I’m not a professional circuit speaker. This resulted in a lot of hard work, reflection and experimenting to get to a place where I can share a few times a year with others. Since I know I’m not the only person to attend a conference and get inspired to share, I figured I would highlight what my path ended up being.
Back around 2009-10, I started realizing that maybe I had something to share. This is a big first step. I often feel like everything I know, so does everyone else. For one, that’s not true. However, even if you say it was…sometimes what another person needs most is to hear a similar story for validation, reassurance, etc. Take time and write down your biggest ah-ha moments….I’m a betting woman that there is a session in that list.
So I submitted to the conference that inspired me, Agile Alliance. I submitted to the largest Agile conference with no research on what a submission looks like. I just submitted my idea. Needless to say, it wasn’t selected. I could have stopped here and just said “it’s a name game and I’m not interested in being a routine speaker” but I didn’t. Instead, I reached out to people for help. Not in the “my submission wasn’t selected – who do I need to know” but “my submission wasn’t selected and I’m not sure how to write them”. I didn’t just go to one person, I went to a few people. I looked in the submission system for sessions that were selected to help give me templates to start from.
Then someone asked me why I wasn’t trying the smaller local conferences. It hadn’t occurred to me. So I did and I’m so grateful that my first time speaking to an Agile crowd was at a smaller conference. It gave me an opportunity to evolve what my approach and style of delivery would be. It gave me reference data to submit to the larger conferences. It gave me experience. I am extremely grateful for a few experienced presenters that decided to take me under their wing. I clearly remember the moment Pollyanna Pixton approached me at the celebration event and offered to look at my submissions or pair on a submission for next year. She said she wanted to pay it forward. I hope one day I get to do that for someone else too.
In addition, I volunteered. In order to reach out and ask people for help, I wanted to help them first. I volunteered at the conference – I might have handed you your conference badge and t-shirt. I met so many people. I understood not just what I wanted to accomplish at the conference but what the organizers wanted to accomplish. Suddenly, I started comprehending how my submission topics were not coming at the material from the right perspective. This didn’t happen overnight. I had a ton of submission ideas that have never seen daylight. I have a few that people really like. And I continue to challenge myself by creating new submissions and not just sharing the same thing over and over.
Now with that said, you do have to deliver when you get opportunities. If my feedback was low, I know I wouldn’t be invited back to some conferences. I would have to go back and practice more, before targeting larger conferences again. I asked people at my last company for volunteers so I could practice. I did one round of practice of just content feedback. I did a second round of practice with content and delivery. That feedback was huge. If you can get up in front of people you know and deliver, you can deliver to strangers. I’ve seen too many first time presenters flop because they didn’t run though it with fresh external eyes. You know the material too well, it’s easy for you to make leaps that others can’t. In addition, you could also record yourself in a practice run to help give organizers a sense of your style if you don’t have any reference data.
I don’t believe in the name game of selection for conferences. I’ve seen really big names give repeated horrible sessions. Maybe their book rocks but speaking is tough. Public speaking is not for everyone – I don’t care who you are. However, on the flip side of that, when I consistently go to a person’s session year after year and they deliver…I do want them on the program next year. I am eager to hear what they have to say next. Yes, there is a level of people selling/advertising when they are speaking. That said, I’m relieved to be able to say that most people that I’ve met and been able to get to know…it’s not about selling, it’s about sharing. It’s about paying it forward. And if that’s the name game – who is good at paying it forward in sessions, then I would be honored to ever be considered part of that game.
What ideas do you have to improve your ability to share?