When I first started this post I was on my way home from VMworld 2017. It was a pretty big week for me, in that these would be my largest public speaking engagements to date. Thanks to the good folks at VMTN and vBrownBag I had the opportunity to present two community sessions. I also joined Mr. Kyle Ruddy to present the last breakout session of the conference for nearly 300 attendees.
In baseball going 2 for 3 is a really good day. In public speaking, that still leaves room for improvement. I learned a ton going through the process of getting ready for and speaking at VMworld. Now that a little time has passed and I can look at the week a bit more rationally, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the lessons learned on public speaking.
I recently saw a post on twitter that I wish I’d saved. It’s kind of been my battle march for 2017. I don’t know if I can do it justice but to paraphrase it said
“Repeat after me:
You do not have to be an expert to present.
You do not have to be an expert to present.
You do not…“
I have been spending a lot of my “free” time over the past few years learning, developing and evolving my PowerShell/PowerCLI skills. At some point I realized that I was often dropping little nuggets of knowledge among my team, community and even occasionally online.
As one of our local VMUG leaders, I help set agenda’s for our meetings. You can see where this one is going… My first big presentation had some technical challenges that rattled me, but hearing things like “I’m fired up to…”, “Thanks for spreading the PowerCLI love!” and the other kudo’s got me fired up to do a little more. Don’t let me fool you: I am not an expert! I am someone who is passionate and who has been effective with a framework. That and a little belief in yourself is all you need!
For me this is the most important point. If you stop reading after this paragraph, I’m good with that. Believe in yourself! Recognize that you have something to offer and give it your all! This isn’t to say that presenting isn’t scary. It can be, but that can also be overcome and be turned into a really positive experience. If you believe you can, then you will.
Preparing for the conference should be pretty obvious, but the way the large conferences work is somewhat counter intuitive. Months before the conference, you have to submit a paper proposal. Then you wait to hear if you were accepted or not. And you wait. And wait. I guess during this waiting period you could be prepping, but what happens if you session proposal doesn’t get accepted, then you’ve expended a bunch of your effort in vain… Once that acceptance does come through, the prep can start happening in earnest.
For me I spent a lot of time figuring out the story that I wanted to convey. Once I had the story I could create an outline and really start building the content out. This isn’t anything new, but in this ever connected world it can be tough to take a break and let you creative mind wander. For me, I was jogging a bunch this past spring/summer (gotta get back on that horse!) and every time I came home I’d say hi to the family and run off to jot down notes. After tapping into the muse, I could start crafting the message that I hoped would allow me to connect with the audience and make it personal. The reason I choose to present is to share and hopefully help others. By creating a message that you believe in and that’s personal can go a long way towards having an engaging audience.
Now just recently I gave a talk which seemed successful, but I waited until the last minute to hammer it out. The week prior I was up until midnight every night getting examples recorded and the presentation dialed in. That lead me to have the material very fresh in my mind, but it certainly cut down on practice time. Which leads me to…
No body likes hearing a ton of “um” and “uh”s when you’re presenting. The way I’ve gotten past this is a by knowing the content and being comfortable with it. For me, that means basically having a script and running through the messaging until I know I’ve got it down cold. I’m an engineer, so being in front of a crowd is not my natural habitat. As such, I have been thrown off my game in the past. The way I get past the person walking out, is by practicing my script well before the day of. It’s like anything, the more comfortable you are with the subject matter, the easier it is to deal with unexpected twists and turns along the way.
Phone a friend
It can be really intimidating standing up in front of people. All eyes are on you. For my big presentation I had a co-presenter, Mr. Kyle Ruddy. And when that hall started filling up, boy was I glad to have him! Having someone up there made a huge difference in my confidence level. If I fumbled or we hit on an area that maybe I didn’t feel as comfortable, I knew that I had a partner willing to step up and help out. I’d like to think that at some point I offered the same value to him.
The other part that’s great about having a buddy presenting with you is that you can make it conversant. Let’s face it, code can be dry, even to those of us who enjoy it. If you have someone you can banter with, it makes the conversation much more real and engaging for your audience.
These are just a few lessons I’ve been trying to learn over the past few months. I know that I’m not alone as an Engineer who finds public speaking intimidating, but I know that intimidation can be overcome. Hopefully my words help, but if not here’s a bunch of other guys from our community that know you can do it too.