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My DPC Speaker Experience

DPC Chairs
You may notice that my last blog discussed my route to DPC and how I planned to deliver a good talk. Now you know what they say about the best laid plans… I had so many ideas about how my talk would be delivered but actually giving a talk turned out to be much harder than I first thought! I was delighted even to be considered to give a talk at DPC11 and I’m now offering some thoughts on the traps I fell into and how I would like to improve if I get the opportunity to give a talk again.
 

Delivery … 

Giving a talk looks easy, right? Well that’s what I thought, before I gave my talk. It’s very easy to criticise speakers and much harder than I believed to actually deliver an enthusiastic and engaging talk. This is actually the first trap I fell into, I’m generally quite a confident guy but put me in front of an audience and that soon changes, so I practised my talk a few times; I spoke to my fellow colleagues, I spoke at PHP London and PHP West Midlands. However standing up there yesterday, I really felt like I hadn’t practised enough. So my biggest tip if you’re considering giving a talk and you don’t have much experience would be to practise, practise, practise again, then practise some more.
 
Although I had practised this talk before, with varying degrees of confidence I must admit, on the day my confidence levels plummeted. Now there were a couple of reasons for this, firstly I had a last minute change in slide order and content (I’ll come to that later) and secondly it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually giving a talk on DPC and if I was listening to this talk I might be a little bit bored. Not the best thing to come into your mind when you have an audience I can assure you! So it really is important to conquer your nerves and sound authoritative and most of all be enthusiastic about what you are delivering. Conquering your nerves and sounding enthusiastic is not that easy and I’m sure you can read many theories on how to do this ranging from “imagine everyone on the toilet” to “imagine yourself sucking a lemon”.

One other thing I would think about when delivering a talk is how to command the space. While you may not think it, your movements and body language help to engage the audience. So one tip I was given by a former colleague was that if I wanted the attention to be on the slides, remain still however if I wanted the attention to be on me (eg if I was just talking and the audience didn’t need to look at the slide) then I should move around, use gestures etc.

Finally, I think it would have really helped my talk delivery if I had given more examples of how to use search, and Solr in particular. I think from my own personal experience of attending a talk that it is easier to follow if the speaker gives a story behind their choices. So when talking about Solr, on reflection, it would have been better to include more real-life code examples in screen shots and explain each of them in greater detail.   

The slides….

When writing the slides there are many things to be taken into consideration. The most important lesson I learnt yesterday is that it is a bad idea to change your slides before you talk. Too many alterations are not a good move, especially last minute. A couple of days before my talk I changed the order of my slides, this meant that the talk I gave at DPC was different to the one I had practised. I would not recommend changing slides after having practised the talk extensively, as this was offputting. During the talk, the slides I anticipated coming up next were not there and I found it really hard to remember what was coming up next. After all those changes I then thought that actually the slides were in a better order beforehand, as I’d actually written a methodical plan.

Something to consider when writing the actual slides is not to put too much on each slide. Of the talks I saw yesterday the ones I preferred were the ones with little information on each slide. This was a trap I thought I had avoided as I thought about it carefully during the writing process. However I think there were some slides with too much information and a clearer way to plan the slides would be to have no more than 3 brief bullet points per slide which you can then explain. Visual images also help to maintain interest levels, such as a live demo to truly show the power of searching with Solr.

Finally …

In conclusion, I would say that although this talk may not have been as successful as I had hoped, it has been a great experience. I think it’s always good to take on new challenges and this was I bigger challenge than I had anticipated. Doing my first talk has been a steep learning curve and now I definitely have a better idea of how I would go about doing a talk in the future. Thank you to everyone who has given me constructive feedback. Talking at an event such as DPC takes a lot of courage and I certainly have more respect now for speakers having gone through the experience myself. I wish anyone giving a talk the best of luck, don’t forget to practise as much as possible!

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