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Management

Soft Skills for CAD Managers: Speaking and Presenting

28 Oct, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Like it or not, all CAD managers are communicators — and improving your presentation skills is definitely worth the work.


I’m often asked about the non-technical “soft skills” required to be a great CAD manager. The topic of speaking, in particular, gives rise to these questions, and for good reason: After all, if you can’t explain what you’re doing to those around you, it stands to reason that you won’t be successful. So with this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll be starting a periodic series called “Soft Skills for CAD Managers” to help you with all the non-technical aspects of your job. And in this first installment, we’ll focus on how to be a better speaker and presenter. Here goes.

Yes, You Are a Speaker!

I often hear the comment, “I’m a CAD manager, not a public speaker” from CAD managers that are loath to speak in public. They often amplify their objections with phrases like, “I’m technical, not a presenter” or “I’m scared of public speaking and would prefer to avoid it” as the conversation goes on. My response to this line of reasoning is always to ask the CAD manager a short series of diagnostic questions:

  • Do you ever have to present your budget to your boss?
  • Do you ever have to lead training classes for your users?
  • Do you ever have to explain complex concepts to teams that don’t understand CAD?

After I hear three “yes” answers in response, I confront the CAD manager with this short speech: “You just told me you have to speak/present to managers, users, and extended teams about what you do — so you are a speaker, whether you like it or not. Now you can choose to be a poor speaker and suffer, or you can choose to become a better speaker and watch your career move forward. Which will you choose?”


iStock.com/LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS

Avoid Style Traps

Assuming you make the logical choice to become a better speaker, let’s talk about what you should and shouldn’t change about your speaking style via a list of Dos and Don’ts. These recommendations are based on my own trial-and-error experiences over years of public speaking.

Don’t:

  • Radically change your vocabulary. The best speakers sound like themselves, so your challenge is to present better while still being you.
     
  • Try to be something you aren’t. You’re a CAD manager, so you’ll never sound like an accountant. Don’t try to pack your talks with a bunch of accounting acronyms or words you don’t understand.
     
  • Try to sound like a marketing professional. CAD managers come from Realsville, so if you try to sound like a marketing pro you won’t sound genuine.

Do:

  • Un-geek your speak. Try to communicate using a “standard English” approach whenever possible. Those who don’t know CAD that well will follow you better, and those who do know CAD won’t mind.
     
  • Target your language. If you’re presenting the features of an updated software package to experienced users, feel free to use software-specific terms that the audience will understand. On the other hand, if you’re giving an executive summary on the software’s capabilities to project management staff, you’ll want to emphasize cost savings and productivity enhancements. Speak to your audience in their native language!
     
  • Bring the financial clarity. If you’re talking about a standards problem, don’t dwell on bits and bytes, simply say that the lack of standards compliance is costing time and money. Executives don’t need to understand the technical content; they do need to understand that money is being wasted. And when you speak to users, they also need to understand that not using standards leads to wasted time and money as well.
     
  • Work from high (why) to low (how). Start with a high-level summation of your topic and explain why you are talking about it, then go into low-level details as needed. Trust me when I say that most non-technologists really need a broader overview before getting into the nitty-gritty.

Keep these dos and don’ts in the back of your mind whenever you give any type of talk or training class, and they will become second nature to you. I also found that as I started crafting my talks using these do’s and don’ts that I started to think more like a manager and was more respected by management staffs, which led to being more promotable. Yes, speaking better opens many doors!

Manage Expectations

Let’s say you’ve been assigned to give a brief talk about your building information modeling (BIM) implementation at your company’s quarterly meeting. How will you frame your talk?

First, don’t give a presentation called “BIM,” because the title is so vague that your audience has no way to know what you’ll talk about — raising the chance that they will expect something you won’t deliver. Instead, choose a title like, “A Quick Overview on How XYZ Corp Is Implementing BIM.” This is a better choice because it communicates the following specifics:

  1. You’ll talk about how BIM is affecting your company
  2. The level of detail will be low (because it’s “quick”) 
  3. The presentation will be appropriate for all company employees (because it’s an “overview”). 

You’ve now set yourself up to win, because everyone has a good sense of your talk before you even start.

When you begin your presentation, state what you’ll talk about first, to set audience expectations before you do anything else. Next, build upon that topic outline, using these dos and don’ts:

Don’t:

  • Train people how to use BIM. This is an overview, not a training class.
     
  • Use a lot of jargon. Remember to un-geek your speak; you’re communicating with a general audience, not BIM experts.

Do:

  • Use cool pictures or videos and talk over them. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.
     
  • Choose familiar examples for your pictures or videos. If you showcase a project that your audience is familiar with, people will automatically feel a level of comfort, because they’ve lived through that project. Familiar examples generate much better results than starting from an abstract example.
     
  • Move at a brisk pace (but not too fast). You want to make sure people are interested, not confused — and definitely not bored. You can get a better sense of how quickly you move through the material by recording yourself (read on for more on that subject).

If you use these tips to set up your talk, you’ll always do better because you will deliver an appropriately detailed talk that is in line with audience expectations. It often startles me how many speakers do not follow these commonsense guidelines.

How Does It Flow — and Sound?

Now that you’ve devised your presentation and know how it will look, it is time to see how everything will flow and sound. I find the best preparation is to imagine myself giving the presentation and recording my verbal ramblings using my iPhone’s voice memo feature, or by using a full-blown recording tool like Camtasia on my computer. I then play back my imaginary presentation and decide which parts to keep, establish topic order, and work out a timeline. Using this methodology, I program my brain to speak through the presentation as I develop it, which is the most effective means of rehearsal.

And since you’re recording yourself, it is time to be brutally honest about your speech patterns. When I started recording myself, I immediately took action to moderate my regional accent, reduce “ums” and “ahs,” and to improve the tonal quality of my speaking voice. Bottom line: Nothing I’ve done has improved my presentations and speaking skills more than listening to myself speak!

Summing Up

I encourage all CAD managers to view themselves as communicators who can benefit from improving their presentation skills. I hope you can use my diagnostic questions and tips to better craft your presentations, build better training classes, and speak with your management teams more effectively.

Will this require some change and work on your part? Absolutely. Will this change be worth it? Again, absolutely! Until next time.

 


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green


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