Therese Pocrnick is an agile coach providing guidance for around 1,000 people taking part in large-scale agile programs across multiple teams at companies like Aetna and Slalom Consulting. Her role requires that she communicate at some level with all of these 1,000 people. Needless to say, being a confident communicator is a key ability for her.
When you start, emulate speakers you like
After getting a degree in English and Art History, Therese always thought she would be a professor. Her first experiences with public speaking came while she was student teaching. She had no formal training, but tried to emulate the traits of professors and speakers that she liked.
After working as a scrum master with remote teams and facing the challenge of communicating across several thousand miles, Therese became fascinated with the topic of helping people make those teams communicate and work better. After she transitioned into coaching, she discovered that a lot of it is drawing from her own experiences, and she got lots of on-the-job training.
Looking human is good—and that includes making mistakes
The agile framework, with its required reviews and product presentations, gave Therese some training in public speaking and in presenting to multiple audiences. But even all of that practice does not eliminate stage fright. Therese recalls a situation in which she had to give a presentation to 150 legal and compliance professionals, and she completely “froze” for almost a minute on stage. That event taught her the dangers of being overconfident, and also that it often pays to be more “human” in connecting with your audience—she felt that people actually listened more to her after she showed difficulty on stage, but then recovered.
“I’m nervous every time. No matter how prepared I am, no matter how much I know the topic, I get nervous.” – Therese Pocrnick
How Present! helped
Therese found that Present! provides a unique angle because of Poornima’s and Karen’s engineering backgrounds. Being an engineer who is now solving the problems of people who solve people problems, that resonated with her. The fact that two women wrote the book, giving the opportunity for everyone to hear those voices more often, also appealed to her.
Therese recommends reading Present! because it explores the personal experiences of the authors, but in a way that makes them generally applicable. Also, she has found it useful to help her find an area where she can feel comfortable, practice it, and then refer back to it if she wants to do something different or to, in true agile fashion, “inspect and adapt.”
She finds that Present! often validates things that she is already doing, and brings fresh insights into other areas she can explore. It is a reference to help her grow and expand her capabilities. She has also realized that a lot of the book’s content applies not only to public speaking, but also to facilitation, which is an important aspect of her job.
“(Public speaking) is like chess. It feels very simple, but the nuances of execution can be challenging and it takes practice.” – Therese Pocrnick