Liz Pope
Jun 7, 2016
6 mins reading time

First time speaker

I’ve recently spoken at a conference for the very first time, and just a week before the event I was worried about my lack of preparation, but all I was doing was procrastinating…

Why wasn’t I ready?

I’d had the structure of the talk, “Are your testers valuable?”, sorted since I submitted my idea to Agile Manchester, and had fleshed it out as soon as it was accepted back in February. I’d even written large chunks of the talk and had made notes on what slides I expected to need. My good preparation early on was the problem, I was so proud of myself for being so organised that I’d never got round to finishing that prep!

I‘m a last minute person, I work best under pressure. Which is really beneficial in many ways, however it does mean I find it difficult to motivate myself to do something if it isn’t urgent. I’m also prone to putting myself under huge amounts of pressure to do things well, and regularly doubt my ability. In this instance I was doubting my ability to speak in front of an audience on the subject I’d chosen, even though I know I’m a good public speaker and know the topic inside out! This is referred to as Imposter Syndrome and is difficult to overcome especially in times of high pressure.

Panic and self doubt

The worry started to show the week before the conference. I felt unprepared and was beginning to wonder why the hell I’d thought it was a good idea all those months ago to put in a speaker submission and why the conference committee had even accepted my idea! I was questioning myself constantly: “Would anyone even care about what I had to say?”, “Was it interesting?”, “Did I know enough to do the subject justice?”. It’s safe to say I was in panic mode. This led to procrastination, sometimes known in these scenarios as displacement activity, through fear that if I did prepare and I didn’t do well then I couldn’t blame my lack of preparation!

Taking action

Despite my procrastination I did manage to kick myself into gear and in the week running up to the conference I put in a lot of late nights, and my poor boyfriend had to listen to my talk about 15 times! I changed, added, removed content and started to feel more confident in what I was going to present. I was almost ready. I hadn’t packed my suitcase for the days away (I did that last minute too!), but I had got my talk ready. Phew!

On the morning of the talk I arrived at the conference venue, and after getting the obligatory bag of swag I headed straight for the quiet room (or emergency kitten room - see image below!) to do some final rehearsing and attempted to relax.

Emergency Kittens

The Talk

Speaking for 40 or so minutes sounds like a long time, but it seemed to fly by. I tried to concentrate on speaking slowly, taking regular pauses, having a drink of water and looking at the audience, not just staring at my notes. During the talk I actually felt quite comfortable, and think I only stumbled or forgot what I was saying once, luckily the drama training I had as a teenager kicked in and I just ignored my little slip up and continued as if nothing had happened - no one noticed! It’s important to remember that you’ll notice your own small mistakes more than others will, they don’t know what you’d planned to say, so won’t know if you go slightly astray. I can remember little else of the talk, other than a few nodding heads and people taking photos of some of my slides - which you can view at the bottom of the blog post.

Relief

It was over! I’d done it! I could finally relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. I’m certainly pleased that I spoke on the first day, as I’d been unable to attend any other talks until it was over (because of my own nerves), so it would have been a shame to miss any more sessions.

Feedback

There were a few questions after my talk, which I felt was a good sign, as it showed people were engaged with what I was saying. Once the official questions were over (and people had applauded!) others came over to me wanting to chat about my talk and ask some general testing advice.

I also got a few mentions and new followers on twitter, and everyone knows the internet is the only way you can really judge your success! Here’s my favourite:

Throughout the rest of the conference people approached me saying they’d enjoyed my talk, and one person even said it made him want to go back to his office and give their team’s Tester a hug - I can’t ask for better feedback than that!

Learnings

Most importantly I learnt that I enjoyed the experience. I was nervous in the run up, but the feedback I received afterwards and the sense of achievement at having done it made it all worthwhile. I definitely want to speak at a conference again.

Next time I must have the confidence to show my talk to others earlier. Lots of people offered to take a look at it, but I never took them up on it. Probably because I’m quite stubborn and like to do things myself, and also because I was nervous about showing it to others in case they didn’t like it and I had to change everything! That was foolish, as someone else’s feedback would have been really valuable in boosting my confidence prior to the event and making the talk better.

Even though it’s against my nature, I really must prepare earlier. I still think I did a good job, and am proud of what I achieved, but I’d like to not feel so anxious prior to my next talk and instead feel confident and ready! So roll on Agile on the Beach in September where I’ll be speaking about the “Pros and cons of 10% time”, only then will we know whether I really learnt from this experience!

Finally, a big thank you to Agile Manchester - a really friendly and welcoming place to do my first ever conference talk. It’s an event I would recommend to others whether you’re looking for somewhere to speak at or attend.

Tags Speaking, Conference, Testing