Big or small – it’s always been a goal of mine to speak at a developer conference on a topic of pretty much anything where the focus is solely on getting the information out there. Like anything in life you cannot go straight to uber Architect, you need to put in the time and hustle to make it happen. Outside of your place of employment, no one is going to hand it to you, you need to go get it.
This morning I did that.
This isn’t the first presentation I’ve done, but I’d easily say the first one where it was in front of my peers – not people looking to buy a product, not people getting started with a product, not a mix of influencers and decision makers but a group of developers looking to learn something new, looking to add something to their toolbox, looking for a spark or idea on how to approach a problem in their company.
Before, during and after I thought of a number of things that I thought of, need to do a better job of and need to adjust for on the fly. If this is something you’re looking to do, maybe they’ll help you out.
When speaking at a conference, you have a set amount of time, know your limits, speak within it. There is only so much you can cram in and you want people to be wanting more of what you have presented. I thought about using my phone as a stopwatch but didn’t want it to go off and play some goofy, distracting toon. Instead the timer on my Powerpoint deck (Speaker View) did the trick. Be respectful of your audience’s time, they have other sessions they want to go see and yes, they probably need to go to the bathroom as well.
Don’t change your message based on the audience, who is there came to see what you have to show and tell so show and tell them. If anything the experience is probably a little more intimate as people can ask questions during the way – which in general I’ve always thought makes a session go better and allows for both speaker and audience to get more out of the session. Does your audience not know what you are talking about? I.e., it’s all net new, then give them those nuggets of wisdom all the way through and help them get on board.
Get there early and validate it all, stand at the back of the room and see what people will see. One mistake I made was I went to the back of the room, looked at my deck and it looked pretty good when the font was 30+, but when the code samples came up, that little bit of blur made it impossible for the audience to recognize. I had to do some on-the-fly translating but this probably would have made it much easier for people to see. Another thing which I have yet to invest in is one of those $25 USB presentation controllers, every time I use one I think – “How did I not use this before?” – well today I didn’t have one, because I have yet to buy one, and was sorely missing it.
Sitting in the corner on your phone, waiting for the session to start isn’t the most welcoming of ways to bring people in. I’m not great at this, but I forced myself to put it down and welcome people as they came in – maybe start up some small conversations re: past sessions, the city or keynote. It’s not hard and breaks the ice a bit – makes everyone feel comfortable and if anything gets your mind off what is next.
A Gift from the Demo Gods
In development circles, there is a small prayer that happens before a demo – “Please let this work and I will do anything…” – it always stinks when something you have put so much effort into blows up in your face. I had this happen late last night, I had got lost in what I was building and in the final demo, messed up some earlier ones. It was too much to backtrack on as the final demo is really great so I turned it into an opportunity to show the audience why they should do the opposite I had done and what happens when you don’t build follow the steps I was outlining. Not sure how it went off, but I was up front about it being a “dog’s breakfast” which got a few chuckles.
Laugh it up
You are only human and can only do so much. Despite our best laid plans, the internet will crash, someone will disagree with you, there will be a fire alarm (not today, but some day) – have a laugh, make a joke when something goes wrong and enjoy it.
Now if you’ll excuse, I need to go prepare for my next presentation.