Personal HistoryI started my blog a little over a year ago. The reason for starting my blog was because I was speaking to Ray Hightower at Snow*Mobile in 2013 about a book I wanted to read. He told me when I finished it he would love to read about what I thought about it on my blog. I was like, “I don’t have a blog…yet!”
I never read the book or wrote a blog post about it, but I have done other things and I have come a very long way in the last year.
I am very pleased that I had my first opportunity to speak at a conference at the same conference I first attended: Snow*Mobile.
I attended as a student volunteer last year. It was my first experience going to a conference. I had no idea what to expect and no idea about how much it would change my life.
After attended a half dozen or so conferences over the last year, I had semi-formed ideas about how I wanted to do my talk. I wanted to do a Steve Jobs-like talk where I am having a conversation with the audience instead of going up and rambling for an hour while people play with their phones and laptops.
I was urged by a lot of people to not really use a lot of slides. I think everyone has had an experience of seeing a speaker who just reads their slides while people lapse into unconsciousness. I know that every other speaker was using slides. I also had to do a tech talk for class where I didn’t use slides and I was informally told that it was expected that I would if I ever wanted to speak at a conference. I figure after I have been doing this for a few years I can go in and change things up, but my first talk I am not going to be arrogant enough to try and reinvent the wheel.
My talk was titled “Sound: The Silent Partner in User Experience”. I studied sound design and I have been spending years trying to find a way to get people to care about sound design in their apps for the purely selfish reason that I want people to pay me to do it. Sound is something that I think most people don’t think about because it is like lighting: You only notice it if someone does it badly.
Wasn’t really sure how to show sound on a slide, so I tentatively decided to not use a lot of slides. I was planning to play some examples and talk about them. I knew from when I used to do forensics in high school that I tended to choose pieces that were way too long and go over time. I did not want to do that again, so I tried to constrain the breadth of what I was talking about.
I was supposed to go to the CocoaHeads meet-up before the conference to try out my talk. This did not wind up happening because the weather in Wisconsin all winter has been simply miserable. It wasn’t safe to drive in and the meet-up was cancelled.
After arriving at Snow*Mobile and sitting through the first few talks I realized I was in a little bit of trouble. I didn’t consciously think about how long a half hour really is. When you are doing forensics you have seven minutes to tell a story. That is a quarter of the time that you have to speak.
The morning of my talk I started working on doing a sample project to show the audience. I wasn’t planning to show any code because part of my pitch was that my talk is platform agnostic. If you are an iOS programmer, an HTML5 programmer, or an Android programmer you should be able to get something out of my talk.
So I started working on this demo about three hours before I had to give the talk. That was fun.
I tried to do things a couple of different ways. The first way was more complicated and I couldn’t debug it in the time I had, so I reverted to the “easy” way of adding sound to a project.
I compiled the project and got a weird crash. I was so nervous about everything that I had a minor panic attack and went to my teacher and was like, “OH MY GOD! IT DOESN’T WORK AND I DON’T KNOW WHY!!!!”
Luckily, Wil LaFrance was there to help me out. He showed me some debugging methods (that I really should learn sometime soon…) and we got it working. Huzzah.
I realized that the winter took a toll on everyone in the audience. When I came here last year everyone was really energetic and enthused to be there. This year the energy of everyone was dragging. When I went to the party the day before my talk everyone was very lethargic. Trying to get any energy into anyone was like pulling teeth.
My talk was scheduled for forty-five minutes after lunch. Everyone I talked to all day said they were on the verge of falling asleep.
I really wanted to earn the attention of my audience and I knew I needed to do something. I thought about what might get people engaged and I decided to make everyone stand up and dance for a minute before my talk. This was great because it got people to wake up and it killed a minute or so of my talk.
I realized very quickly that it would have been very helpful for me to have had the opportunity to work through the talk at least once. I relied on my slides more that I thought I would. Things that I was planning to speak about extemporaneously flew by because I didn’t give myself landmarks to keep myself on track.
The demo I crafted before my talk only used up about a minute of my time. This was both bad and good. It was bad for me because I thought it would take longer, but it was good for the audience because I showed how easy it is to add sound to your projects.
The conference was live streaming my talk. While I was doing a demo on my phone I got a notification from Alan Francis telling me he was watching me in Scotland. That was a really amazing thing to me that someone I talked to online and had never met in person took time to go online and watch my maiden voyage into being a conference speaker. I was very touched that he did that.
My talk wound up being 12 minutes short. I took some painful Q & A until Jim put me out of my misery by starting the afternoon break a little early.
Everyone came up to me and told me what a great job I did, which convinced me it must have been terrible because otherwise people wouldn’t have been so emphatic about telling me I did a good job 🙂
I don’t remember who said this, but someone asked me if I was having the post-talk thinking I failed and looking for a roof to jump off of. That was the best thing anyone said to me after the talk because it let me know that freaking out thinking you did a bad job is something other people feel too.
I was assured I didn’t embarrass myself or the conference organizers. I learned a lot of lessons from this talk that I applied to my next talk (which I will write about a little later). The first thing I did after I got done with my talk was to find Brad Grzesiak to ask him if I could come into Bendyworks to perform my next talk before I had to do it for real.
So, the takeaway I want to give for anyone doing their first talk is to do it in front of an audience at least once! I didn’t do that and I think it would have been far better had I done this. I know everyone told me to do that and it just didn’t work out.
I am incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity. I am glad that the stakes were relatively low. Being later in the day and having people not really expecting very much was helpful to me to be able to try something that didn’t necessarily work as well as I would have liked. Next time will be better!