“Software testing conferences are so expensive that the best way to attend one is to be selected as a speaker.”: those have been my words for the last years. Having been selected as a speaker, I headed to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, in June 2016, for a promising 2-days conference that I had been recommended by one of my previous managers as being one of the best he ever attended in Europe.”
If you have read my first article about this conference as an audience member, you may have already been convinced that this conference is awesome to attend! You may however still need to be persuaded that it is also a really good experience to be a speaker there; In that case here are few points detailing my feedback as a presenter.
— Gita (@gita_m) June 2, 2016
Why going so far away for a testing conference?
Of course you don’t have to go that far to have an opportunity at presenting a topic in software testing! However, since there are many testing conferences in western Europe, you may wonder why I decided to apply at a conference so far away from France… my following points will explain my decision.
Submission – No need to ‘categorize’ your topic
I wanted to present the software testing teaching experience I had with an NGO while traveling to Cambodia in June 2015 (article available on my blog). Therefore, my topic was a bit unusual in the sense that it did not happen at work, and was very orientated towards personal development and pedagogic skills rather than just testing softwares.
Most of the call for papers sections of the conferences contained a tiny drop-down with few values inside: they were asking to categorize my talk. I literally struggled to fit my proposal under the categories offered: ‘Automation’, not at all… Category ‘Agile’ then? Why not, but my teaching unfortunately did not have time to cover Agile processes… The only one that could have roughly fitted would have been “Methods” or “processes”. I honestly don’t remember exactly which conferences offered that option, but they were very few.
Nordic Testing Days was the only conference I could find at that time that did not have this ‘category column’ constraint. It was one of the only call for papers still opened in November, and I remember reading instructions similar to …. “Well, we are just looking for some very unusual and awesome topics!”. Sold!
Additional cost was an important factor
At the time of my application, I was still looking for a new job in a brand new area I had just settled in, which means that I needed to pay for any additional cost not covered by the conference.
This was a very important factor.
Most of the conferences provide a standard ‘pack’ when you are a speaker: you usually get access to the whole conference except the tutorial days; You then have to pay for any dinner, social night out with the other testers.
NordicTestingDays was one of the very rare conferences to also provide the accommodation, as well as dinner and evening drinks, along with a DJ set. I was very pleased! It would allow me to reduce the budget.
As a speaker, I really felt valued
I really felt valued at the NordicTestingDays conference through a collection of small details which really made a difference: a warm welcome, a special speaker badge and the attention from the organizers when I had questions or worries before going on stage made me feel they cared a lot.
A final detail was the cherry on top of the cake: they offered a tiny gift to each speaker at the end of their talk, in front of the audience; And what a gift! Some fine marzipan coming from the best marzipan maker in Tallinn: Kalev!
The right place to rehearse before the talk
A big advantage of having the accommodation in the same place as where the event is held, is that you can go and rehearse your talk, have a rest and relax before your show time. I took a bit of time off early afternoon to do that, and I felt in good conditions when my turn came. Try to aim for the same event configuration if you are subject to stress before going on stage.
Up on stage…
My talk was at 5pm. The room was huge for the little audience I had, but I estimated to around thirty people attending. Going on stage is a special experience as you see the room from a completely new perspective, and, the most scary feeling, as you can see below, the spotlights are on you!
— Gita (@gita_m) June 2, 2016
Few advices during the presentation
Speak slower than you think you do, as your heartbeat increases due to the stress, speeding up your voice automatically. It is a weird thing to do, but trust me it works. I tried it following the advice of Stephen Janaway, who is a regular speaker and also my previous manager, and it helped me breathing and getting my messages through.
If you are afraid of being distracted by looking at the audience into the eyes, aim at looking just above everyone’s head, at the ‘line of horizon’ (that is how I call it). This technic will make the audience feel like you give them attention, but also will avoid you distraction.
After the talk
Besides being relieved that my talk was done, and much more interesting than having to answer questions that may throw you off balance sometimes, I got interesting feedback from some participants regarding their own experience with teaching. They thought the topic was really interesting and were happy to see that, despite of the many rules that can exist in European countries making teaching nowadays really difficult, it was still possible to use innovative and efficient methods to raise smart people.
Plus, after a few weeks, you get the feedback from the organizers who have gathered your audience thoughts, which is really nice and helps you to progress towards your next talk!
To put it in a nutshell…
I would really advise this conference for people who are not used to speak in public. The organization really values your participation and really helps you to get sorted with everything you need, so that your talk experience can occur in the best conditions. If you are still a bit shy after my encouraging article, you can still try the lightning talks, which will be a first step as being a speaker. After all, we all have to start somewhere!