Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the conference season is winding down. Did you present at any software conferences this year? If not, why not? In my view, everyone has something they can present, but how are you supposed to know what to present?
When I'm at a software conference with some of the most accomplished testers in the world, I sometimes find it difficult to believe that I could possibly have anything to contribute. Remember though, that conferences have beginner and advanced tracks for a reason. You really do not need a groundbreaking discovery in the field of testing to submit a conference proposal. However, what you do need is a presentation that will help people learn something or see a topic from a new angle.
When it comes to learning how to give a presentation, T.N.C. Venkata Rangan has an excellent three-point strategy: read others' advice, listen to great speakers, and then do it yourself—as often as possible.
There is an immense amount of advice online on how to deliver a presentation. You'll notice some common themes that are worth paying attention to: keep it simple, engage your audience, know your material, and practice beforehand. On other points, there is no consensus; in fact, recommendations from different people often directly contradict each other.
Every person tells the story of what works best for him, and your challenge is to find what works best for you. The way you present is an extension of your personality, and advice on presenting has to accord with it to be useful.
Watching other speakers may let you pick up a few tips, but more importantly, it'll help you solidify your idea of what you want to project when you are the one on stage.
I have a few presenters that I recommend you check out to help get you started. First, Lawrence Lessig. His presentation style is often referred to as either the Takahashi Method or the Lessig Method. This method illustrates the fact that your slides are not your presentation—you are your presentation. Lessig's classic talk, “Free Culture,” and his more recent presentation, “Laws that Choke Creativity,” are two good examples of this particular method.
Although Guy Kawasaki, as a second example, presents in a more conventional format than Lessig, his excellent talk, “The Art of the Start,” shows that a straightforward slide deck doesn't have to be boring.
Third, in presenting “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brené Brown shows us the power of telling a compelling story. Even if you got rid of the projector entirely, her message would still carry just as much impact.
The most important point when it comes to presenting is to get out there and do it! Admittedly, it can be intimidating at first, but one good way to counter that intimidation is to start with smaller groups, which may make you more comfortable. If you broaden your scope to include local technology interest groups that aren't strictly test-focused, you'll likely find that you have numerous opportunities to choose from.
Every talk is a learning experience. The first one is the hardest, but you may well be surprised at the reception you get. Go for it!
Rick Scott is a Canadian philosopher-geek who's profoundly interested in how we can collaborate to make technology work better for everyone. Rick's an incorrigible idealist, an open source contributor, and a staunch believer in testing, universal access, and the hacker ethic. When he's not in front of a computer, you'll find Rick hiking, making cupcakes, or honing his viola technique.