I love the community that I am part of, I can get help from any number of incredibly kind humans who go the extra mile to make sure you get the result you want. Sometimes though, as with everything in life it takes its toll. I wanted to share something more personal with you.
It’s just over a year now since I first received my Microsoft MVP award. It’s flown past and I’m, really happy with what I have contributed to various different user groups, conferences, and other mediums in the past 12 months. I wanted to give a little insight into what it means when you are seen as a leader in your community.
Keeping up is hard work
First of all, I would say that, especially in technology, keeping up with everything new, learning new things, and learning them to a level that they can be shared with others in the community is hard work. I know I speak for all my fellow MVPs and community advocates that in a world where our technology changes weekly, keeping up with it is really hard work, learning it is even harder, and teaching it is harder still.
This is often made harder by your status as an MVP as well. Not just in the community but within your organisation you are seen as a shining example and technical expert, keeping that up requires significant investments in time both personally and mentally. Some corners of the community find it easy to pick the smallest part of a session delivered by a community leader apart, labor the point, and go in hard when the demo doesn’t work perfectly.
Put simply, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, just like everyone else, and yes, sometimes the demo won’t go according to plan. Trust me, when that happens, we all feel terrible, it’s a gut-wrenching feeling.
Few things are harder than public speaking
I want to replay the amount of effort that goes into preparing for a public speaking engagement, I don’t think people always appreciate the amount of time that goes into those 30-60 minutes of delivery.
For me, preparation starts as soon as the session is accepted. The first step for me is to confirm I still have no clashes, then accept the invitation. Next is doing research, yes I understand the subject I’m presenting very well, but things change, so I spend some time making sure that I understand those changes and if needed, change the demo I had planned to do, and importantly, tell you, the audience, if those changes are worth taking note of, or if you can ignore them for now.
Once that research is done, I write a script for the demo, this includes what I am clicking on, what I want to say, and how long it takes. I always try to leave time for questions, so I want to make sure the demo does not run longer than I intend. That work can take a while depending on the depth of the demo and its complexity. After that though, it’s time to turn my attention to slides.
I use slides as a prompt for me, and to give you as the viewer important information. I’ll talk around the points on slides rather than read them out and try to give as much context as possible. With this, I write the slide content around the demo. After the slides are written, it’s time to practice. I may have delivered this session before, maybe some attendees have seen this talk before, but I’m professional and want to be well prepared. So I keep practicing, I can hone my presentation skills the more I do it.
For me, the nerves kick in about a week before presenting. Remote meetups due to the pandemic have helped a huge amount, but it feels less personal talking to a camera and people remotely. I still get nervous presenting remotely, just as I do in person, at the end of the day, I’m lucky enough to have a personal brand thanks to my work and after the hard work I’ve done to get where I am, it could easily fall apart.
When it comes to the immediate time before my session, especially on stage, I tend to drink plenty of water, try and get set up early so I don’t have to rush, that gives me time to collect my thoughts and get ready to present. Now, it’s session time, hopefully, everything runs quite smoothly and the questions from the audience indicate good engagement.
I will say when it comes to questions, I’m lucky enough that I don’t recall having many difficult or aggressive questions pointed my way, but I know plenty of people who have experienced this. It’s not nice, it’s not called for, and it doesn’t win you many friends. I’m fine with questions, I want questions, if you don’t understand something ask away, I’m happy for questions. After the South Coast Summit in October, I even spent 40 minutes with someone who attended one of my sessions. It’s important to me that you understand what I’m trying to convey in my session, and if I can help you understand by running through some scenarios then I’d like nothing better than to speak with you.
What we don’t want as speakers though are people with the attitude they think they know better. We’re humans, not perfect, not machines who collect and store information on every scenario possible, we deliver our experience. We also understand your scenario may be different, and that means you may well know more than us, great, we’re all here to learn, but, it does not need pitching in a way that belittles the speaker and makes them look inferior. Seriously, be kind.
Finally, we much prefer human interaction, we love social media and it’s helped us build communities, but if you are the sort of person who prefers to undermine, abuse, and belittle behind a keyboard, we don’t need you in the community, and the community doesn’t want you either.
I’m not looking for pity, I consider myself lucky to be in the position I am, and never take it for granted, but just remember, if you are one of the people I’ve described here, it’s not just the speaker you are affecting, you are putting great people off contributing to their community. Community thrives on sharing, it also thrives on the fact we can be diverse and inclusive. So, please, think about your actions and how it affects the others around you.
Speakers and fellow community leaders, it’s ok to have a bad day, feel scared, be tired, and want to take a break. If you’re struggling we are a community and we are all here to help you.
Above all… #BeKind