Today was a good news/bad news day… The good news today was the organizers accepted my submission for the AgileTour Montreal conference. The bad news is I did a dry run of that talk at the monthly Agile Montreal meeting and came out with the feeling that I bombed. It is probably not as bad as it seemed, but to know what happened, please read on to find out.

When I do a talk, I try to enjoy myself and put on a good show. My talks are usually a mix of theory and real life stories that I use to prove the point. I am usually a bit nervous the first five minutes but then I am warmed up and I cruise through the talk.

Tonight, the nervousness would just not go away. I usually try to listen to myself during talks to check on how I am talking. Am I speaking too fast or is it a slow and confident pace. Am I speaking loud enough for the folks in the back to hear me? Am I babbling of hesitating too much? Am I always repeating certain words (such as: so, actually, eh)? I check on myself regularly during the talk and usually adapt or correct myself. Tonight, I spoke fast because was nervous and I had great difficulty overcoming it.

When you mentally check on yourself, you have to make sure you do not freak yourself out. An analogy for this is that I recently started playing hockey again after being suffering a wrist injury that kept me away from the ice for 1.5 years. When you play hockey, you cannot play with the fear of getting injured, because you probably will hurt yourself or scare yourself away from an easy play. When you give a talk, it is similar. You need to keep your focus on the talk and not think about how you are feeling at the moment. If you start over thinking about how nervous you are, you can make yourself feel even worse by focusing on that in your head. You need to recognize the signs passively and keep pushing through.

This talk was not new to me, I presented it in May at the Rational User Group in Montreal and I also used the materials in a series of workshops in June. Tonight I found I just could not get into my groove. I had the theory part down but the stories did not come to mind as easily.

Another consideration is that I removed three or four slides of content from the deck to save some fresh stuff for AgileTour. This may not sound like much, but the entire deck is about 24 slides on which I can usually talk an hour and a half to two hours depending on audience participation. So taking out three slides in this scenario does make a significant difference.

When I do a talk, I usually go over the slides the night before, get in the presentation location early, settle myself down and glance through the slides one last time. I did part of the prep work the night before, I felt ready for it. I did not do my usual routine at the talk location as they unlocked the room late. I also did not do my usual jokes at the start of the talk to help settle my nerves. I usually talk the first five minutes and make a bad joke or two to get comfortable.

I am redoing this talk next month as part of the AgileTour conference. Originally, I was not planning to translate the slides, but now I think I will. I think I will also write down some of stories in the slide notes to jog my memory. I usually only have the high level notes there.

What lessons do I take from this? The first is always make sure to be 100% prepared and make sure I walk through the stories to tell even if I forget some of them when I give the talk. The stories are what make my talks engaging. People like to hear about the good, the bad and the ugly as long as I keep it entertaining.

The second lesson is no last minute hiding of slides. I did it tonight because I knew I was redoing this talk next month and I wanted to give people a reason to sit through another one of my talks. On a night like tonight with low audience participation during the talk, it probably hurt me.

A colleague that attended the talk gave me some good advice tonight that I will also consider in future talks. He suggested that I give the audience a good seven seconds when I asked a question to give them time to answer. I will do that next time and will complement that by letting people know that I encourage them to join in to make the talk more interactive.

The good part about tonight was that I extended the talk by using another of my presentation decks. Because we had some extra time after my presentation, we started talking about daily scrums for distributed teams. As people were talking, I opened my deck on the topic and gave the audience some bonus content based on content from the book.

If you came to my talk tonight, please come back to see me talk at AgileTour. I will make it worth your while!