My adventures with speaking and what changed

I am writing this blog post as contribution to #NewStarNovember and what got me re-started as a tech speaker in 2020.

I haven’t done a lot of tech speaking – and no the reason is not what you likely think it is..it is not jitters or stagefright or any such thing. I do have my share of nervousness, and everyone should, but that is not what kept me from it. I am a two time Toastmaster, and there was a time when I really used to enjoy speaking.

When I got into the community in 2005-ish, there weren’t too many woman POCs speaking. In fact, there were none. There weren’t many men POCs either, other than a couple of people who were well-known as bloggers/businessmen and also did speaking on the side. At the summit, we saw some MSFT employees who would take to stage to speak on tech topics. Most of the time, they were not experienced speakers. Sometimes, they were not even familiar with the slides they were using – those were made by someone else and handed to them after. The audience rarely liked their accent. Lots of criticism and ridicule happened outside. All of this significantly discouraged me to even try.

Also, I wasn’t someone who dabbled with a lot of tech outside work. I say a lot of’ – because I wasn’t a nine-to-fiver who didn’t touch anything tech after either. I attended plenty of events and workshops, kept myself up-to-date, and read a lot of books. I just didn’t do things like build personal labs and get involved in forum discussions. I had personal obligations and hobbies I liked to pursue in my free time. Why was this important? It was important because without devoting significant time, finding a good topic to present and making myself seen as a speaker was hard. I also set the bar too high here, comparing myself to top-notch speakers like Brent Ozar and Grant Fritchey, and telling myself that I could never be them – if they were speaking, why would anyone care to listen to someone like me?

I had some people ask and encourage me to try – like Kevin Kline and Allen White, but never found it in me to actually try – until Covid hit and in-person events stopped. 2020 was a personally devastating year for me, with several losses. During this time, Ben Weissman and William Durkin started ‘New Stars of Data’. I was working at a great software company and learned some new skills which I thought would interest people. I reached out to Ben, asking if I could submit. Ben could hardly believe that I had not spoken much and readily said ‘yes’, I should submit. I looked for a speaking mentor, and found a great one in Eugene Meidinger. Eugene always found time for me, had great innovative ideas to spruce up the slide deck and watched all my talks. I recommend him greatly to anyone looking to speak, newly or restarting.

That’s how I kickstarted speaking. Ben also paired me with Erin Stellato – someone I looked up to as a speaker and as an ally/great human. That helped me significantly. After this talk, I spoke at 5 events in 2020, 7 in 2021, and 8 in 2022.

I learned a few lessons after I started speaking more. They are as below.

I like speaking but am not obsessed with doing it like some people are. It motivates me, but writing articles and organizing events inspires me even more. I think this is me, and I am not sure this will change.

I do better with allies in the audience. I don’t know if this is a positive or a negative, but I just seem to like it better. When I submit or accept to speak – I make sure my moderator is someone I consider an ally. It just works well that way.

Finding topics is still hard, and the effort to translate an idea into a talk is a lot. I have renewed, massive respect for speakers who do advanced talks. It is hard. Very hard. I plan to work on a couple of talks for 2023 during the holidays.

A sincere thank you to Ben and William for helping me get re-started. I hope my story helps others struggling to find what they like and enjoy doing and learn more about who they are. Thanks for reading!

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