What is your stereotype of a ‘‘young person in tech’’? Does it conjure up the image of a quiet, socially awkward person sitting in a corner mashing his keyboard all day and thinking about code or Star Trek? I love tech but I’ve always been determined never to be that person. The tech industry is like any other. To succeed in it, you need more than great ideas and technical expertise—you need to be able to communicate your message.
Living in the Waterloo region in Canada, fondly referred to by Canadians as the “Silicon Valley of the North,” I am lucky to be surrounded by a vibrant tech community. I have attended dozens of tech-related events in the area and seen how communication skills, or the lack thereof, can make or break a business.
I recently graduated from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program at the University of Waterloo and work for the software firm Venuiti Solutions Inc., as well as for the nonprofit organization Trusted Clothes. I have noted five essential streams of communication.
- Vertical communication upward with your supervisors and bosses
- Vertical communication downward with your employees and those you supervise
- Horizontal communication with colleagues
- Communication with clients
- Communication with other outside sources (e.g., employees of other companies)
It is important to be aware of how we communicate in each of these streams. It is no longer sufficient to just deliver excellent presentations to colleagues and clients. Today, we must effectively convey our thoughts via a variety of platforms (phone, video chat, email and social media) to a diverse set of listeners—many of whom may not have English as their first language. One thing I’ve learned is that regardless of the platform, I always stand up straight and smile when I speak to better project my voice and confidence.
The way I explain a technical feature to a developer in Russia is going to be different from how I do so for a CEO in the United States.
It’s important to know the background, skill set and key motivations of the people you’re speaking to. Every time we have a new member on our team, or a new client, I research that individual on LinkedIn to get a better understanding of them. This helps to ensure I’m respecting that person’s time and delivering information in the most effective way possible. The way I explain a technical feature to a developer in Russia is going to be different from how I do so for a CEO in the United States. Knowing how to communicate with diverse groups is a skill often developed through “trial by fire.” By consciously working on it, you set yourself up for future success.
At KW Toastmasters, we are lucky to have a diverse membership, from entrepreneurs in their 50s to new Canadians looking to expand their communication skills. As club president, I have supportive people who help me uphold our great club atmosphere. Many are techie millennials themselves. We help each other expand our skills and, as a result, many of us see improvements in our careers and daily lives. Giving speeches and participating in Table Topics teach the importance of vocal variety, body language and so much more.
Another key tip for young tech professionals, other than to join Toastmasters, is to use your network. Find mentors who can help you. This can be as easy as asking a question on LinkedIn or through an online forum. I recently became a project manager and one of the first things I did was to reach out to someone more experienced to ask for advice. I also mentor individuals and I often learn new things from them.
Thanks to Toastmasters and the demand for communication skills in the marketplace, it’s time for the stereotype of the socially awkward techie to give way to the image of a confident, articulate millennial.
Aazir Munir, ALB is a project manager at Venuiti Solutions Inc. in Kitchener, Canada and president of Kitchener-Waterloo Toastmasters.