You should give that presentation

I love presenting. I love getting up on stage and teaching developers how to be better developers. I love seeing the light explode in their eyes as concepts click in to place and new ideas and connections are formed. There are few things as exciting to me as this sensation. A lot of my personal motivation for being a good coder is to be continually finding new material that I can teach.

When I talk to developers about presenting, I usually hear the sentiment that they want to present at a conference, but have extreme doubts about their ability to do so. I can empathize with this. Doubt is a classic human characteristic, and we all experience it in some form or another.

But you should give that presentation. If you want to speak at a conference, you should absolutely do it. You may question whether or not you “know” enough to give a presentation. But trust me, you do.

There are three main kinds of presentations (these aren’t exact categorizations, but it’s how I think about them):

  1. There are, of course, the technical presentations. These are the ones we generally think about when considering the schedule of a conference. Maybe you’ve spent some time digging in to something unique for the apps you’re working on. Maybe you’ve built something new. Talking about what it does and how to use it forms the core of any good technical presentation.

  2. Next, there’s the inspirational presentation. These are ones that tend to not relay very much technical content, but help motivate attendees to try new ideas or “keep on keeping on”.

  3. However, there’s a more fundamental type of presentation that underpins these other two: the experiential one. These presentations are ones that everyone is qualified to give. These are the ones the relate what you experienced. Maybe it was your experience using a technical concept, and you want to tell the story of the problems you came up and how you solved them. Maybe it’s your experience getting in to coding at all. Maybe it’s something completely different, but on reflection, you can see how there are larger lessons you learned that you want to pass on. These are the “lessons learned” presentations, and they’re usually a big hit with attendees.

    One of the main reasons these sorts of presentations are insanely interesting is that they often go in to the process that led to the reached conclusions. Since we are all unique people, we have unique ways of experiencing and learning things. Teaching others how we learned something, even if the “learned thing” is already known, is itself an incredibly valuable tool for others to have. Knowing how you arrived at a certain conclusion equips me with more tools to solve problems in the future. I cannot understate how valuable that is. As coders, we solve hard problems, and the more tools we have to find solutions, the more capable we become at solving them1.

I was talking with a friend of mine recently about presenting, and he expressed the typical doubt about his relevance and fitness to present. But then I started reminding him of all the things he has done over his career, and the experience he’s gained from it. I told him how unique that was, and how conveying that experience to others would be valuable. And now he’s working on a presentation.

You too have a wealth of life experiences to draw upon. You are unique, and that uniqueness is excellent fodder for presentation content.

So, I’m going to make you an offer.

Are you a developer preparing to give your first presentation at a conference? If you are, drop me an email via my contact page, and I’ll help you refine your slides. I’ll go over your content with you, make sure you have a good flow between topics, and that your slides match what you’re trying to teach.2

Because you should give that presentation.

  1. Insert caveat here about how “having” a tool doesn’t necessarily imply you know how to use it. I’m assuming that the understanding is present. 

  2. I don’t know how long I’ll keep this offer available; it is, of course, dependent on demands for my time. Also, our communication will have to be in English (or maybe Spanish).

    Alternatively, are you going to be speaking at a conference I’ll be at? I’ll happily sit down with you and go over your content there with you too. 

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