My first conference tech talk

When I started working as a Marketing Specialist in the tech world, I never thought about becoming a speaker. It isn’t that I didn’t think it was a reachable goal. I spoke in front of crowds in the past, but it just didn’t occur to me in a tech setting. This is what I call the I am not the expert syndrome. I always imagined myself in the background — which is funny because I have many opinions and I like to share.

I am not the expert

I attended and organized many events and conferences since I started working for the Eclipse Foundation in 2012. During the past 5 years people told me: “Roxanne, you should propose a talk.” or “Roxanne, you can come talk about Eclipse IoT at our MeetUp!” but I would freeze. Me? No — no, not me.

One fine August day, I received an email from Alexander Schmitt, from DB Systel, asking me to co-speak about Eclipse IoT with him. The event was an Open Source Workshop at Deutsche Bahn in Frankfurt and was scheduled for November. I immediately thought no; there are others who are better qualified to do this. But, I didn’t reply right away. I considered this offer seriously while taking a long walk. I knew I was capable and my gut said yes. So I said, yes!

I kept telling myself, I have over three months to prepare, but that didn’t really help the fact that I was nervous. And, of course, I waited until the week before the talk to prepare.

Small Steps

The key to me saying yes was that someone outside my inner work, friend and family circle, reached out to me. They believed I could do it, and that made me believe I could do it. What I needed was simply for someone to ask. For someone to say: “Hey, I’d like for you to talk at this event with me. I know you can do it.”

I needed a cheerleader — that wasn’t my Mom

When your boss or your co-worker says they believe in you, it’s basically because they have to. It’s kind of like when your Mom says you’re the cutest kid on the block. You know she’s biased. I know not every work environment is like this and I consider myself lucky; my work environment actually builds me up. Nevertheless, I believe that if my boss asked me to speak, I would have said no.

Change is hard AND scary

Growing is hard. Challenging yourself is hard. Entering a world where you’re vulnerable, where women and are few and far between is scary. Some women just push through without a mentor, but I needed one to push and help me. I needed someone there by my side.

Nerves before the storm

I wanted to deliver a great talk. I wanted my slides to be beautiful and simple, with minimal content on them. I wanted people to pay attention to me and what I was saying. I didn’t want to prepare notes, because I knew that would trip me up. I set the bar as high as I could for myself.

Everybody’s watching — yes, I know I am not in a deadly dystopian game

I prepared on and off for a week. Five days before the talk I started practicing 2–3 times a day. Each day it got better.

  • Sunday — I slept badly. I dreamed I was diving off a cliff into the a body of water. In the dream, I hesitated for a second, but jumped without overthinking. It was great. (My brain was trying to tell me something.)
  • Monday — I met some of the other speakers and felt better because I realized that I may know all this “stuff”, but they don’t. This talk is actually beneficial to people! *epiphany* Yet, I still slept badly.
  • Tuesday — Day of the talk. I didn’t practice in the morning because I thought it would make me more nervous. I knew my content. The talk time came. I went to the bathroom to take in deep breaths and do a superwoman pose. I was definitely nervous.
  • Talk — I took the stage and pretended I knew what I was doing. *Fake it until you make it* The talk was a bit of a blur. My right leg was shaking and the microphone was squeaking, but I pushed through. I am certain I forgot to say some of the things I wanted to say, but only I and my co-speaker know that. :)
Photo Credit: Brito‏ @nn81

Looking back

It was far from perfect, but I did it! And that is a first step towards confidence and many better talks. I came out of this experience refreshed and excited to do it again!

Advice for your first talk

I practiced and practiced, but it doesn’t make perfect. You can practice all you want alone in your bedroom, but it won’t be the same as speaking in front of people. All you really need to take away from your first talk is the experience.

Cédric Brun gave me great advice that I would like to share with you now.

Preparing your talk:

  • Set an objective with 2–3 key messages.
  • Choose your medium (slides, flipchart, other).
  • Think of the audience and identify their needs.
  • Figure out where you fit in to all of this? How can you help.

During the talk:

  • Tell the audience about the ride you will take them on before you start your talk so that they can adjust they can prepare mentally.
Don’t overthink. Don’t over prepare. Focus on the relationship you are building with the audience.

Remember that the members of the audience are there to learn something and they’re on your side. :)

Thank yous

Thank you Alexander for inviting me and for giving me this opportunity and to Deutsche Bahn for the great conference. Thank you to my experienced friends and co-workers for giving me great advice and for believing in me.

The only way we will bring new people into a community, the only way we will make it more diverse is by inviting others in.

Who will you invite to co-speak with you for your next talk?

Alexander Schmitt — DB Systel