My first time on a bigger stage

On the 7th of September, I gave a talk at Atlas Camp 2018 in Barcelona. You can watch it here on YouTube. It was my first time on a bigger stage and about 80-100 people listened to my words – amazing! With this blog post I want to say thanks to all who helped me achieving this and share some lessons learned with you.

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Atlas Camp is a conference organized by Atlassian, the company behind Jira and Confluence and many other great software. Here, vendors and partners receive and share knowledge with each other. The main topic is about software development, but also marketing or business topics are covered. The speakers are not only from Atlassian itself, but also from outside. So this year, I took the opportunity to present our experiences we’ve made at K15t Software where I work as a Software Engineer. Last year, we’ve migrated our Jira app Backbone Issue Sync to the cloud using AWS Lambda. AWS Lambda provides an innovative approach for running code in the cloud. Instead of spawning up a server/docker container, it is dynamically instantiating small functions. The migration was not easy for us, also because we only had little experiences with AWS Lambda before. However, luckily, we figured out a few things before launching, but there are things you will only face when your app is already running. Hence, watch the video on YouTube in order to learn our experiences with AWS Lambda. And if you have made your own experiences with it, don’t hesitate to share them with me!

Lesson learned: Having a good story is key

Now I’m coming back to my actual topic of this blog post. Have you ever given a talk in front of many people you don’t even know? Even if not, you might know that there is a lot of preparation involved for giving such a talk. And for me, one lesson is that I’ve underestimated this fact a bit. Initially I thought: “I know what I want to tell. I prepare the slides, prepare my speech a few times and give the damn talk.” That’s naive and does not reflect the reality. I had a story in my mind when submitting my talk proposal, but it turned out this story was hard to fit into a nice and shiny talk. It was confusing in the end, due to jumping back and forth between topics. The style was too much of a software developer (using pointers & references) instead of a story teller. Fortunately, I have talked to a lot people and asked them for feedback. With this feedback I have adjusted my story to have a straight line without jumps in between. So, this is another good advice for you: If you want to improve your talk, keep sharing your story and let people critize it. You can only learn from that 😉

Lesson learned: Preparation takes time

Not only the story is important, but also how you present it. In order to present your talk in a good way, you need to prepare it. You need to repeat your words over and over again. In my case, I’ve started to prepare (meaning: standing in my living room and talking loud to a wall) my talk about 5 weeks before. I’ve not counted the times, but it must have been more than 20 times that I stood up and repeated it. This is more than 13 hours non-stop talking! Not including the time afterwards to change slides or think about the wrong words I have used. The lesson learned is: preparation takes time! However, the positive effect is that you get into some kind of auto mode when presenting it later. If you’ve prepared your talk a few times, you don’t need to think about the words on stage – you’ll remember them more easily with a decent preparation. But even if you do this a few times, don’t forget to let others see your performance. Let them give you feedback about it. This is invaluable!

Lesson learned: How you present matters

Another lesson for me was about the way I was presenting myself and the slides on stage. Especially the usage of a video recording beforehand helped me figure out how to improve my gestures. One week before the actual talk at Atlas Camp I gave the talk in front of my coworkers. It has been recorded and you might wonder why… Well, if you see yourself on camera, you’ll notice the mistakes you made more easily. For example, I always thought my hand gestures or certain face expressions are already enough to support my message. Simply because it felt weird to move my hands a lot. But when I was watching the recorded video, I realized the gestures were relatively small. But this is important, because in the worst case (i.e. the audience does not notice the movement), your message wouldn’t be supported at all. If you are curious how you can improve your gestures, I can recommend this video by Toastmasters (but there are tons of others). So take it serious how you present yourself, because this definitely makes a difference. And one related note about it: even if you think your audience might have noticed something which you did wrong, simply continue with your talk. Your point of view is always different and you see your own performance more negative as it actually is.

Conclusion

Now, let me quickly summarize my first talk experience on a bigger stage: it was fun to do and I will definitely do it again in the future 🙂 Even though the preparation takes time, it’s worth the effort! Thanks to all who have helped me on the way!