A Geek’s Guide to People at DDD2020

I was recently lucky enough to speak at DDD2020. I spoke at DDDNorth last year, but this was a completely online and very different to anything I’d done before. The organisers did an amazing job and created an amazing virtual event.

Personally I hope they consider doing an online version of the conference even once the shadow of covid has gone.

If you would like to watch my talk you can find it on youtube along with dozens of other talks from the day.

The guys were kind enough to send me a shiny certificate!

I hope you enjoy the video. If you have any questions please get in touch!

Tech Talks at Work

One of the initiatives I sponsor at work which I’m most proud of are our weekly tech talks. The company had a long history of doing them, a small group of people would volunteer to talk about something for about an hour on a Friday afternoon. But the prep was hard work and there was no consistency. We could have talk three months in a row and then nothing for the next six. Worse still the same people always felt pressured into talking which seemed very fair on them.

Back in 2019 I went to the Leeds Test Atelier and attended a talk by Sophie Weston. She discussed what her company had done with tech talks and I was really impressed. She argued that the key requirements for any sustainable tech talks were:

  • Duration should be 20-30 minutes
  • The same time/location every week
  • DO NOT MISS A WEEK
  • Food

Inspired by this I went back to work and set about seeing if we could pull off something similar. Sophie had explained how important it was to keep the schedule going week after week. If you start missing weeks those odd weeks develop into hiatuses and then the entire thing stops. She also strongly advised bacon sandwiches but I didn’t have a budget so we relied on BYOB (Bring your Own Buttie) instead.

Over the next few weeks I set about pitching my idea and recruiting speakers. I wanted twelve. I figured that if I could find twelve people willing to give a talk and get them on a weekly schedule then it would be worth doing and I might stand a chance of the talks becoming a sustainable weekly occurrence. I got fifteen.

The Mic Drops began to take off. Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

We booked a meeting room and opened up Skype for anyone who wanted to dial in. We also made sure we recorded all the sessions so if someone couldn’t attend they could watch it at a later date.

At the time of writing we’ve had:

  • 60 consecutive mic drops pausing only for holidays
  • Over 20 different speakers
  • 20+ hours of recorded videos
  • 1700+ attendees

Even the global pandemic didn’t slow us down, we simply moved to 100% online!

So here are my steps for starting up your own weekly tech talks:

  1. Plan out your first three months in advance to make sure you have sustainability
  2. Hold your talks at the same time and place every week
  3. Unless for a specific reasons the talk and questions should take less than 30 minutes
  4. Record them
  5. Don’t limit to “Tech Talks” some of our best talks have been on sleep, agile, management practices, books, and communication skills. Encourage variety!
  6. Always have a back up speaker, try to have two
  7. Survey your department to find out what talks people are interested in
  8. Invite External Speakers
  9. Run workshops to coach the less confident speakers
  10. Anyone can talk and anyone can attend!

Have you run tech talks in your company? Did you follow a similar format to us? What worked well for you?

DDD2020

I’m very proud to say that I’m going to be giving a talk entitled “A Geek’s Guide to People” at DDD2020 on the 12th of December. I’ve loved being involved (both speaking and attending) at the DDD conferences for many years and am glad I can contribute this year. It’s going to be interesting doing it virtually!

For a ful list of sessions take a look at their schedule.

It won’t be quite like this in 2020! Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

If you’d like to come along you can register at eventbrite.

A huge thank you to everyone who voted for my talks!

Why (and How) I Started Speaking at Conferences

I did my first public speaking event at DDDNorth in February and then followed it up with a second presentation recently at the Leeds Testing Atelier. In this post I want to discuss why (and how) I went from audience member to speaker.

I’ve always been slightly in awe of people who have the confidence to speak in front of fifty, a hundred, or even more people! A friend of mine started doing technical talks a few years ago and after meeting a few more people who give talks I was rabidly running out of excuses.

I read somewhere that the fear of public speaking comes from our most basic tribe instinct. We’re afraid of making a fool of ourselves, of being ostracised from the tribe, and ultimately being seen as an unworthy partner. Even today, when we strive to create safe teams we’re still afraid of standing up and giving presentations to our colleagues.

So the question becomes what changed to make me want to push through this fear?

I’d been giving internal tech talks at work for several months. We used to do them over Skype, personally I found talking to a microphone much easier than talking to a group.

Something interesting happened when I started speaking about various topics at work. People came to talk to me about them!

I quickly realised that the natural progression of learning was to present. The work you do when you put a presentation together helps you focus your ideas, strip out what isn’t important, and ensure you have your topics clear in your mind. The best way to continue your learning is to allow other people to challenge you. In other words, the only way to become the expert is to act like an expert.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert. But I like to think that the work I’ve put in pulling these presentations together has helped me learn the topics, but also clarify things in my own mind. There’s always the fear of a question you can’t answer, but there’s never any shame in not knowing something – that’s another opportunity to learn!

That brings us to the How. That part is actually surprisingly easy. There are loads of local tech community groups around, and you can quickly find a list of conferences in your area. Chances are they’re the same ones you’ve been going to for years!

Most of these conferences and groups are run by volunteers and most are crying out for speakers. Get in touch, get a date – nothing focuses the mind like a deadline!

Hopefully that’s encouraged you to go and give speaking ago – remember your audience want your talk to be a good one. Here are my top three(ish) tips to public speaking:

  • Submit the topic you want to talk about, not the one you think your audience wants
  • Don’t put bullet points in your slides, they steal your thunder and effectively makes you, the speaker superfluous
  • Don’t talk about pet projects (in the nicest way no one cares) or give sneak precious into something you’re selling (be generous with your knowledge)

And one for luck

  • Memorise your opening, the hardest bit is the moment just before you start speaking!

Leeds Testing Atelier VIII

Last week I was lucky enough to go to the Leeds Testing Atelier which was hosted, once again at the Wharf Chambers in Leeds.

This was the 8th Atelier and the fourth (I think) that is been to. If you’ve not been along before then I highly recommend it as a conference, it’s a very unusual meet up – partially because of the informality of the event (did I mention it was hosted in a bar/music venue) but also because of the wide range of topics and speakers. Although centred in testing, the organisers understand that quality comes from a wide range of interpersonal, technical, and communication techniques and they encourage sessions on these topics at the event. I debuted my Communication talk at the event, but more on that later.

The first talk of the day I went to was The Sleepy Tester by Hannah Prestwell. Hannah’s talk was inspired by a book called Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, it’s a book I’ve heard from before and I really need to add to my reading list.

Hannah talked to us about the importance of getting enough sleep, the value of sleep in forming memories and learning, and it’s value in emotionally reflecting on recent events. It turns out the phrase “sleep of it” really is based in science.

The next talk I went to was Imposter Syndrome by Beth North. Beth had the outstanding idea of creating imposter personas to identify the different ways Imposter Syndrome can impact people. It was a great talk and really engaged a lot of people in the audience (myself included). I had the sudden urge to run out half way through and update my slides to include her great ideas.

I spoke downstairs next. My talk was entitled Performance Testing Your Communication and I spoke about various ways of monitoring and maintaining safety in a conversations as well as how to influence people around you by understanding their personality and values. I was quite pleased with how it went, especially as this was the first time I’d done this talk outside work and I was delighted to see the tweets roll in afterwards.

The final talk I saw (I had to head back to the office for the afternoon) was a lightening talk by Sophie Weston about lightening talks. In house presentations is a topic very close to my heart. Not only do I think they’re a great way to share knowledge but doing internal presentations was how I got started before I moved onto external conferences – I can’t think of a better way to boost your confidence. I’m definitely going to take a few of her tips back to the office to see if we can use them to improve ours!

The team stayed later, really enjoying their afternoon sessions and talks. I went back to an afternoon in the office but really enjoyed my morning – the organisers were a great high and really made me feel welcome and looked after (especially when I had projector woes).

A huge thanks to the Atelier Gang – I hope to see you all next time!