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3 Lessons Learned From My First (3) Conference Talk(s)

One of my 2015 professional goals to speak at conferences. I set out to the task, reached out to the local community, and got accepted to speak three times in one day! (Three talks in one day was somewhat accidental and I’d recommend a presentation load of less than 3 as a first time public speaking experience.) That day was this past Saturday. I somehow survived this with the lack of sleep, not missing any work and with the support of my co-workers, the community, my parents and dog trainer! (Best dog trainer in the Cleveland: Darwin Dogs)

How’d I do? Well, no one got up and left any of my presentations, I haven’t received any trolling, and people wanted to ask questions afterward, so I’ll take this as a success! There’s definitely room for improvement and I’m really glad to have had the experience of speaking in public. Here are 3 lessons learned:

1. Dry run. A lot.

The presentation that was farthest along got more run-throughs with people – 1x with a peer and at a Ruby meetup group. Practicing the presentation helped tremendously.

a. Flow.

My presentations use a lot of anecdotes and examples to help illustrate the concepts of Agile software development. Dry running allowed me to test whether those anecdotes and examples were distracting or in support the points I was trying to make. It also helped me practice the transitions between concepts.

b. Memory.

I knew the some topics of the presentation better than others. And interestingly, even with topics I knew fairly well, like referencing personal experience, I found it harder to recall during the actual presentation. Doing dry runs definitely commits the presentation to memory, making the actual presentation easier. On a sidenote, I found using speaker notes to be distracting.

c. Speaking in front of people.

It’s within my nature to people please. This holds true with public speaking. Being able to continue speaking while sensing the audience is a hard, yet valuable skill. (An audience can be a distracting thing!) Additionally, taking in that audience feedback (e.g. facial expression, body position) allowed me to adjust my delivery – speed up, slow down, go into more detail, add more/less humor – as needed. Practice definitely helps and gauge expected, and unexpected, responses.

2. Know the presentation room AV tech.

I brought three different types of dongles with me, which proved valuable (as I needed them). One of the conference talks was at a university, where the room had a built in AV system. I was caught off-guard with getting my computer set up with an unfamiliar AV system, especially one where plugging my laptop resulted in my screen being displayed on a huge lecture hall screen. Next time, I’ll definitely ask the conference organizer if I can test prior to the day starting.

3. Save some energy for post-talk questions.

After listening to conference talks, I am usually energized and inspired. I was surprised how tired I was after speaking. People wanted to chat after the talks, which is a good thing. But especially being an introvert, I found having to respond thoughtfully to statements like “I’m not sure what to do with my life”, pretty challenging. I’ve now realize that some questions deserve more time and I can pass along my contact info where hopefully there can be a more meaningful exchange.

Even though three talks in one days was a bit much, I’m glad that I had the experience. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do so with We Can Code It and Case Western Reserve University’s Link-State Conference. I definitely have a better sense of how to prepare and I’m looking forward to my next talk , which as of now is for CodeMash 2016, where I’ll be presenting “Software Development Lessons from Industrial Failures of the 1980s.”