How To Use Silly Hats For Effective Speaking

Categories: #LifeAtGR, Eng

The moment I received Slack access at Grand Rounds, I searched for two channels: women in tech and pictures of dogs. I’ll save my love for dogs for another time, but for now, let’s talk about the Grand Rounds’ Women in Tech ERG (Employee Resource Group).

I have the opportunity to be part of the Women in Tech’s leadership team where I get to help plan events and initiatives focused on effective professional development. While it’s great to grab a glass of wine with colleagues from different engineering teams across the organization, it’s even better to work together to build skills that give us distinct advantages in our career growth.

My first initiative for the group was to launch our Speaking Workshop Series. I don’t consider myself a great public speaker, but I’ve spent a lot of time practicing my public speaking skills and have seen how it has helped me develop my confidence when sharing my viewpoint, ultimately influencing key decisions. I was excited to create an environment where the group could benefit in the same way. The workshop is a comfortable space to practice public speaking and get actionable feedback. Our speaking topics are intentionally non-technical, things that anyone can talk about without preparation, so that we can concentrate only on speaking skills without tripping over terminology or dealing with additional complexity. With consistent practice, we’re more prepared to speak well in front of a crowd when a technical talk does come up.

Each workshop has a theme (the most recent being “The Definitive Guide”) and when we kick off a workshop, we identify volunteers who want to practice speaking—doesn’t need to be everyone, maybe 4 or 5 people. The speakers think of a topic they know a lot about, or pick a topic out of a hat like “The Definitive Guide to Restaurants in SF” or “The Definitive Guide to Emojis”. We then break for 15 minutes and mingle while the speakers prepare their off-the-cuff presentations.

Meghan talking with the team
Women in Tech: Speaking Series Workshop Edition

During each speaker’s presentation, we rotate a few audience roles as well, complete with silly hats. Each hat indicates a consistent role and responsibility, serving as a good visual reminder for the speaker. Plus, silly hats are silly, and we’re there to have fun too. The Umpire wears a crown and counts filler words like “um”, “uh”, and “like”. Removing filler words allows the content to shine through more clearly and confidently. The Time Lord wears a viking helmet and times the presentation, giving signals when each minute passes. We typically have around fifteen attendees for each workshop, which allows everyone to participate.

After each presentation, everyone in the audience offers actionable, specific feedback. Our Umpire and Time Lord participate in this as well. When giving feedback, “but”s are not allowed. We structure our feedback as something positive and something to improve. Feedback might be something like “I really enjoyed the way you structured the content of the talk, and next time, you may want to project your voice so that it’s easier to hear from the back of the room.” One of my favorite pieces of feedback was when a speaker hit some technical difficulties: “You don’t have to say sorry when the presentation doesn’t work, technical difficulties happen to everyone, so stay confident and continue on.”

So, does this type of workshop actually help people become better speakers? You bet. At the latest Demo Day presentations, a couple of our speaking workshop participants presented on their recent technical work. The talks were clear, interesting, and delivered with confidence. Afterward, technical leaders remarked (unprompted!) how they’ve noticed an improvement in these women’s speaking skills. Not only did we improve our speaking skills, we’ve also created a safe space and community in which to challenge our growth. The sense of belonging and collective growth brings the group together and creates value far beyond a Slack channel.

Meghan's Team
Women in Tech: Speaking Series Workshop Edition

What’s next for our Women in Tech ERG? We’re organizing volunteering events, attending and hosting meetups, forming mentorship circles to build specific skill sets, and engaging in various social activities. Of course, we’ll continue with our speaking workshops, occasionally bringing in speaking experts to further expand our skills.

Our Speaking Workshop Series is just one example of the kind of transformative professional growth that we cultivate at Grand Rounds. We grow our skills and careers not only through the challenging work we tackle everyday but also through the intentional practice of building new strengths together. We support each other’s progress and by rooting for the team, we all win. This distinctive style of collaboration sits at the base of how the company operates, solidifying our commitment and vision to disrupt the $3.5T healthcare industry like no one has done before.

If this sounds like something you’d love to be a part of, reach out to me to learn more or apply to one of our many open tech roles. We can’t wait to have you join our team!

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