I started 2016 with a number of ambitious goals, and I met many of them. I grew as a technologist, maintained a healthy regimen of eating and exercise, left a company to start a new chapter in my career, and enjoyed many loving relationships with family and friends. However, I want to focus this post on the goal that far exceeded my expectations: grow as a public speaker. So, inspired by Cate and Martin, I’m reflecting on my experiences as a public speaker in 2016.

Learning from the Audience

Attending the Mob Programming meet up at CraftConf
Attending the Mob Programming meet up at CraftConf

I believe that great speakers are great audience members, and I was fortunate to attend two conferences (Craft in Budapest and Keep Austin Agile) as an attendee-only. As an audience member, I can learn from the presentation while also analyzing the style of the presenter. While I love being on stage, I will always “just be in the audience” for at least one conference a year. This helps me hone my craft while also learning to be a better speaker.

A Lightning Start

Giving my Lightning Talk at OSCON
Giving my Lightning Talk at OSCON

My first “talk” of 2016 was a Lightning Talk at OSCON in Austin. If you’re not familiar with a Lightning Talk, it’s a five minute talk where you present 20 slides that automatically advance. I’ve spoken at a lot of events for private companies as well as at many technology conferences, but I had no idea how hard it would be to do a Lightning Talk. I practiced a lot, but, during my talk, it seemed that time sped up turning five minutes into 30 seconds. Before I knew it, I was walking down the stairs thinking that I bombed. However, I received great feedback from the audience and saw some encouraging reactions on Twitter. That Lightning Talk became my Lending Privilege presentation which has become one of my signature talks.

OSCON also provided opportunities to meet other speakers. I shared a flight and an Uber with Katrina Owen who I met at OSCON because we both were booked to speak at the Self.conference in Detroit that same week. I was reminded that public speaking lets you build networks across companies instead of only being exposed to the experiences inside the walls of one company. This provides access to a peer group representing other companies, ideas, and cultures that are hard to explore only as an employee.

My First Public Workshop

My workshop attendees
My workshop attendees

I’ve given many private workshops during my career, but I gave my first workshop at a conference in June. It was my Hands-On Agile Project Management workshop that I gave at the PMI Houston conference. I really enjoyed presenting the content and guiding the participants through the exercises. I don’t have a lot of workshops in my portfolio, but I plan to develop at least one in 2017.

Big Audiences

The power of big audiences
The power of big audiences

I love big audiences, and I enjoyed big events in 2016 including Pivotal’s SpringOne Platform in Las Vegas, GitHub Universe in San Francisco, and StrangeLoop in St. Louis. These were all great experiences for me, and I was honored to lend my voice to those conferences. There’s something powerful about being in a building with hundreds (and, in a few cases, thousands) of technologists who are all focused on advancing their careers and making the industry better. I was also reunited with other speakers who I met in previous years, and I enjoyed the opportunity to grow our friendships.

Speaking at a corporate event

While big events are exhilarating, I was also invited to speak at smaller corporate events. I really enjoyed the intimacy of these events, and the Q&A sessions were usually longer and more personal. It seemed that people, as opposed to attending conferences hundreds of miles away among strangers, were more open to asking questions a few steps from their desks surrounded by their colleagues. I think my non-technical talks have more impact in these settings.

The CodeNewbie Podcast

Meeting Saron for the first time in person at OSCON
Meeting Saron for the first time in person at OSCON

I was a guest on the fabulous CodeNewbie podcast hosted by Saron Yitbarek. Saron is a skilled interviewer, and I really enjoyed speaking with her. I dip into the CodeNewbie Twitter chat when I can, and I really enjoy the CodeNewbie community.

Summary of 2016

So, 2016 provided:

  • 8 conference presentations (OSCON, Self.conference, GitHub CodeConf, Pivotal’s SpringOne Platform, DevOps Days Boston, GitHub Universe, StrangeLoop, PuppetConf)
  • 4 corporate events
  • 2 conferences as an attendee-only (Craft and Keep Austin Agile)
  • 1 Workshop (PMI Houston)
  • 1 Podcast (CodeNewbie)

Goals for 2017

I have a number of big conference presentations scheduled for 2017, but I’m starting to do more corporate events. While I do well as a speaker, I have a full time job and a family so my ability to appear at events that are fixed on the calendar is limited. However, corporate events are far more flexible, and I can usually pick the dates that work for my schedule.

I’m excited to have more international destinations in my speaking schedule, and I hope to bring my family along on at least one of these trips.

I also plan to do more talks about leadership and ethics in addition to the inclusion topics I covered in 2016. I also want to do more technical talks to balance the non-technical bent of most of my presentations.

I’m very happy with how my speaking career evolved in 2016, and I look forward to the opportunities that 2017 will bring!