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So, You Want to be a Conference Presenter? (Testy Testy)

On August 15, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Here is my fantastical fiction guide on how to become a Rockstar Presenter

“It worked for Lanette. I thought I could just wear a cool costume.”-Puposaurus RexHey I heard I just needed a snappy costume

So, how do I get on the internet in a head to toe cat suit complete with insane tail singing with Geordie Keitt and doing improve with Michael Bolton? Serendipity and cool hair, man.

Super Seekrit 3 Step Instruction Manual:

  1. Read a few books, but certainly not ALL of them, for crying out loud who has time on earth to join the Weinborgian Revolution amid all of these new things we must be learning?
  2. Get pissed off and cause a big scene on Twitter &/or Facebook whenever you are rejected for any conference. Claim foul play and bias.
  3. Make sure what you have to say is factual because people remember facts. Maximum charts and references + metrics=WIN


Now you are on your way to fortune & fame in the wonderful world of Presenting for Software Geeks! Surely a matter of time before TED comes calling.

Real Story of How I Became a Presenter

  1. From 1999-2007-Work quietly building experience in the industry. Learn as much as you can by moving around test areas to build product expertise. (or alternately, you can try different jobs to gain experience as well). If you don’t have much experience in the industry, you may want to start with sharing what you are learning, and how you are applying what you are learning.

  2. Attend Conferences-Before I ever presented, I was going to at least 2 conferences a year. Every chance I got, I’d try to attend. Every conference I got to attend, I’d try to attend a session for.

  3. SerendipityJames Bach offered a session at CAST 2007 in Bellevue, WA on Community Leadership. To summarize, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was hiding all of my ideas, thoughts, and comments in a small envelope of my mind, and deciding not to share any of them as they weren’t important, but pretty much, I was.

  4. Have a Point-If you don’t have something to say, please don’t blog? And for the love of all that is holy, don’t present! You need to have a point and be able to express it to be worth the listener’s time. These things take practice. I’d suggest starting to practice in your own blog. Continue to practice there. Practice in your own team. Your own company, and then slowly, as you improve, test out the scale you are at. Get feedback. Improve. Practice and record yourself.

  5. Fail-One of my most important presentations of all time was Testing Beyond the Code. I presented this at Better Software 2010. I was so excited about this presentation. I’d practiced it repeatedly. It had better facts that many of my other presentations. I freaking LOVED this presentation. The audience who came to see it DID NOT so much love it. I felt crushed. This was my Mona Lisa. To me, this was The Best Presentation I Can Do™ and Those Creatins® didn’t appreciate it. I had to go eat worms. In dramatic flourish, promise myself to quit! Tantrums were planned. So, what went wrong?I went wrong. When you present, it isn’t FOR you. It is FOR the audience. Silly artist–soapboxes are boring.

  6. Listen/Grow/Adapt-I put the Code Coverage Isn’t Enough (so open your [email protected] eyes man and stop chasing the green bar!) speech and the coordinating soapbox on the shelf firmly in the storage unit. I labeled “Do not touch. Contents may be dull, early, and self-absorbed.” I promptly moved myself to Reality Town in the district Cafe Getting Over Herself to work on presenting again. I wrote about what I was doing in the last 2 months only. I got back to explaining what I was learning currently. Not pontificating on my great learnings. Not sharing with “those people”, who may not know what I know, but instead, just talking to my people. I prepared less. There were fewer facts. There were more humans and more pictures. It had the best feedback I’ve gotten so far, and I had more fun working on it.

  7. Repeat step 6 and keep remembering that even the most famous dude in all of software is less well known than Snooki-None of the people you see presenting get rich doing this. Maybe if they sell enough book copies or contracts or get a better job due to their network, but I promise you that my total earnings on presenting are now at least a net LOSS of at least ~$6,000 or more, and worth every penny for my future education. I am thankful for every person who has ever given me feedback. For every person who has rejected my papers or asked for a revision, or explained what I could do to better serve those who care enough about software to invest time in hearing a presenter, or better yet, in engaging with them in some sort of debate.


So, How did you end up at CAST in a Cat Costume?
When I got the chance to appear with Geordie, it was because I write and knew him from before. It was because I said yes. It was because I like to improvise and last moment doesn’t scare me. It’s because he knows it was my life’s goal and one of the best parts of 2010 that I got to sing with a live band. It’s because we’ve talked before. You have to be there and participate. You have to be up for it and say yes when other people say no or make polite excuses. You have to want it more and work harder. It’s not just free.

You think you are so great? What now?
So, to summarize, I’m still a beginning presenter. I don’t even have a 10 step plan yet. If you don’t have a point you can’t blog. If you have a point and can communicate it, you can write an article. If you can write an article and explain it well to your team, you can practice on that until you can present at a local special interest group. You can take feedback from that, and go learn how to engage well with others at a conference and go listen to learn how to be a great conference presenter. As you are learning, you can submit at a place that helps new speakers. As you are at those conferences you will meet great people who may hear a lightening talk you can do on the side. Then you can get feedback and submit to another conference. It builds from there.

Before long, you’ll be yourself in public without much trouble. Be it a silly person like me, who thinks a cat costume is hilarious, or a serious person wearing a tie at a casual convention. Whatever style you have, as you get more comfortable, you will be more of it when presenting.
Don’t be afraid to get a mentor. Don’t be so self-absorbed that you forget who has helped you and is STILL helping you. I don’t have just one mentor. It took a team of awesome people for me to get up and try the first time, and even more amazing people for me to get past the fail step.

If you haven’t been rejected yet, you clearly aren’t trying hard enough. -Unknown

 

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