It wasn't that long ago that I wouldn't have been able to achieve this, and not for the lack of wanting either as it's been a bit of a dream of mine for a long time. So as you can imagine I'm feeling quite elated by the whole experience! I took an awful lot from both sessions too, met some amazing people, had some great discussions about all sorts of things and also took away some great advice and feedback about presenting in general and my session too.
So for this post I thought I'd jot down some of the things I learnt about presenting and hopefully, if you're contemplating doing it some time, it might help a bit.
My dad told me many, many times that if you don't feel nerves there's something wrong with you, you're just not human. He's not wrong, and if I'm totally honest as I headed over the M62 motorway on that Wednesday afternoon towards Manchester I couldn't help but think, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!".
I've come to not exactly embrace nerves, far from it, but I certainly accept them for what they are. If I couldn't care less about something then the chances are I wouldn't be nervous at all but when something means something, there they are. With that in mind I try not to be too concerned on trying to overcome them but instead use them to ensure I've prepared as well as I can and that I'm focused on what I'm trying to achieve, I guess it might be called "channeling the energy" if you're into that sort of thing.
TL/DR: Everyone gets nerves, so don't try to battle them and instead use them to focus/channel that energy into remembering what you're achieving.
Practice doesn't make perfect, but it makes you much better.
Things go wrong, fact. Preparation is without question key but there's always something. For the second session I forgot a key prop (chocolates) that I use to make a joke about bribery being such an evil word. I'd prepared everything, done the session (with chocolates) the night before but yet here we are.
I didn't even realise until the slide came up, talk about a "DOH" moment but then again, what could I do? So I apologised to the audience, made a mental note to not do that again (I promise), and carried on. The lesson for me was that it's impossible to prepare for every single little eventuality of "what could go wrong" so instead I focused (yeah, that again) my preparation on the good bits; I knew my slides (mostly), knew the code sections and also my lines (that's how I sort of viewed them but instead of being too rigid tried to develop a bit of flow and allow a natural conversation).
Above all, prepare best you can, don't fear the what if's and if something doesn't go to plan, don't beat yourself up, there's next time.
TL/DR: Don't waste time fearing mistakes, they happen to everyone. Relax. You know your stuff.
Self-Doubt and Imposter Syndrome
Another fact, I've never been to a session where the presenter knew everything.
It's true, but yet my old mate imposter syndrome was determined to make me question absolutely everything, even just standing up there. I went through it, seriously I did. Do you think you're some sort of expert? What happens when someone asks you a question and you don't know, what if somebody spots a mistake, what if you've got no idea what you're talking about?! You don't belong up there!!!
Oh yeah, that shit is real.
Imposter syndrome is nasty. It's as if your very own self becomes hell-bent determined to make you doubt pretty much everything that you're trying to do and it's going to come at you at every imaginable angle to try to stop you. Lovely isn't it?
Unlike nerves this is something to overcome, do not accept imposter syndrome.
I don't know or pretend to understand the psychology of it abut what I do know is that there is nothing trying to get in my way and stop me from achieving something - apart from my own self-doubt. A coach of sorts once told me that in those situations remind yourself that you have every single right to be where you are, you've done the hard yards (or metres) so look back on them and know you've earned it. [another cookie]. I love those words (thanks Mr Fisher).
Another thing that sprung to mind, and I can't remember if it was Paul Randal, Gandalf or some other wise old soul who said to remember that everyone who you look up to has been in the very same place where you are now. They might be very established speakers but at one point, they were right where you are now. I took a lot from that.
To lead off that; nerves, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, they effect absolutely everyone. The reason why you are where you are is because you've earned it, now is your time.
TL/DR: Your own self-doubt is yours, so own it, you're exactly where you deserve to be. You've done the hard bit, self-doubt doesn't know what its talking about.
Breaking the ice
The first five or so minutes is a quite a rollercoaster. I turned to humor, for Manchester I had a joke about it being my first time speaking, only that was a lie, it wasn't like I'd driven over and words started coming out of my mouth. I also have a particular slide, my "about me - part two", that shows I'm quite happy to poke fun out of myself. I quite like laughing and to date, it's always got a bit of a laugh from the audience as well.
The fun filled game EVERYONE is playing!!
For me the first few minutes are a great opportunity to give a pretty informal introduction to who you are and what your session is about. After the intro I used a bit of a quiz element (I sort of borrowed this idea from Paul Andrews Azure Icon Game), "fun facts about guillotines" to promote a bit of audience interaction. That really helped, it was very light hearted, a bit of a laugh (if you can laugh about guillotines), and it just broke the ice a little more.
TL/DR: The audience are real people. They know and appreciate what you're doing, they're there to support you so get to know them a bit.
Learn from the experience
Doing two sessions on two nights actually turned out to be a great decision, despite a lot of self-doubt telling me it was a ridiculous idea. I got a lot of feedback after night one so being able to put that into practice straight away was a big help, wish someone had said don't forget the chocolates.
I also got a lot from the questions being asked in the session and actually a couple of them I made mental notes to include the following night (cost - optimisation relationship). They were really excellent points and for me, improved the session for next time. Leeds was no different, I got asked about what query tools I use so when I next present the session, there's a slide on that (with some new bits I've learnt about recently)!
TL/DR: Take all the learning points that you can from the experience.
Yes I had nerves, yes I suffered greatly with imposter syndrome, yes I was absolutely dreading it.
At the same time I rehearsed, I had an approach in mind, used some bits and pieces to gradually get into delivering the presentation. I didn't aim for perfection, I really didn't need the pressure. Some minor things went wrong, I forgot a couple of bits but hey, these things happen, mental note, carry on.
TL/DR: We get the best rewards when we go out of our comfort zone and "DO IT".
I'm no expert, full stop, but I learnt stacks from what was an absolutely brilliant experience. Am I glad I did it? Too right I am and now I'm focusing on the next step! Is that a scary prospect? Too right. Is that, or any element of self-doubt going to stop me?