Women in the technology industry face their fair share of challenges – lack of professional visibility being the biggest one. However, when one woman helps another, brilliant things can happen. In this interview, Karen Catlin explains how public speaking has helped her develop a striking personal brand and how her inspiring book, ‘Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking’, can empower every woman in tech.
What is the biggest challenge for women in technology today and what is needed to overcome those challenges?
As an advocate for Women in Tech, I’ve coached hundreds of women working in tech companies. Many of my clients keep their heads-down whilst doing great work and assume that others will see the impact of their work and take notice. While this can happen some of the time, it’s not something to leave to chance. To help my clients overcome this challenge, I work towards increasing their visibility by:
- Building their professional network
- Describing their work in terms of the impact it has on business goals
- Sharing their expertise through public speaking at internal meetings, community meetups, and on conference podiums.
How has public speaking empowered you to develop a great personal brand?
Public speaking is like a multivitamin for your career— it increases your visibility, strengthens your brand, and expands your network. While I did some public speaking in the first 25 years of my career building software products, I didn’t really get serious about it until I started my second career. As an advocate for Women in Tech, I realized I had to do more speaking to build my new brand, share my ideas from a ‘Women in Tech’ perspective, and grow my coaching business.
As I launched my business, I set a goal for myself: to speak in public once a month. That was about 5 years ago, and I am proud to say that I’ve met that goal. I have grown to love public speaking and I am somewhat of a public speaking geek. I even gave a TEDx talk!
What inspired you to work on your book ‘Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking’? Tell us the story!
My co-author, Poornima Vijayashanker, and I had two simple goals. The first is to share all the public speaking tips that worked for us and the students we’ve coached. Neither of us was born with a public speaking gene as we’re both introverts and have worked hard to develop our public speaking skills. As techies, we’ve had to present abstract and complex concepts to teammates, bosses, and customers, and we’ve learned what engages audiences. Along the way, we also learned what causes an audience to tune out. By writing the book, we have shared our tried-and-tested techniques to teach others the craft of successfully speaking in public.
Our second goal is to see more people speak. Furthermore, Poornima and I believe in making the tech community more inclusive, and part of that mission is to encourage people from all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences to share their expertise. Frankly, we’re tired of all-male, primarily-male panels and keynotes at tech conferences. We want to see more women and underrepresented minorities giving talks at meetings at their tech companies, meetups, and on stage at larger industry events. With our book, we hope to inspire more people to raise their hand to public speaking opportunities.
What is your advice to those who are absolutely terrified of speaking in public?
I love this quote from the comedian Jerry Seinfeld: “A recent survey stated that the average person’s greatest fear is having to give a speech in public. Somehow this ranked even higher than death which was third on the list. So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy.”
So, if you’re terrified of speaking in public, you’re not alone! Also, I’ve been there myself. And if I can conquer stage fright, I think you can as well. Ultimately, our advice is to just do it. With each talk you give, you’ll build more confidence, which will help keep your nerves at bay.