In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what would come of speaking at software testing conferences. Mostly, the thought of speaking at a conference evoked anxiety for weeks if not months beforehand. Now, a year later as I think about speaking at conferences my reactions and thoughts are quite different. Nowadays, I encourage other people to speak and I am happy to give tips on speaking when asked. But the most important question – or perhaps even more important is the answer to why speak at a conference? Here are a few of the benefits I’ve discovered from speaking at conferences.
Speaking helps solidify your thoughts
There is nothing like having a keynote scheduled on your calendar to make you realize that you need to collect your thoughts on a topic. By standing up in front of people, you might feel as if you need to do your “homework” which may entail reading related books and blogs, talking with others viewed as experts, research and finding influential quotes on a subject, Speaking at a conference really makes you and also to pull your own thoughts together in a cohesive fashion. You might find you have conflicting opinions on a subject but realize that in your presentation unless you want to clearly identify more than one viewpoint, you need to find your viewpoint, your opinion and you want to be able to share those thoughts say it well.
Speaking gives you an opportunity to clearly share your ideas
Presenting, especially at a keynote level, where your talk might be recorded especially drives the feeling and desire to be able to say what you want and to say it well. You might feel you will be quoted or tweeted and you want your words to “come out right.” In the case of having people tweet about your talk, your thoughts will be reduced to a quip so it helps to have “quotable statements” so that you do not feel inaccurately quoted. When your talk is recorded, you feel your talk will last, be listened to possibly years after the recording is made. (Not to add to your speaking anxiety but recordings on YouTube due tend to last a long while.)
Speaking opens the door to meet other people
One (of several) unexpected bonuses of speaking is having the opportunity to meet people. Even though I am ultimately an introvert, there is a large (and growing) component of myself that is an extrovert – I enjoy meeting people and as I travel to speak, I find people want to come and talk to me after a presentation. It is a wonderful feeling to think that sharing my thoughts builds a connection to other people such that they want to talk with me and share their stories. On many occasions, I end up staying in touch and talking with people for – in some cases – years after meeting. I’ve had people help me find positions, I’ve hired people I’ve met and I’ve built solid professional relationships.
Speaking builds confidence
Interestingly, presenting originally was a source of anxiety and self-doubt but now years later, I find presenting a familiar setting. Just like how some people may have a familiar office (as a consultant my workplace setting fluctuates continually), instead I find the speakers’ stand a familiar place. Getting to a place where I enjoy presenting even during presenting has been a pleasant surprise – I had thought I would always be so anxious I would never enjoy presenting. Don’t misunderstand – speaking is like playing golf or talking taking a photo – you might have great luck one day only to find the very next day that your performance does not go so smoothly. And just because I say I enjoying speaking does not mean I don’t get nervous beforehand or even during speaking – it’s ok though; I think all the energy – nervous or otherwise helps keep me on my toes. There is a balance between being ready and over-rehearsing. For a long while, I did not rehearse – to be honest – it had not occurred to me to rehearse until another speaker mentioned that he always rehearsed. So for a number of years, I would typically rehearse but I have to confess that I no longer rehearse. I’m comfortable “ad hoc” and sharing a story based on time available and not worrying too much about it. This more relaxed approach does not mean that I don’t know what I want to say, haven’t thought through my slides or gained some idea about the timing of my talk. (I’m oddly quite proud that I tend to finish without rushing and without going “short” on time but that I have timing figured out well.)
Speaking adds to a career
Presenting at conferences has also helped to show my passion and commitment to my career. Some of my clients watch my videos or listen to a webinar before hiring me. In the case of working as a solo consultant – it is difficult to distinguish what aspects of my “extracurricular” activities clients find interesting and helpful, instead, I believe they see my collective involvement and dedication to the field and to the professional community. Another unexpected benefit of speaking at conferences is that when I need to speak onsite for a client, I’m less anxious, more familiar with speaking and as a result, I’m more comfortable speaking even under what could be more anxiety-provoking short notice situations (or groupings of people).
If you have a chance to speak at a conference, try to look past the understandable anxiety and consider the benefits. Present only on topics you know, talk about your own work experiences and you might discover you enjoy public speaking.
Karen N. Johnson is a software test consultant. She is a frequent speaker at conferences. Karen is a contributing author to the book, Beautiful Testing by O’Reilly publishers. She has published numerous articles and blogs about her experiences with software testing. She is the co-founder of the WREST workshop, more information on WREST can be found at http://www.wrestworkshop.com/Home.html
Visit her website at http://www.karennjohnson.com