Jen W. is a backend engineer at Yelp in San Francisco and, when not running after her toddler, loves nothing more than to knit while watching superhero TV.

Susanne L. is a database engineer at Yelp in San Francisco and loves to [b/h]ike the hilly city and its surroundings.

Wei W. is an iOS engineer at Yelp in Hamburg and an avid (trashy) TV connoisseur in her free time.

This past year at Grace Hopper, Jen, Susanne, and Wei teamed up to present “Crucial Conversations in Your Career: Increasing Your Impact,” a workshop featuring interactive skits and group discussion. This was their second time presenting this topic, having previously presented at GHC 2015. Learn more about their experiences as second-time speakers, coordinating across time zones, and advice for others who want to get into public speaking!

How did you choose the “Crucial Conversations” topic for a workshop? Where did this idea come from and how did you know there would be interest in this topic?

Wei: Jen, Susanne, and I had all attended GHC together in 2014. Even though we all worked at Yelp, the conference was where we really got to know each other. We were all individually inspired by the talks that we went to, so when we got back, we all had a desire to give back and contribute as speakers in 2015. When I saw that Susanne had decided to brainstorm and develop a GHC talk as a hackathon project, I just glommed on!

Susanne: When I came back from GHC 2014, I had this idea of giving a workshop with the topic of “how to successfully approach a booth at a career fair” because I observed that a lot of women there were not representing themselves to their full potential. During one of Yelp’s internal hackathons, I started a project to work on this topic, then Jen and Wei joined me, and the rest is history! We brainstormed around this topic and other themes we could cover. Jen came up with the idea of performing skits as an engaging format for a workshop, so the whole idea moved towards the more general concept of “crucial conversations” in the workplace.

The three of you also presented a “Crucial Conversations” workshop at Grace Hopper in 2015. Why did you decide to submit a return proposal last year?

Susanne: Because it was so much fun to do the first one! I loved working with my co-presenters. The process was so much fun and so constructive at the same time.

Jen: What Susanne said! We also had an overwhelmingly positive response — people approached us at the career fair, in the conference halls, even on the airplane, to tell us how much they enjoyed the talk. In fact, someone came up to us at GHC this year to tell us how much she loved our talk last year! Speaking at GHC was such a positive experience for us, plus there were additional topics we wanted to explore, so we said, “Let’s do it!”

What changes did you make from your workshop last year compared to this year, in terms of content, presentation structure, or delivery?

Jen: The format stayed the same, but the topics were completely different. Our workshop last year was focused on people starting out in their career — how to effectively ask questions, how to deal with a difficult coworker. This time around, we wanted to focus on mid-career topics such as asking for a promotion and seizing opportunities. The skits were different too — in the first workshop, we drew from our personal experiences (at a previous job, someone literally threw a binder at Susanne!). The situations in the second workshop were much more nuanced and complex — it took a lot longer to develop the skits because it was hard to compress the scenarios into a 2-minute scene.

What was your experience like as return speakers to Grace Hopper? Was there anything surprising about your experience running a workshop for the second time?

Susanne: During my part of the presentation, the system started malfunctioning and randomly running through our slides very fast. So while I tried to control this behavior on our laptop and present at the same time, I got really nervous. I told the audience that we were having trouble with the display, but I think if this were to happen in the future, I would fully stop and wait until the problems are fixed instead of trying to do everything at once. Lesson learned: no matter how much you prepare there can be always things out of your control. Don’t let these things throw you off.

Jen: The room layout was tables instead of rows of seats, so we had to navigate around a bit differently. This also affected the group dynamic — the tables were too big for everyone to hear each other and it took a bit longer for the audience to really get into the workshop.

Your team includes engineers across Yelp teams and even across continents (Jen and Susanne work at Yelp HQ in SF, while Wei works in Hamburg, Germany)! How did you prepare for your workshop working across teams and time zones?

Wei: We met via video conference bi-weekly for months to prepare our proposal, then eventually weekly as the conference drew closer. It was a bit grueling for me since the meetings were always in the evenings, but the end result was totally worth it!

Jen: We deliberately scheduled meetings for Wednesdays when I work from home. That made us all remote, relative to each other, so Susanne and I couldn’t have side conversations excluding Wei and we all had to cope with the connection lag.

Susanne: Wei also came to SF one week before GHC so we had in-person facetime during the final week, which was crucial to giving the whole presentation its polished look.

Are you planning for a round three of “Crucial Conversations”? What’s next for you as speakers and presenters?

Jen: Although my day-to-day life is full of awkward interactions, I think we’ve pretty much covered all of the crucial ones I’ve experienced. I’d love to find more opportunities to present the two workshops we’ve already developed — they’re fun to run and impactful for the participants.

What advice and/or resources do you have for people who are interested in public speaking?

Susanne: Do as many dry runs as you can in a safe space, such as with your team. Ask them and other people you trust for constructive feedback.

Jen: Start small. The first version of our talk was a five minute lightning talk in front of a small group of Women Who Code members. It was a super low key and casual event (helps with the nerves!) and the audience was extremely attentive, which isgreat for feedback. We loved the experience so much, we decided to expand the talk into a full workshop. :)

Wei: Practice, practice, practice! I’m a bundle of nerves before public speaking, and I find that the only cure is to practice my talk a lot so that the content comes out almost like muscle memory.

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