The art of making people really, really happy?
August 11, 2009 5:56 PM   Subscribe

How does one build one's skills to become a world-class technical evangelist?

In a few weeks I'll be getting a new job. The company, people, and work will be awesome. However, I will be moving into a entirely new type of role.

I'll be making a transition to a mostly people-facing role from a mostly non-people-facing role, and I'd like a jump start. For years I've worked as a technical manager. Before that I'd worked as a technical lead and the typical code-in-the-cube, nose-in-the-book software developer. Although decent, my people skills could use a huge boost.

This new position will be 25% team-management, and 75% stakeholder-management. This means I'll be giving a lot of conference talks, holding a lot of after work business meetings, going out for drinks and dinner, getting the right people together in the right place, and trying to woo the stakeholder community and leaving an awesome impression.

I need tips that will make this transition easiest. What are the books, magazines, blogs or people that I should be following? What types of skills should I be practicing? How do I get comfortable with making other people really comfortable? How do I become an expert facilitator to high-end people (Phds, CTOs, Government leaders)?

I've watched others in similar positions before and they seem really good at telling stories, making light humor, and engaging people. How do I practice this?
posted by TheOtherSide to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How to Win Friends and influence People
Never Eat Alone
Yelp (it never hurts to go to the best spots in town, regardless of what town you are in)
posted by milqman at 7:39 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Who do you see out there that's good at this? Good mentors can be exceptionally valuable. As far as getting better at stories and relating to people: Practice, practice, practice. In general, AskMe loves to recommend Toastmasters for getting comfortable with public speaking (haven't tried it myself, but seems like a good suggestion) but I'd also recommend trying out some smaller local events and working to be an active participant. If the company you're working for has customer or user-group meetings, get to those, otherwise find some local events like Barcamps or Ignite evenings where you could practice reaching out to people/

The skills to practice are essentially listening (really listening, not just "I'm a guy, so I'm waiting for a break in the conversation so I can talk again" listening), being open-minded, and truly empathizing with the people you're talking to. Understand who they are, what motivates them and what they want, and then be of service to them all of the time, not just when you want to ask them to do something for you.

Really, I wouldn't necessarily recommend following or reading other tech evangelists -- instead, follow the media and conversations that your stakeholders are interested in. (I'm assuming you have extremely deep, unimpeachable knowledge of your own company's tech, and a true willingness to say "I don't know" when asked about things that exceed that knowledge.) If you're in touch with what they're talking about and thinking about, and can demonstrate it sincerely (instead of just seeming like you studied the night before the meeting), you'll be way, way ahead of the game.

Most important: Study yourself to understand what your biases are, what your perspective is, and where your blind spots lie. Knowing what you might be inclined to miss can help you be aware of things that could otherwise inhibit forming strong relationships with your stakeholders.
posted by anildash at 8:09 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

- Know your technical subject cold and find the people who get off on that. Passion, passion, good humor, passion, passion. Love the subject, love the people. The best technical evangelists love the tech and love the people who love the tech.
- How can I help you? Not: here's what I want to sell you. (listen) Hi! I'm TheOtherSide! Who are you? What are you working on? Tell me about it. (Win Friends & Influence People. Don't be a wallflower.) You can start by talking tech. If small talk isn't your game, think of it as learning. "Really? Cigars? Tell me about the different kinds! Why do you like that kind?"
- Never assume malice, just misunderstanding. Don't make people feel bad, even when they're wrong.
- Take a deep breath with the bigwigs and treat them like people.
- Some of the best technical evangelists I know are always starting something - a blog post, a group project, a contest, a conference, a lab experiment, a new program. They make it fun to talk with them because they always have something going on.

I like Anil's idea about going to barcamps and other conferences to practice schmoozing.
posted by troyer at 12:03 AM on August 12, 2009

Join your local Toastmasters chapter.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:48 PM on August 12, 2009

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