’m making? If not I think about another way to hone my tone.
- Was I in the right time frame? If you had 3minutes to tell your audience what they need to know, would you deliver in 10min? or 15? I think about it and try to work the clock.
- Did I convey what’s at stake? I make sure that the gist is not off-topic and if it appears to be I bring it back real quick.
- How was my closing? I make sure my closing was not abrupt.
The bottom line. Business decisions will be made upon your analysis and hopefully bring value to the company and that’s primarily what you’re hired for. Business leaders are men of words. They won’t surely fall for your fancy methods you used in your intel. They want you to translate your findings into plain English. Your ability to deliver, tell a story will make you an accomplished Data Nerd.