Monday, June 30, 2014

On Speaking

Back in 2004, I attended my first PASS Summit conference. I was not as integrated into the community back then, and only knew a few folks. I met some great folks on that adventure, some i still know today and some that have become quite celebrities in the community. I attended because a local user group leader encouraged me to attend, as he encouraged me to do a great many things. One of which was to speak at the local User Group. I was frightened, and exhilarated.

Having grown up in a religion that encourages its members to speak, I have had various opportunities throughout my life to stand in front of an audience and speak. I did so as a youth many times, also as a missionary, and as an adult. One in particular will always remain fresh in my mind. Usually as a youth, after speaking to the congregation, you get the 'good job' and 'atta boys' doled out by members of your congregation. They do it to make you feel better, since you probably looked terrified while in front of them. I received some of these while at church. But after church, members called me at home to congratulate me. This was when phones were not as easily accessible as today, so it seemed like an extra effort to call a child and buoy them up for a job well done. I was elated. And terrified. It meant that I had a knack for speaking, that I didnt appear to be as terrified as I felt, and that meant that I oughta continue practicing the talent, or it would become latent. So I did. I never really shied away from opportunities to speak.

Fast forward to the User Group leader who asks me to speak. I say yes. I give it a shot. I am thrilled at being selected to speak, and humbled at the task, as well as terrified. But I pull it off and get compliments. Not overflowing, but not under. A sweet spot. So I repeat at the next chance.

As my career marches on, more opportunities have presented themselves. I once spoke at a Microsoft event to a large room full of attendees, following the lesson notes they had outlined, teaching about Analysis Services. I had never used it before for real, but here I was teaching it to a crowd. I did OK. Not great, but not bad enough to recognize in myself the lack of this talent, or the subsiding of talent such that I should quit. I did OK.

I remember being asked to fly to Arizona to record some sessions for a training company. I was thrilled again. Humbled. Worried. Scared. Thrilled. Me, they picked me. I did it, and it was OK. I did good enough to be asked back on multiple occasions.

When it came time for our own community events here in my home state, I volunteered to not only speak, but to help out organize and do tasks and whatnot to help the event be accomplished. I have done this every chance I get, and have even volunteered at regional events. At this same time, I volunteer in various capacities in PASS. Each time I get to do a task, a part of me is thrilled that I was picked. I was allowed to give some of me to something bigger than me.

After a while, I notice that I may be expecting to be picked, and when this happens, I need to remind myself of the beginnings, and those feelings of humble come back. The scared and thrilled are ever present. But remembering to be humble at being picked is key. Then the level of thrill can remain high when you are picked.

I have never spoken at the PASS summit, though I have heard some members respond in surprise to this knowledge, as they coulda swore that I had. Nope. I have submitted a couple times, but have not been selected. I have been selected to SQL Saturdays and Code Camps. Once I have been asked to not speak at an event I had submitted to. Besides PASS Summit, I have been accepted to every even I have submitted. Does this make me proud? Yes. But does it mean I deserve it next time? No. I try to temper the pride with the humility of being asked to speak, because remember, that allows the thrilled feelings to be elated.

So, in a word, get over yourself. If you are not selected, you will get over it. There will be another opportunity. If you are selected to speak, awesome. Accept it with humility. Be proud you were selected. Prepare to do as good a job as you can do. Do a better job than you did last time you were given this singular honor. Be scared and thrilled. Realize that no matter how much 'celebrity' you think you are, you are just a person. Treat each opportunity like your first and react accordingly. Don't ever loose that excitement that the first infused into your being. And be scared. And be thrilled.


Robert Davis said...

Great post and very well said.

When I did not get selected to speak at the 2013 PASS Summit, I had a few people comment to me directly that it was an outrage. I assured them that it was not. The pool of talented speakers grows every year. There is no way every session that deserved to be picked is able to be picked.

If you don't get picked, it may not mean you didn't deserve to be. It may simply mean that there were too many great submissions to choose from.

Karen Lopez - said...

Well written. I'm tired of the drama and outrage and personal attacks about speakers who should have have been chosen because they aren't enough of a celebrity.

It's like they think that they some how never had a first speaking opportunity or that they, too, were a first time PASS Summit speaker.

They are lucky that the celebrities before them had much more class and professionalism to not make a huge fuss about some young "bad selection" speaker & abstract being chosen before them.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea of "Be scared and thrilled." That's interesting to me.

I rarely get "scared and thrilled" by presenting anymore. And I kind of miss it.

It has nothing at all to do with thinking of myself as a celebrity (a concept that still kind of makes me giggle when it comes to our technical community, because I really do find everyone to be pretty humble and approachable compared to some other communities). I have one friend who I consider to be a "celebrity", and she publishes a popular tumbler account of cat pictures.

It's simply that I teach very frequently these days. It's not all conferences, it's clients and webcasts and other events, too, but it's a lot of presenting and teaching. And when you do anything frequently, it's less scary. It's less thrilling. You develop processes to help you cope with the things that are the most difficult. Your brain develops habits and techniques for doing certain things automatically. You get more and more "comfortable". (I don't mean lazy at all -- in fact I've developed habits that keep me from procrastinating and help me prepare more thoroughly over time. I just mean comfortable.)

I guess what I really like about your post is that you remind us "You're never done getting over yourself." And going even farther, I think maybe, "You should always make yourself a little uncomfortable." Whether you're first starting out or a repeat speaker, that seems really true to me.

Thanks for the post, I really liked thinking about it.

Granted said...

Wow! Great post. Thanks for putting it out there.

Neil Hambly said...

Love this post, I remember fondly on my pleasure of meeting you and have a blast @ the Dallas SQL Rally
You are echoing a lot of thoughts that I'm sure I and many speakers have
With the abundance of submissions and events now, it is likely we have and will @ times continue to be 'passed over' @ times
It is a great to see what attitude you have and one we should echo
I love presenting that is for sure, but I also love attending and helping and watching our new talent get their chance as well
I look forward to saying Hello again soon

Tim Costello said...

Excellent post TJ. I really enjoyed it.