Managing Career Transitions – and public speaking – at TEDx

It seems here we are members are on a TEDx roll these days. In June here we are Co-Founder Nasima Karim was invited to speak at a TEDx event in Kyrgyzstan (read her story in the post On the road to TEDx). In October here we are member Petek Jinkins got the chance to speak at a TEDx event in Nice. In this post we ask Petek to share her experiences from TEDx and relate her experience to her life as a global professional.

Good communication skills allow us to form personal connections, share knowledge, motivate colleagues and convince project partners. Communication is one of the 6 career skills to learn while unemployed and to hone – not just in periods of change we experience when we move – but during an entire lifetime. Communication skills alone can have an enormous impact on our career paths.

Written Communication versus Oral Communication

In my career, I’ve focused mostly on written communication. My university had a strong writing program and additional training opportunities in writing. Later as my dual career life unfolded in several non-English speaking countries, I worked with editing, translations and technical writing projects (including research grant applications). Today, it’s still easier for me to put my thoughts down and formulate my arguments on paper than to speak them.

At the time when my proposal to TEDxCIFE was accepted in July 2017, I knew that writing was not a major challenge, nor was I shy in front of crowds; but I hadn’t realized that I still lacked the ability to write an effective speech to a diverse audience watching both in-house and behind the camera.

Written language tends to be more complex with longer sentences structured layout and punctuation. This is my background. Writing about a topic requires that we engage the reader with facts, arguments and counter-arguments. Written material allows audiences to go back and forth through the pages. Over time, I have trained myself to get better at writing on complicated subjects, but I’m also working to communicate them in simpler terms to become relevant in the job market. I do this by building my portfolio, both as a volunteer and in paid positions.

Spoken language, on the other hand, tends to be full of repetitions, incomplete sentences, corrections and interruptions. We all engage in this every day without giving it much thought. A speech delivered to a crowd is a bit different: It is usually transient, and spoken stories ought to move listeners who look for an emotional connection to the topic.

Before I applied to TEDx, I entered a few competitions in my local networks, to prepare myself for personal development in public speaking. I lost two competitions, but knew then that I can learn and practice creating personal value and emotional connections when delivering a speech.

Preparing for a public speaking platform requires you to combine written and spoken language practices into one effective form of communication with one thing constantly on our minds: The target audience.

Lessons learned preparing for TEDx

I had about 2,5 months to write and practice my TEDx speech, which was about Managing Career Transitions in Dual Career Mobility Context. The last 3 weeks of this exercise were grueling, stressful, and really got me thinking about why I decided to put myself out there in the first place.

  • My motivation

I wanted to show that I think about current important problems, that I have the ability to present them, and that I can present them live in front of a crowd. I also wanted to fine tune my skills in using effective body language and facial expressions, and control my voice. (For the latter, I worked with a local coach)

  • My primary challenge

I struggled most with the writing part because what I wrote was almost impossible to tell as a story in its earlier form: it was factual, well-referenced, and technical. I spent a lot of time talking through my points and converting my writing into speaking like a normal human being.

  • My big discovery

My new goal was to speak well in public, but my competing commitment was to prove myself as an effective writer. I had to fight myself and my tendency to focus on written details, in order to keep focused on my new overarching goal to be an effective public speaker. I was talking about transitions, yet down to the last few weeks before the event, my mindset had not transitioned from writer to speaker.

Thinking about my new audience (what they might retain, how they might relate) and practicing body language and voice helped me stay on track.

In the end, I finished my speech, learned it by heart, and experimented with a little improvisation. My talk is soon to become online and I think I’m still a work in progress. I can’t wait to do it again!

Speaking Skills in a Global Context

As dual career professionals, we have to also account for the fact we communicate with diverse groups of people – expats and locals – on a daily basis. Therefore, at least some thought has to go into how we can be more effective in our communication style, to make sure that our contributions aren’t buried under language and cultural differences.

Different cultures like to receive information —and trust information they receive from different sources—in different ways. —Deborah Valentine, Emory University

From a perspective of integration into the labor market, we cannot be effective in our area of business if we don’t understand major and minor cultural differences in communication. We have to keep in mind that each time we talk to someone, they are an audience and they receive information in a particular way.

I have experienced this in Taiwan, Turkey and the United States: Everyone likes a good story; while some cultures expect more history and detail of processes, and others appreciate a concise, factual communication with references to current people and events.

The cultural differences aren’t only hidden in country cultures, but also industry cultures: business, engineer, entrepreneur, social worker. What we do, affects how we work, what we talk about and how we talk about it.

To me, speaking to locals in my current host country is much like delivering a public speech. I have to keep in mind that my audience is the person in front of me: their culture and their career informs what they focus on in life, how they solve problems, what they like to talk about or what topics they’d like to hear.

Here we are member Petek Jinkins is a Technical Writer and HR professional currently located in Copenhagen Denmark. 

Want to learn more about TEDx? A TEDx event is a locally organized event inspired by the global TED event held every year, you can find more information in a short youtube video explaining TED and TEDx. Check TED’s event sight to see, if there is a local groups organizing TEDx events near you.

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