Achievement Unlocked: Speaking at a conference

speaker under spotlight

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about what the first quarter of 2015 had been like. That was, in a way, to track my progress on the different projects and objectives I had set out to complete during the year. It was also a way to remind myself that I should keep working on them, and structure a bit better the time spent on each one. However, I wasn’t completely honest when writing up that list. And when I say completely honest, I’d like to stress the first part of it.

Yes, that’s right: completely. Of course there wasn’t a single dishonest bit on that blog post, but it’s fair to say that the list of objectives wasn’t 100% complete. I deliberately left out an important one: I wanted to speak at a conference, too. But that list was meant to cover the second quarter of 2015, and I wasn’t confident enough that with all the other things I wanted to do, I could also prepare a presentation for a software conference. I chose the easy thing: leaving it out the list wouldn’t require that I took action on it. Everyone knows that if you don’t write something down, you’re not commiting to it!

But then, Drupalcamp Spain Call for papers opened…

And the idea arose again. I had been wanting to submit a session proposal to some event for quite some time, but always managed to find an excuse to avoid the challenge. No matter how bad you want it, the prospect of putting yourself in front of an audience and talk for about 30-45 minutes, is uncomfortable. I think almost every developer has been through that at least once. On its own, the idea of public speaking is probably quite daunting for anyone who has never done it before. In an industry as opinionated as that of software development, where absolutely every sentence you make is a great candidate to be confronted, I think the challenge is even a bit bigger.

To make it “worse” (in fact better, on reflection), I got some of the guys in the Drupal Spanish community saying that I should do it this year, that how it came that I didn’t have “giving a presentation” in my goals for the year (kudos to @jsbalsera), that I had no excuse this time, etc… Having some colleagues at work encouraging me to submit a session, did help a lot, too. While these are the type of comments people make to try and convince you, it’s obvious that no one is really that desperate to hear talking you for about 30 minutes. However, this time was different than other years. I knew I had no excuse for not doing it, but I also wanted to do it, so somehow I translated people’s comments into demands in my own head, to the point that I ended up convincing myself that if I didn’t do it this time, I’d probably not do it later in the year, so I decided it was time to eat the frog and submit a proposal.

ladder of challenge stages

Since I wanted to keep this post short, I won’t talk about the different ideas I wanted to speak about in the presentation. I won’t talk about the doubts on the topics I wanted to include in the session. I won’t talk about the number of slides I wrote and then disregarded days after, in favour of better ones. Or about the number of stupid gifs I was planning to include. Or about the number of times I practised the session. Or about the multiple days I got stressed for not having the tools in shape as I wanted them to be for the talk. All of that, and other things, could perfectly fit in the ladder of the picture above. But that’s way less important than the key element of a presentation: the audience.

It’s all about the audience

No matter how much you like your content and you think it’s good stuff, the most important aspect to consider when preparing a talk, is the audience. Nobody likes to spend 35€ to spend a weekend sitting down in university rooms listening to people they don’t know just for the sake of doing it. Someone who does that, is giving you 45 minutes of their life without demanding anything in exchange, but politely expecting to get something back. The least you can do is try and make those 45 minutes worth for them.

So I gave my talk, and I think I did it well. The room was fairly crowded, way more than  I had expected (it sounds like a cliché, but it’s the truth), so I’m sure the things I showed and talked about were not of the same relevance to everybody in the room (which I had expected, anyway), yet I’m fairly confident that everybody got something useful out of it.

The most rewarding and reassuring moment was getting some guys coming to talk to me later during the day and the weekend, not only for the usual questions and chat, but also, in some cases, to tell me how much they’d liked a particular tool, or even to say thanks. I was particularly moved by one guy who approached me just to say this: “We’ve had this issue a lot in our projects, and it’s always very time-consuming a pain to deal with. That tool is going to be very useful for us, so I just wanted to say thank you”.

So that’s all there’s to say about it. I didn’t want to make this some kind of cheap motivational post or similar, but I wanted to describe the experience, or part of it. As developers, we have the duty to try and help others and ourselves as much as possible, and sometimes, that means putting yourself in front of a crowd and talk for them all, even if it seems an uncomfortable situation at first. You know how it goes: “With great power…” ;). Or to put it in a better way, stolen from the Simple Programmer blog:

There is no better feeling than impacting someone in a way that will cause them to make a positive improvement in their life.

So stop thinking about it, get out of your comfort zone and try to be helpful for other colleagues in the industry. The worst that can happen is that you learn new things, even if it doesn’t go very well. No matter how it goes, it’s always worth a try.

Oh, yes. The slides for my session (in Spanish), are here:

And the recorded session (in Spanish as well):

SALA 03-02 23 Salva Molina from Asociación Drupal on Vimeo.

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