by Julian Goldsmith

Book review: Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals

Oct 27, 2010
CareersIT Leadership

Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals By Naomi Karten (IT Governance Publishing)

For many IT leaders, the big challenge is being recognised as business leaders too. Ask any senior-level recruiter and they will say that the ability to present with confidence to a variety of audiences is essential to that role. Therefore it’s a critical skill for any IT professional with ambitions beyond the server room.

Presentation Skills for Technical Professionalsby Naomi Karten is an expansive guide to honing the skills needed to wow an audience. Much of the book deals with the psychology of presenting and the fear many people encounter when they stand up in front of others. It provides a step-by-step guide on how to prepare your presentation, how to psych yourself up and suggests some dos and don’ts of good presentation style.

The final part of the book goes into more depth for those who have mastered the basics, on how the demands of specific audiences impact on presentation style and content. It’s these chapters that provide the most insight and value, in terms of advice to professionals wanting to develop their presentation skills as levers for promotion to more strategic careers.

On first look, it seems Karten has tried to cram too much into one book, but all of the 25 chapters are neatly broken down and recapped at the end.

Karten blogs regularly on her subject of expertise and from her light touch you do get the impression that the book is actually a collection of blogs, rather than a text written specifically for a guidebook.

The book tries to be all things to all readers by catering for the presentation virgin as well as for the seasoned presenter. Certainly anyone who has reached the rank of CIO should find much of it addresses problems they encountered earlier in their careers.

But then, this book isn’t for studying cover-to-cover – it’s for dipping in and out of to gain specific advice where needed, and Karten has structured her advice accordingly so that specific information is easy to find.

She uses examples of her own and others’ experiences of presenting to illustrate her points. Very often, her anecdotes are specific to the IT team, tying a general skill very much into the realm of the IT department.

There’s much to criticise about this book. Many readers will find it over-simplistic, dwelling on points which they may think are self-evident. And, after all, presentation skills aren’t something that can be learned from a book – they have to be gained by painful experience. This is a fact that Karten readily admits in the final chapter.

But it’s hard to think of any aspect of presenting that the book doesn’t cover and all professionals should be able to find something that they can use to improve their own skills, without having to wade through information they already know.

CIOs should already be proficient at presenting but it doesn’t hurt anyone to admit there is more they can learn.

Perhaps the solution is to buy the book for members of your team to study, so that they can build on a soft skill essential for interacting with the rest of the business.

As Karten stresses, effective presenting requires an affinity with the audience whether they have similar understandings of the situation or point of view as you, or not. This experience will certainly help your staff communicate interpersonally with business colleagues too. For that reason, this book could become as useful to your team as any technical manual.

No one can afford to believe they know everything about presenting either, and using this book to brush up on their skills will be time well spent for even seasoned CIOs.

Of special interest will be chapters 18-22, on presenting to management, customers, the team and at conferences. These chapters are written for senior managers in mind.