A Public Speaking Success

This was a really exciting (and nerve-racking) week for me. Upon taking my new position at Solace as a Developer Advocate earlier this year I officially joined the Developer Relations community. I knew that this meant I would eventually have to face my fear of public speaking and overcome it. I am proud to say that this week I made a large step towards doing just that. I figured I’d write a quick post on about my week and touch on a few tips that helped me when speaking this week!

The first half of this week was quite hectic for me. I flew to Chicago on Sunday evening for a Developer Workshop with one of our customers on Monday. Then caught a flight Monday evening to San Francisco for MuleSoft Connect on Tuesday & Wednesday. At MuleSoft Connect I did the first conference talk of my career before catching a redeye flight home to Orlando after the conference.

A huge thanks to my friend and colleague, Jonathan Schabowsky @jschabowsky, as this week would have been much more challenging without your help! Jonathan kicked off the all day workshop with a presentation before handing it off to me for the hands on portion. The hands on portion of the workshop was a Google CodeLab that teaches the fundamentals of Spring Cloud Streams (you’ll probably see more on this in a future blog). I was a bit nervous going into the workshop knowing that I would literally be in front of the attendees for 3-5 hours, but I found comfort in the fact that I created the CodeLab materials and was more familiar with them than anyone else. Three key tips here!

  • Tip #1 - If possible, co-speaking with someone you trust for your first talk or two really takes the pressure off. For me speaking with Jonathan really allowed me to relax as I knew if I were to slip up or forget something that he would chime in to provide clarification. CoSpeaking
  • Tip #2 - Create your own materials! I’ve been in countless meetings where I’ve had to present powerpoint slides that were created by someone else and I always have those few moments where I change the slide, there are no notes available, and it isn’t clear to me what point the creator was trying to make with the slide. If you’re going to be talking in front of a live audience I HIGHLY RECOMMEND creating your own presentation material.
  • Tip #3 - It’s okay to pause and think. Most people, including myself, get the urge to speak faster when presenting to a group of people and feel like we have to continually talk. However, this is not the case! It’s okay for there to be short silences between sentences or slides while you think about what you’re going to say next. It also gives the audience an opportunity to take in any diagrams or graphics being displayed.

After arriving in San Francisco after the Developer Workshop my mind had shifted to MuleSoft Connect. It was a two day conference with my speaking slot being on the second day. During the first day I was able to watch a few of the other speakers do their presentations and get a feel for the conference and it’s attendees while talking to folks that came by our booth (Solace was a sponsor). The next morning I met with my co-speaker, Jonathan, to practice and remove some content from our talk. We originally thought we had a 30 minute slot but found out we were only allotted 15 minutes after arriving at the conference. Because of the time adjustment we did a few dry runs at a nearby cafe and timed ourselves to make sure we didn’t have too much content. A few hours later was show time! We were quite surprised when the chairs in the room were already filled up ~5-10 minutes before the talk. We even ran out of standing room by the time the talk started and we were told afterwards that 40-50 people had to be turned away due to the room’s capacity! Once again Jonathan kicked off the talk for the first ~5 minutes and did an introduction before handing it off to me for the last ~10 minutes where I got to show off a preview of our new product that is debuting in the fall. The talk flew bye and we were lucky enough to get a lot of positive feedback throughout the rest of the day after the talk. MuleSoftMocha Here are a few more tips from my experience at MuleSoft Connect:

  • Tip #4 - Practice your talk! Go through your slides or presentation materials several times prior to the actual talk. If using something like powerpoint, use presentation view if possible and add keypoints that you want to make on each slide. And don’t forget to time yourself! You have an allotted time and don’t want someone forcing you to end early.
  • Tip #5 - Accept that you don’t have to know everything. You also don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to present. I’m definitely not. One of my worries before doing public speaking engagements was that people in the audience would know more than me about my subject or try to stump me in the Q&A session by asking a super detailed question. But that isn’t the case. Most audience members will respect you just for going on stage and speaking. They know it’s not easy and aren’t there to badger you or cause issues. As said by Heraclitus - “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” This is especially true in the tech field where things are changing every day. You could learn something in detail 365 days a year and still not know nearly everything there is to know in the tech field. You definitely know things that many of your audience members don’t and vice versa.
  • Tip #6 - Skip the Q&A session. If you’re not comfortable taking questions on the stage just use all the time during your talk and end with something like “Thank you all for attending - If you have any comments or questions I’d love to hear from you and will hang around after the talk”
  • Tip #7 - Duration - Start Short. As the room started to fill up and then went to standing room only I definitely started to get more and more nervous. I was able to calm my nerves and take solace in the fact that I only had to speak for 10 out of the 15 minutes and that I had more than enough material to do so (which I knew from tip #4). For your first few talks I would definitely suggest submitting talks for some of the shorter slots.

I’m still a long way from considering myself a goodcalm public speaker, but this week was a huge first step towards eventually being one! I hope the tips I shared above can also be useful to you as well. Definitely let me know your tips in the comments :)