The First Full Hour - An Experience in Public Speaking

"No plan survives first contact with the enemy" 

Nineteenth-century Prussian military commander Helmuth van Moltke


I prepped for a month an a half. I initially thought about all the ways to help the developer group I was speaking to understand that testing would be good for them to get a handle on. I had a lot of starts and stops. Different slide views. Different ideas even. And what came out in the end was more of a "Let's talk mindset and how I think about testing and what you can do." rather than a "Let me preach the word of testing!!"

I read my notes. Spoke them out loud. Modified for context. Modified for approach. Paced the floor of my office. Mumbled to myself until my dogs looked worried about me and hoped that it was enough to explain to the group and have the group understand what I was trying to get across to them.

Talking for a whole freaking hour is really, really hard! I didn't appreciate how hard it was until I was standing at the front of the room, with 18 people staring at me. Friendly faces, some I had even spoken with. All I could think of was, please don't let me do something stupid like burp, or pick my nose or flail around needlessly.

I started with the introduction, like just about everyone does. I then I explained this concept I have about the mindsets of problem solvers. There were some nods and people were still looking at me which was good. But I think maybe I spent too much time on it if I was honest, or I just could have jumped into explaining how I think and then ask them how they think about testing and then try to explain, but alas, that method only occurred later while I was driving back to work, thinking about what I said.

The second part of the talk was meant to be more interactive and I asked questions about what testing they already had, about processes and even about development styles. People didn't mind and it even sparked some conversations. I think this was good, but it could have been more interactive to a degree. I could have had volunteers explain what they were doing on those projects as well, instead of just noting that they did certain things like unit tests or acceptance testing. One kudos for me on that; when I ask if anyone was doing acceptance testing, and immediately I was asked to clarify what I meant, and I had a definition ready. I had managed to think ahead and the definition it was in my notes because I wasn't sure I would actually remember the definition. Trust me, I didn't. It's not that I didn't know it, it just that I for the life of me, couldn't have given a clear definition if it wasn't right in front of my face. I don't think in definitions. I just do because I understand the concept. But it was a huge win for me that small moment, because it meant, at least to me, that I understood my audience.

The third part a little better I think. I spoke about a cross section of testing that could be done by coding types, which involves code reviews, unit testing, pair developing, and code or commit comments. This was taken fairly well. The idea of doing positive code reviews and being less attack and more questioning, and maintaining a positive level of interaction so that they can all better their work through critiques seemed to be also well received. I also talked about risk based testing as a way of planning at least some testing efforts. I also mentioned Test Fests and Unit test parties as a way of getting help and making things eventful. People seemed to like that concept a lot.

I took questions at the end. I felt like I did well with those. I felt though, when I was asked about the agency experience, and having to maintain different tech stacks and moving around on different projects, how could they handle that better and my comment was - "LEAVE NOTES. If you aren't going to stay on the project but know about an optimization or a part that could give someone issues in the future, comment on it in the code. It takes less than 30 seconds and it pays a lot forward." I don't know if that was the only thing they could have done, but it was my best answer to that question. If there are other ideas out there, I'd like to get to know about them.

It was over a lot quicker than I thought it would be. I planned ahead and had water ready when my throat went dry. I'm not sure how people speak without drinking water during some part of the hour they are speaking. I had an immense sympathy for speakers then. Water also helped when my voice started to waver a little. It caused me to have a small panic because to me it sounded like it was nerves coming through. But it was just dry throat. Funny how the sound of your voice can freak you out and put you in a state you weren't in only mere moments before. Actually, it's not funny, but I'm glad I planned ahead and I was brave enough to stop and take a drink.

I also clung to my notes like they were a life raft. It's amazing how much practice and time you can put into a talk and suddenly have it all woosh out of your head like a speeding train with no breaks leaving you standing at the station of "doh!". The notes definitely saved my bacon several times over. It's why I make them, it's why they are there, but I was a little disappointed in myself for having to refer to them so often.

And being on the train of self analysis, I could have added more slides with the talking points on them instead of just sticking with one main talking point slide. I had five slides total. I figured since it was a conversation, and I practiced, the slides weren't really that big a deal. I could have done better with that and helped myself out with not looking at my notes so much. I know now for next time.

It was a absolutely thrilling learning experience. It was very much like the lighting talks I have done but much longer and with a bit more pressure since I was getting paid for this one and people expected some useful information out of it. I was also recorded, so the vid should be interesting once I get a copy of it. I don't know if I'm going to be brave enough to watch it myself. While I feel like I did well, and I got a lot of head nods and agreements and such, which are all good signs in my book, I rambled on with some points. And I worried that wasn't connecting with my audience on everything I was trying to convey.

Also, I'm really good at telling stories, and the experiences I've had could have highlighted a lot of my points, but I didn't get comfortable with that concept until the end and I had a chance to tell a story that related to code comments. The story connected very well. People got it. I had a small AHa! moment to tuck away for later. 

Mostly, I'd really like to speak again. I don't think I'm horrible at it and I might even be mostly good. The thought that sticks with me most, which comes back to me when I start panicking that I completely bombed is knowing that even the most talented people that speak for a living have these problems. Stand up comedians have these problems every time they work on new material. I've seen some prep shows. Not everything lands, not all the bits work. Sometimes they have to rework things so that it makes sense or they just toss it out. If I look at it from that point of view, I have lots I did well, and things I can do better for next time. I think that's all anyone could ask from a speaking experience. I'm not at the level of Mrs. and Mr. Obama, but it was also a solid first effort. And hopefully there will be many more to come.

Postscript: The quote above isn't about developers, hopefully people understand that. I included it, and this goes back to the telling stories part, which it appears I'm still learning, because, one of the team members I spoke with asked me how I prepped for the talk and I explained it and then mentioned the quote about plans not surviving and such. He actually finished the quote I started to say. It was a nice beginning. So I made it the beginning of my article here. Best laid plans and all that.

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