We have all heard it…talking in front of people is usually one of the things that people are extremely afraid of. In fact, it is commonly reported that it is the thing that we are MOST afraid of…even more than dying.
I am not going to tell you that it is “not that bad”, or that “you should picture your audience naked.” Neither of those have worked for me in the past. I might say, “really, what is the worst that could happen?” or “You are ultimately in control.” While both are true, I am not sure either have convinced you yet.
So, I would rather just tell you how presenting has helped and benefitted me why you should at least give it a chance…even if just once.
I came to the programming community just over a year ago. As I have talked about before, I try to immerse myself in the community related to the skill I am trying to learn which included many coding podcasts (see my post here). Here and there, a podcast would have an episode on the benefit of presenting at meetups and conferences. Much of the time, they point out that the impetus of speaking is getting your name “out” and doing so, often increases your chances of getting hired. I do not doubt finding an employer maybe a result of presenting. It shows good communication skills, actionable learning, teaching, networking, and can even establish a personal connection before walking into a job. Even with these positives, I really saw them as added benefits and I had a different motive when I made my first presentation.
About 6 months into me learning to code, I joined the Riverside Ruby User Group on meetup.com. They are very presentation oriented and encourage members of the group to volunteer to give presentations to the group. At this time, I was just starting with ruby, but wanted to make sure to show I was investing in the group.
After a couple weeks of attending, I volunteered to give a talk on regular expressions. Regular expressions were something that I wanted to understand a bit more and I didn’t need to have much beyond basic ruby understanding to demonstrate them with ruby flair. I felt like learning about a topic, while also preparing for a presentation, helps me to focus on the specific areas I want to discuss. I can aim to grasp the concepts I am learning, rather than giving too much information. I found one needs to have a greater understanding of a topic to explain it. More so, when we learn a topic, all the information seems to be a jumbled mess. Teaching it to someone else, forces us to organize our thoughts to communicate it in a logical way to another person and by doing so, increases our understanding.
In my area we also have SoCal Code Camp, which is essentially a free, weekend conference for coders in the area. Most the presentations at the code camp are made by local coders also. The SoCal Code Camp happens 3 times a year in Orange County, San Diego, and LA. I decided to submit my reg ex talk to the second one of the year in San Diego. A huge advantage of this conference is it is they have a lot of room and rarely need to turn away talks. Many regions have something close this concept and they are a great way to start off giving presentations.
I gave my talk to the Ruby Group first. The meetup provided a safe place and also allowed me to receive valuable input on some ways that I could improve and be even more clear. I made the changes they recommended in preparation for the talk that I would give at the code camp.
The Code Camp talk went extremely well also. It was a great feeling having a mostly-full room of people to hear me share something that I had learned. Having given the talk once before to an audience and implementing the recommended adjustments, I felt very comfortable and and also felt I could adjust to the time I had, based on the questions I was receiving. There were a couple times that I responded to a question and was almost shocked at the responses I was giving. I remember feeling like, “Hey! I actually know some of this stuff!” Not that I knew all the answers. I willingly admitted that I did not know everything and if a question I did not know the answer to was asked, I just said, “Follow me on twitter and I will do a bit more research and post it.”
I really enjoyed this process and from this one talk alone, have received several requests to present to other meetups and to submit to other conferences. The process of preparing for a presentation taught me a lot and I plan on having another post specifically on what I learned by presenting in the near future.
####Thanks for reading. Now get out and find a place to give a talk! Just try it…you may find you like it!