How to present at meetups and survive (and what does Freddie Mercury have to do with it?)
I started writing this on November 2018, and only finished on April 2019…
Why? Well, in a funny twist of events, not long after I published my last post, about Tech Lead vs Team Lead, I was asked to (temporarily) fill-in the Team Lead’s position, due to the joyous occasion of my Team Lead/Group Lead being promoted to VP R&D. To quote my dad, “Der Mensch Tracht und Gott Lacht” (From Yiddish: “Man Plans and God Laughs”) :)
Last night, my wife and I enjoyed the rare event of going to the cinema (thanks mom and dad for babysitting ;) ).
We went to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the story about Queen and Freddie Mercury.
It depicts the young, foreigner, weird looking Farrokh Bulsara (he was born with four supernumerary incisors…), and the obstacles (real and perceived) he had to overcome in his way to become Freddie Mercury — the world’s best performing artist of all-time (for proper disclosure, I’m a big fan of Queen :) ).
“But why are you telling me this?”
In my previous blog post, I mentioned presenting at meetups and conferences as a way of knowledge sharing.
I find it very beneficial for the tech community you’re a part of, for the organization you work for and for you as a speaker (more on those benefits later…).
But, back to why I’m telling you this… Well, I believe we can draw inspiration from Freddie in our journey to overcome our own obstacles and become public speakers — obstacles such as the imposter syndrome or stage fright.
Regardless of the historical accuracy of Bohemian Rhapsody, it can provide a few guidelines (ok, ok, clichés… but they are true :) ) to doing so:
- Success doesn’t (usually) happen overnight. Prior to presenting a project at a meetup, you (and your team) have spent many days working on the project — gathering requirements, designing, arguing about the right tools to use, implementing, etc.
You invest a lot of efforts in the project (and sometimes discover you’re back to square one).
In the context of a meetup, all those efforts should help you to build the story you’re about to tell your audience, and make it a story worth telling!
- Practice makes perfect (remember the Galileo scene?). In our R&D, we adopted a habit of conducting multiple dry-runs of the presentation or talk we’re about to give.
A few weeks before the due date, we usually start with a small audience (of 3–4 people from the relevant team), and increase its size (by adding people from other teams and groups) as we approach our deadline.
As we iterate and re-iterate the presentation, we help the speaker improve the content (sort of “code-reviewing” the presentation) as well as build her/his confidence towards the actual talk.
- Don’t let criticism get you down. As professionals, we take criticism seriously. We are affected by it. We strive to get good reviews. Sometimes we get them, but other times — we don’t. Some people may not like the presentation’s graphics, or the content, or the way we talk. Some people will immediately relate to the story we’re telling, while others may find it boring. All that is fine. As my former boss once told me, when getting feedback about your presentation, the important thing is to listen to the criticism, and then take only the points you can relate to.
For example, say most of the audience at your dry-run think you should elaborate more on one slide and spend less time on another one — it’s up to you to decide if you want to change your presentation accordingly (or not).
To conclude this point, I suggest you take a look at the Bohemian Rhapsody first time on radio scene…
- Don’t let yourself get you down. Many times, our harshest critic is ourselves. We feel inadequate. We feel afraid or embarrassed. We fear that someone from the audience will ask a difficult question that’ll make us look dumb.
However, if you’ve put all the efforts required to build a story worth telling, and you practiced the way you tell it over and over (and over) again, you should feel confident telling it! You should take a big breath, get up there, and own the stage!
And as per difficult questions from the audience — from my personal experience, most of the time you’ll be able to provide a good enough answer, and even if you don’t know the answer — there’s no shame admitting it and suggest that person to come and talk to you after the session.
- Enjoy! You worked hard, practiced, managed to overcome your stage fright and told your story to the audience. For me, that means — Success!
WIIFC, WIIFO, WIIFM
As mentioned earlier, there are several benefits to presenting at meetups and conferences as a way of knowledge sharing.
Based on the famous WIIFM acronym, we can divide those benefits to WIIFC (What’s In It For the Community I’m part of), WIIFO (What’s In It For the Organization I work for) and WIIFM (What’s In It For Me as a speaker).
For the community
The community, as a whole, gets to learn and evolve when knowledge is shared.
Attendees of a technical forum get to hear other people’s stories, ask questions, create work relations and be encouraged to try new things by themselves.
For the organization
Talking about the interesting and challenging things you get a chance to tackle on a daily basis, helps to strengthen the brand of the organization you work for.
It exposes the attendees to the tech stack you use, the methodologies you’ve constructed and the business value your organization creates.
This becomes very useful when you’re looking for new hires, and nowadays — everyone is looking for new hires (even us ;) )
For you (as a speaker)
First, you’ll need to deepen your understanding on a subject, in order to publicly talk about it at a technical forum such as a meetup or a conference.
Second, it’ll require you to practice, over and over again, and work on your public speaking skills.
Third, it’s a way to introduce yourself and your technical capabilities to the relevant community.
And last but not least, it’s a nice addition to your resume ;)
Practice what you preach
In the spirit of practicing what you preach, and after I shared with you the HOW (i.e some basic guidelines) and WHY (i.e what are the benefits), let me share the WHAT (i.e what my colleagues and I are doing to apply all the above in our professional lives).
So aside from hosting and presenting at local meetups (like this Women in Big Data meetup, coming up on May 30th), we’ve also been talking at various international conferences:
- Leading a roundtable session about Druid, Kylin and Clickhouse at the Big Data Tech Warsaw 2019 on February.
- Giving 2 separate talks (counting unique users with Druid, Spark & Kafka) at DataWorks Summit Barcelona 2019 on March (s̶l̶i̶d̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶a̶l̶r̶e̶a̶d̶y̶ ̶a̶v̶a̶i̶l̶a̶b̶l̶e̶,̶ ̶v̶i̶d̶e̶o̶ ̶r̶e̶c̶o̶r̶d̶i̶n̶g̶s̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶u̶p̶l̶o̶a̶d̶e̶d̶ ̶s̶o̶o̶n̶ both the slides and the video recordings are available at those locations).
- Giving 2 separate talks (Different streaming methods with Spark and Kafka, Fun with Kafka, Spark, and offset management) at Strata Data Conference London 2019 next week!
The fact you’re the one talking on stage doesn’t mean you did all the hard work, so I’d like to thank my colleagues at NMC’s Big Data group for their efforts and devotion (and for listening to my dry-run for the 100th time…)!
If you want to work with my excellent colleagues on interesting projects, come join us :)
And last but not least, it’s always helpful to pick a positive thought or idea that can lift your spirit and energize you right before getting on stage.
Thanks for reading, looking forward to your feedback!