Soon after I learnt that two of my local MVPs, Jodi Wagner and Keir Bowden, were launching a 6 week programme, supported by Salesforce, to train and encourage greater diversity of speakers at Salesforce user groups, world tour, and ultimately, Dreamforce.
Though I wasn't quite the target audience, having spoken at London's Calling, London World Tour, as well as several user groups, I put my hand up to attend. I knew that even though I wasn't a complete beginner, I still had a lot to learn and I was absolutely certain that I could be taught something from two pros like Jodi and Keir.
As you would expect we started at the beginning.
We shared why we wanted to speak at events, if we hadn't, what had stopped us, and if we had, how we had felt before, during, and after presenting.
We delved into the possible reasons that were holding us back. Nerves? Impostor syndrome? Lack of original content?
It is reassuring that even seasoned speakers like Bob Buzzard still experience nerves.
We were asked: what do we know a lot about; what obstacles have we overcome; what is our biggest achievement; or alternatively, what is our biggest failure? Pondering these questions really helped me approach choosing a subject in a new way.
We were given homework (!). We were asked to define our goals for 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years as well as identify five topic areas for possible talks.
With Jodi and Keir off drinking beer and eating pizza in Chicago (their words), Kerry, Antonia, and Pauline were our substitute teachers for week two.
Our focus was on delivery and after we had shared our goals we had a very collaborative session and the team provided some great tips such as to visualise being a confident version of yourself, command attention when on stage, use the space, don't stand still with your arms crossed!
We were warned against talking to our slides, something I realised I had been guilty of. We were encouraged to film our practice runs and pay attention to our body language to identify areas of improvement. Much to my relief, it was confirmed that talking with our hands can be positive, just as well, I couldn't stop it if I tried!
Our homework that week was to answer the following questions in 90 seconds:
Who are you?
What is your Salesforce experience?
What is your favourite thing about Salesforce?
Easy questions right? Yes, but could we keep the answer to 90 seconds?
Keir was back for week three and Will Coleman was our cameraman as we delivered our 90 second introductions. This was a great exercise as it also gave us an opportunity to review ourselves on film. As Keir pointed out, we could reuse the 90 second 'about me' piece time and time again in the future. I intend to do just that.
The subject of week three's lesson was how to choose our presentation topics and things to consider when choosing said topics. We got some great tips such as to consider what is trending, and in what are you an expert, who will be in your audience. We were also advised to capture our ideas as we have them and to build a library of content but that if we encounter writers' block then to move on and return another day.
Our homework this week was to identify three topics and to write an abstract for each one!
As the final two sessions were to be the dry runs and then the presentations themselves (our graduation), week four was our last classroom session and was entitled Building Your Talk.
I took away some great tips from this session. We were told to promise something in our title, my Dreamforce theater session is a good example of this - Achieving Awesome Adoption Through Training & Support, but we were also told to make it tweetable. Since my DF title is 52 characters I failed that one but I will certainly be bearing this in mind when creating future titles.
Possibly the biggest thing I took away from the course though was regarding slides. I know that I relied too heavily on my slides in my first run outs as a speaker, I would use them as a prompt, but also as a form of companion on stage. I know that I have often spent too much time looking at the presentation instead of engaging with my audience.
As I have used my slides as a prompt, I have often included too much text. In the classes I learnt that this is a wrong move for several reasons: The urge to simply read the text aloud is always going to be strong; even if you don't read the text, your audience might and it is hard to read and listen at the same time and so if they are reading, they won't be listening; if you include something they don't understand then you may lose them as they ponder its possible meaning.
This happened to me in my dry run with the first slide. I used the acronym SABWA, it means Salesforce Administration by Walking Around and was coined by Mike Gerholdt.
Keir didn't know what SABWA stood for and fed back that he was busy pondering what it meant and therefore stopped listening to my talk.
I took this feedback away, as well as the advice to keep slides as simple and text-free as possible and so version two of this second slide (right/bottom) had all text replaced with images. I think that it is an improvement and stand out as an absolute example of my learning from the classes.
Having all completed our dry runs and received frank feedback from our teachers and fellow students alike, we had a date for our graduation. The only thing left was to act on everything we had learnt, work on our slides and presentation skills, and push aside the nerves.
Graduation day came around and was to be at the London Developers user group. As my topic was entitled Delight Your Users With Awesome Support, I was immediately anxious as this was hardly a topic likely to interest a room full of developers. I felt like I had fallen at the first hurdle. Thankfully it was a fairly mixed crowd and as it was a lightning talk, I hoped that I could keep the short time entertaining and informative enough to keep their attention.
I delivered the fourth of the five scheduled lightning talks. My class mates were amazing, Rad even included a live demo as part of her talk. Dave, Courtney, and Antonina each also did a fabulous job and we ended the evening with a dance performance as Antonina and her instructor took to the floor and gave us a twirl (I kid you not).
The sessions were all filmed and I will include the video here when it has been published but for now here are some photos of me looking fairly confident presenting my lightning talk. The confidence I felt was undoubtedly thanks to the programme.
I learnt a lot over the course of the programme and I am confident my two talks at Dreamforce will be much more polished because of what I was taught in the classes. I might not have started off as a complete novice but I left the course thinking about speaking in a different way, I will prepare my slides in a new fashion, and think carefully about how I position and present myself on stage.
The team are considering running the programme again so if you are in London and interested then please complete this form to express your interest. I thoroughly recommend the course.