Sharing cybersecurity ideas
How to get started with writing, public speaking, and videos
This blog post is for all the people who want to get started writing or speaking about cybersecurity. Or any other topic, for that matter! There are numerous videos, blog posts, and books covering tips and tricks, so I’m not going to go into that too much here. You can research all these topics easily. And yes, I do highly recommend preparation. The more you have researched and prepared, the more comfortable you will be.
I’m writing here about getting started and how to get past your fears and nerves that are holding you back by sharing my background and approach to getting started and keep going! I’ll start out by admitting that in some cases, I had a head start. In others, things just come naturally. But some things are hard and uncomfortable. Some can make you feel like quitting. Some scenarios are more intimidating than they should be. Here’s how to put it all in perspective and get going!
How I got started
I was lucky that my mom forced me to give presentations in 4-H as a kid. I probably could still tell you some of the saddle parts and several horse breeds. I am generally a mega-introvert, so I’m not sure if I would have opted to ever speak in front of people without that experience. However, I tended to be passionate about some of the ideas I wanted to share. Maybe that would have gotten me out there anyway. I still got nervous when I first started speaking in front of groups as a professional, though perhaps it was a bit easier due to those early experiences.
They say writers write because they must. That’s me. I also have always, always, always been a writer. Since I was a kid, I would write stories I thought were dumb and get awards for it in school competitions. I wrote because they made me and didn’t know what to write, but I guess it turned out OK. I also wrote stories and little books as a kid. As I grew older, writing became a necessity. Writers just need to write. At some points in my life, I wrote poetry as a creative outlet.
I learned how writing could help you financially as I entered college. My mom forced me to write scholarship applications. I didn’t know what scholarships were but did as I was told. I had to write about my hero in one. I had no hero, really, but I watched the Seahawks with my dad at the time. So I wrote about the first thing that came to mind — Steve Largent, one of the players on the team, because he was kind of an underdog. I liked that. I didn’t get all the scholarships I applied for, but that one worked. I got some money to help pay for school.
Later, I saw some scholarships posted when I was a student at the University of Washington School of Business. I applied for an international marketing scholarship. I had joined an international student group and had also taken an international business class. Was that good enough?
Tangent: To be honest, my primary reason for joining the group was to meet people from around the world and travel to international destinations. I ended up going to a campground in Belgium in February of all things. I did not know we were going to a campground when I signed up, and it was cold! But I met a girl from Newfoundland, Canada, in the airport in the same group (AISEC) and hung out with her in Brussels for two days before. I also met people from 21 other countries at the conference and ended up going to Paris for two days with some other people I met on the train back to Brussels. I was a tad more adventurous in those days.
I wasn’t sure my background or story was good enough to get a scholarship, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to submit something. I wrote about my interest in all things international and some insights I gleaned from class about differences between cultures that business people need to take into consideration. Luckily, I got the scholarship. Your writing or topic doesn’t have to be perfect to get results. Don’t think that your stories or ideas are not worthy — just try. You may be surprised.
After I got out of college, I didn’t want to go work at a huge corporate office or be a cog in a wheel. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I ended up getting a couple of barely paying internships at two startups. What I quickly realized is that neither of them could write. That led me to research and start my first short-lived business venture, a company I called The Write Connection. Some other company has that name now. I explain why I switched to technology in another blog post.
How topics emerge
I’ve always been better at writing than talking. Writing has always been a part of my life, as it’s a great way to express yourself if you find it challenging to do so verbally but have something you would like to share. As you can see on this blog, the topics vary. That’s because I see something I think will help people, and I have to share it. As the ideas for a blog post come to me, they will bug me until I get them out there. Right now, I have a slew of blog posts and ideas started or in my head. I have to-do lists of research topics I wish I had time and money to explore and about which I would love to write.
Recently I uncovered a way to help anyone improve their cybersecurity in a pretty simple way while preparing for a consulting call for IANS Research. I instantly realized that this simple change could help many people who struggle with home network security. I couldn’t wait to publish it even though I had a lot on my plate and got it out there as fast as I could. As it turns out, a lot of people appreciated it. Anyone can make that simple change to their DNS configuration in their home network to help block cyberattacks.
Sometimes there are topics that are really getting on my nerves, and I have to publish them. Many of my posts are like that. That was especially the case when I wrote about risk management and the coronavirus when only 5,000 cases existed in the US. The topic is one of the farthest from pure cybersecurity content on this blog, but I was so concerned I had to write it. There was no way I could keep silent with the impending doom I saw, and I knew people would be hurt. (And maybe sometime I’ll tell you why I named my company 2nd Sight Lab, which is related to seeing trends which seem so obvious to me, but not to those around me.)
I felt like I was already too late by the time I wrote it because I had to get other projects done first. The cases grew in the two days before I could get it written. I wanted to warn people and try to stop it before it was too late. Little did I know… a few days later, everything exploded, and the rest is on-going history. Perhaps my blog post made almost no difference. I knew some people wouldn’t like it so I was hesitant to write it, but I know in at least a few cases, it caused people to be a bit more careful.
I am writing this blog post because the question came up while conversing with someone who wanted to know how to get started writing a blog. That conversation inspired me to write this topic to help encourage others who have something to share to get started. I remembered similar discussions in the past at conferences with people who wanted to write or give presentations. Then I saw a post on Twitter from a fellow IANS Faculty member offering some related words of encouragement that made me think I really should write that blog. And that’s how it happens.
Perfection is your nemesis
Although I gave live presentations as a kid and have always been a writer, getting in front of a video camera is another story. That was never natural to me. In fact, I kind of have had an aversion to it. But sometimes, you are forced into a situation where the only way you can get the information out is to do something less than comfortable. Sometimes you need to just do it. And guess what — you can!
The first class I had to take to get my master’s in information security engineering covered public speaking and writing. They also made me do a video at the end, but the material at that time did not provide much guidance. Rather than stew about it, I just did it. I bought a camera and set it up and recorded myself the best I could.
Someone gave me an A on the first video I made, but another person came along and said I had to do it over. Looking back on how I created that video, I know why and do not disagree with that assessment. I had no idea or how to create the video to make it look decent. I was looking down, not into the camera, and the room was not well lit. He gave me some pointers, and I asked a friend to help me run the video camera in a bright space, where I could stand up looking forward in a professional setting. The second time around — success. And yes, I got an A.
I’ve never been a big fan of video. For one thing, I was not comfortable running applications like Zoom on my laptop for security reasons. Additionally, recorded video was not my favorite format. As I told you, I’ve always been a writer. My first business was a writing business. For some reason, I preferred speaking to a live audience instead of over a video because it feels more interactive.
This year, I had numerous speaking engagements canceled due to the coronavirus. Others went virtual and required pre-recorded videos. The only way I could teach my cloud security class was in a virtual format. I figured out how to teach my class online pretty easily. Running a live video was not that challenging, as I had done that a few times before. Preparing a pre-recorded video was another matter.
The first recorded video I made was not that stellar. I tested out a video connection to India to talk live at a conference, and the test didn’t go too well. I was concerned about the quality of the video stream and connecting at all. I decided at the last minute to record the video. I got a few recommendations from people on Twitter and Facebook, but I didn’t have enough time to put into it. I bought some editing software but didn’t know how to use it very well. I basically had two days to create the video, and I knew it wasn’t great but had to get it done.
After that, I watched numerous YouTube videos on making videos. I bought lighting equipment and set up a little studio. I figured out how to use it a bit better in the second video. When I delivered the video to the second conference, they liked it so much they asked me if I would share my set up. I’m still no expert videographer, but I’ll take that as an improvement!
Slight tangent to further illustrate the point. When I had to study for the GSE (a very challenging cybersecurity certification) and didn’t have a good sense of how to prepare, I crammed for a while and then just went and took it. I figured if I didn’t pass, I would learn what I needed to know and how to do better the next time. That’s what getting out there and trying something new does for you. You will probably learn more from trying and failing than studying, researching, or reading about it in advance.
Don’t expect to be perfect at the start. The best thing to do is to just get out and do it. Read up and learn as much as you can about the topic but don’t let perfection stop you from getting started. Also, don’t let fear stop you. I have this saying about myself — “I’m afraid to do everything, but I do it anyway.”
Share your story
Many times I’ll speak to new presenters who are very nervous before a presentation. They have to get up on stage and are worried that they will say or do something wrong. I’ve also seen presenters whose nerves show through on stage. I know mine have in the past as well, in particular instances. I’ll write about that in a bit.
The same applies to people who are trying to get started writing. They aren’t sure what to write or how to get started. They get this thing called writer’s block that I honestly don’t understand. But if I ever have it, I would just start writing. Maybe I’ve had it, and I didn’t know I had it because I always let the thoughts pour out of my brain into words even if initially it’s just a bunch of unorganized notes.
The thing I always tell people is that you have a story, and no one else has your story. You’re just telling your story, whether it’s in a video, book, blog, or live on stage. It may include opinions, experiences, or research, but it’s still your point of view and your story. Tell your story as if you are talking to your coworkers or friends. Of course, you have to provide some useful information to your audience, but you can do so in the context of what you have personally learned and experienced. Everyone has something interesting or valuable to share.
Speak or write because you have a passion for the topic. When I worked at Capital One, I became very interested in AWS. I read all the white papers at the time (there are too many to read now) and thought the platform was amazing. I wanted to show people how we could use this platform in our projects, so I wrote a presentation and shared it with the other lead developers. As we moved to the cloud, I became concerned about the way organizations were handling cloud security and that became the topic of numerous white papers and presentations. That’s how easy it is to get started. You have an idea, a story, or an experience to share — so share it!
Keep things in perspective
The most nervous I’ve been was when I presented and knew someone I thought was very important was watching. I was concerned that someone was judging me. It either made me worry unnecessarily or negatively affected my performance. Here’s what I have to say about that — whether you are writing, speaking, or recording.
Of course, you want to prepare and do your best. But in the end, my nerves in both those scenarios made no difference in the grand scheme of life. In one case, I’m pretty sure that the person I thought was watching was not. My performance in that presentation, which I think was decent in the end, made no significant difference in anything that transpired in my life after that point. I was nervous with shaky hands the day prior to that presentation for absolutely no reason. It was even at a conference where I had spoken in the past. Looking back, it was pretty silly for me to be that nervous.
In the other case, I was letting people I was in awe of get in my head. I later learned that this awe was misplaced. I was so nervous about fitting in and being accepted so much that I couldn’t simply stand up and share my knowledge. I used to get rated in this particular scenario, and it would make me very nervous. Once I let go of the idea of conforming and stopped caring about the scores, they went up!
However, at one point, I was in a class where everyone was giving me mostly ratings of 5 and a few 4’s. One person in the class from the organization collecting the ratings was giving me a 2. Yes, those scenarios are frustrating. Don’t let it get under your skin or stop you. If you fall, keep getting back up. Or as we used to say when riding horses — get back in the saddle. I wrote about only being truly bucked off once if you want to read about it, but you’ll have to endure some information about machine learning as well.
As you can imagine, my experiences at that organization did not work out as I anticipated. Things outside of my control did not align with my personal integrity, values, or needs. Other people would be just fine in that situation, but it was not a good fit for me. I was disappointed when it ended but guess what. And as a result of no longer being in that scenario, I am overall much in a much better situation in every way. Give the presentations you want to give and write what you want to write. Tell your story (within the boundaries of good taste and respect for your audience). If you cannot do these things, you may not be in the right place.
Of course, there will always be someone trying to knock you down. There’s always that person in the audience who’s not happy with you, or someone may try to sabotage your results because they just don’t like you. It could be that someone is just having a bad day. I’ve gotten back comments from conferences that included “This was the best talk all day!” and “This talk was terrible.” Focus on the positive. Learn from valuable feedback and criticism. Take it in stride and keep going.
Don’t worry about what people think about you too much, as long as your intentions are genuine. If one situation doesn’t work out, another one will. Things will work out how they are supposed to work out in the end. Avoid writing or speaking to be popular or have a million Twitter followers or because you want to be famous. I mean, you can if you want to, but that’s not why I do it. And I guess you are still reading, so maybe you are interested in my particular story.
Do it because you have something to share. Do it because you are passionate about solving a problem or helping people. Be respectful and considerate of alternate viewpoints, but don’t worry about the people who don’t like it. Don’t worry about being perfect. Write or speak for the people who appreciate it. As one article I read (and can no longer find) stated, “Write for your fans. Forget the rest.”
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Medium: Teri Radichel or Email List: Teri Radichel
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Prior Podcasts and Presentations
Azure for Auditors ~ Presented to Seattle ISACA and IIA
OWASP AppSec Day 2019 — Melbourne, Australia
Bienvenue au congrès ISACA Québec 2019 — Keynote — Quebec, Canada (October 7–9)
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