Long Time Thinker, First Time Speaker

Adam Krieger, Tue 10 November 2015, Speaking

conferences, leadership, sdec

The Software Development Evolution Conference (SDEC) is a local Winnipeg Agile con. Given some of my previous roles, I was asked to propose a talk this year on Continuous Delivery, centering on how and why a team might gradually shorten its release cycle. These ideas all sat comfortably in my head at the time, but they were about to get ground into dust. It would be up to me to rebuild them, challenge them, and share.

Abstracting Early

The first hurdle was writing a gripping Abstract. A conference abstract is like a cover letter for your presentation, and here I was trying to write one without having ever presented on this topic. I am very passionate about Continuous Delivery. It works in more cases than one might think, and some of the most advanced forces in the industry are proving its benefits every day.

So what?

That's the most impactful advice I've heard about presenting your opinion. Whatever the medium, whatever the topic, Scott Hanselman says to ask yourself "So what?" at every opportunity. If the ideas are coming from you, and you can't answer that question, then no one else will.

My 'so what?' turned out to be the customer's happiness. Happiness ties directly into value delivery and sales, and so I had my mission. A Continuously Delivering team is more practiced at getting value to the customer, and can take advantage of more time-sensitive opportunities than its long-cycle cousins. I was able to build off this central theme to lay out an argument that I could stand behind. These CD systems need more than a backer, they need a champion. Systems need maintenance and vigilance, or their value erodes quickly.

Scaling Back

This pitch contained a reference to a physical representation of a delivery pipeline. The original idea was very complex. I imagined an Arduino-driven gate releasing ping pong balls on a steady timer, but I had to be honest with myself. The 8-year-old kid in me still wants to build it, but the result had to get the point across without being a complete distraction. It got scaled back.

The result was a five foot section of duct with a damper a quarter way down and enough of the handyman's secret weapon to make any plaid-shirted individual proud.

This leads me to another tip: audience involvement. Whether it's a show of hands or a volunteer tasked with the Kobayashi Maru of ping-pong-ball-catching tasks, the most engaging presentations have something interactive.

To Powerpoint, or Not To Powerpoint

Slides are oft-maligned, but I highly recommend building a deck for your first presentation. Even if you have:

The exercise of assembling a rhythm to an hour of content is not trivial. Laying it out and reading it aloud several times gave me a sense of timing and milestones. In the end, some of those slides prompted a wave of camera phones.

Another great tip: Google Image Search has a mode under "Search Tools" to find images labelled for reuse. Breaking all that text up with a pictorial anchor allows you to say more with less. 1997 can have its clipart.

A Gram of Prevention is Worth a .9 Kilograms of Cure

So along comes conference day one, and I'm speaking in the last slot. I had my slides ready, and my props configured, but the execution is what mattered. I thought nerves were going to take over. This particular group of speakers, though, made me feel right at home. Right from the get, I was welcomed into conversations, treated with respect, and given a change to express my opinion.

I would say candidly that I'm still in the Dunning-Kruger valley concerning Continuous Delivery. It's a large topic, and any discussion can easily slip into Lean Systems Thinking, the dare-I-say-recent DevOps movement, and even certain Agile frameworks.

I refer to this curve always when I start feeling "I know this! pfff" and then.. "Hmm I don't think I know this!" https://t.co/yIjAbQHrHP

— Ardita Karaj (@Ardita_K) November 10, 2015

The community was very accommodating, and seeing others speak first on the day primed my brain. During the scheduling process, I gave the first slot as a possibility and got it. The schedule adjusted relatively later on, putting me into the last of day one. I'm very glad it was, to the point where I would recommend that afternoons be reserved for first-time speakers when applicable. I made some last minute adjustments over lunch that only felt like no-brainers on the day.

You Should, Too

Day two, all pressure was off. I conversed with freedom about my topic and won. I felt like a member of a different tribe. One of my ideals is to be honest about what I do and how I do it. One of the best ways to improve is to expose yourself to the scrutiny of others. This will definitely not be my last trip behind the podium. I hope that you, also, are passionate enough about something to share your thoughts constructively.

Have you presented before? Was is a good experience, or could there have been improvements? What did you learn?

Thanks much,

Adam Krieger