Speaker Lessons

I have had the opportunity to work on both sides of the speaking realm as both a regular speaker and event organizer. Over the years, there have been a number of interesting incidents which lead me to write this post. For the most part, I believe the majority of aspiring speakers behave professionally, but there are definitely those who don’t fit the bill. I thought I would share a few stories and some takeaways. This is certainly not a full list, just something that hit me as a valuable post for those who plan to be a speaker at different events. I have excluded any names from the stories to protect the guilty and avoid making someone look bad.

Once there was a keynote speaker that provided an abstract that sounded great. The abstract talked about how things had been in the past, what we have done to make things better and the bright future ahead. All was well with the world until the speaker started talking. The keynote content was one of the most boring and disliked sessions in the history of the event. Attendees were blasting the speaker and his illustrious keynote on Twitter as the blather continued to spew. I was in the back hallway crouched down by the floor with my head in my hands wishing for time to speed up so he could be finished and get off the stage.

LESSON TO SPEAKERS:

  • Your abstract is not just a quirky little paragraph to make people think you are witty and come see your session. It is a tool for attendees to determine what content makes sense for them and if the content doesn’t match the abstract you have missed the point. Make sure your abstracts are clear in what the intent of the session is and who should be there as well.
  • Know your audience, if you are going to present content that is focused on a specific audience be sure to indicate that in your abstract. Additionally, look at the event to get a feel for whether the attendees will be interested.

I was once contacted by a speaker the week of the conference letting me know that a family health emergency had come up and they could not attend. Obviously, I was understanding and cancelled their sessions with my hopes that all would work out well. Then one of the conference staff members mentioned that the speaker just posted on a popular social networking site how great their vacation with their family was going. After a quick look, the speaker was indeed having a wonderful time with their family, which is great for them. I don’t care that the speaker was on vacation and would have understood if he had been honest. Why did the speaker feel the need to lie? Who cares, the fact is that they didn’t have the courage to be honest.

Community Events of Note

With 2010 already well underway, a new list of community events is building up.  Of course, devLink will be happening August 5 – 7 in Nashville, but I am going to be at a couple of others and wanted to bring them some attention. 

January 20th, Nashville, TN – A lap around PDC featuring Steve Ballmer
Microsoft is putting on a one day event in Nashville with Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft doing the keynote.  This is a summary of some of the content that came out at PDC in 2009, so it should be very informative for those using Microsoft development platforms and tools.

January 21, Murray, KY – Western Kentucky .NET User Group
I have been given the honor of being the inaugural speaker at the Western Kentucky .NET User Group in Murray, KY.  I will be presenting on Effective Interface Design.  If you are in the area please come by for the kickoff meeting of this new group.

January 23, Mobile, AL -  Alabama Code Camp
This is my first time going to the Alabama Code Camp, but the lineup looks excellent.  I will be presenting three sessions and really looking forward to getting down there.  If you are in or around the area, you might want to consider going to this free event. 

January 29, Louisville, KY – Louisville .NET Meetup Group
My last community event of the month will be a presentation at the Louisville .NET Meetup Group.  I will be presenting Tools, Tips and Tricks for the .NET Developer which should be a great time.  If you are in Louisville then check it out.