Volunteer to speak at a user group
User group leaders are always looking for speakers. The more often a user group meets, the more speakers the organizer needs to line up. For instance, I organize two user groups (North Boston Azure and DevBoston) which means in order to meet monthly – I need to find 24 speakers a year … that isn’t easy to do – and that also doesn’t capture day long events we do during the year too where we need multiple speakers for that single day workshop. Keep in mind, the more narrow focus/specialized the user group is – the harder it is to find qualified presentations (like my Azure user group … there are only so many people presenting Azure topics in the New England area).
Pick your topic and write an abstract
Related to last week’s post on Attending a user group – I suggest you pick a topic related to where you want to take your career (and are really interested in) … even if that isn’t what you do day-to-day (yet).
Once you pick a topic, you need to come up with an abstract to submit to the user group organizer. I suggest working backwards and coming up with a rough outline of what you think would make a good presentation and fill in the details as much as you can. Then come up with a summary that captures what you have outlined. It may help to look at some other meetup descriptions or events like VS Live session abstracts to get a good sense of how good abstracts are written … it is an art form and takes practice and effort to write a good one.
Submit your topic to a user group
Hopefully you’ll have an idea of user groups in your area that your talk would fit with – if not see last week’s post about attending a user group. Depending on how the meetup.com site is configured for the meetup/user group you should be able to contact the organizer and/or suggest your topic on the website … however I would not suggest using meetup.com for this.
I suggest you personally contact the organizer - just like finding jobs, submitting a resume through a website may go into a black hole and never get looked at … the same thing happens when submitting a talk through meetup.com.
Once you’ve attended the user group you want to present at, make sure you introduce yourself to the organizer and let them know you are wanting to do a talk – and get their contact information. Once you’ve successfully introduced yourself to the organizer in person, you can then email them your abstract.
Then wait for the thumbs up or thumbs down. If your talk isn’t accepted, don’t be discouraged. You can either ask the organizer if later in the year would be better or at least get an idea of why it wasn’t accepted. If it is a hard no, then find another group to submit it to or try a local code camp.
Create the presentation
Once your talk has been accepted - find out date and length of time you will have to present. If you are not used to putting presentations together you may need a little more time to prepare – keep this in mind when submitting your talk and committing to a date. There is plenty of material on the internet about putting a presentation together – so I’ll leave this step to you … besides I’m not an expert and can always use help on putting presentations together too.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you have the presentation prepared (or at least drafted), practice it – and time it. if the thought of presenting makes you nervous – realize you are not alone … and keep practicing. I used to be really nervous in front of a crowd but have mostly overcome that with years of presenting to groups. Here is the strategy that has worked for me:
- put the slides together into the flow you think will be a good presentation
- practice it – don’t memorize it or read the bullet points – talk to the bullet points. If it is too long trim some slides or bullet points. Maybe rearrange the slides if you think the flow would be better.
- practice it again using slightly different terminology and different ways to explain things – again don’t memorize it
- practice it again and using yet slightly different terminology and ways to explain things
At this point you have practiced it three times and should have a general idea of how much time it takes to present it … however the biggest advantage of this approach is you have now described the slides in three different ways – so when you are nervous and have some problems during the presentation there is a really good chance you will remember at least one of the ways you described the slide in the practice sessions.
This approach has worked well for me over the years. The first time I gave a presentation at a code camp, I had practiced it 7 times and knew the material and timing so well it was really easy to present it even though I was still really nervous.