Taking the Mic

An important part of working as a developer (and in many other careers) is being able to talk about your work in front of an audience. It provides visibility for you and your organisation, and can open up opportunities for future work and collaboration. If you belong to underrepresented groups in tech, stepping up to the mic can help people like you to see a career for themselves, and also change the attitudes of others. I have now given two talks on RDFIO, and plan on more, learning as I go.

My first experience of public speaking on this project came within the first week of the internship. I had traveled to Montréal to attend SMWCon, and my mentor Joel and I had proposed a short talk on RDFIO as part of the schedule. We worked together on it in Ottowa on the Tuesday, and tried out a very rough cut on Joel’s colleagues at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. When the time came on Friday morning, I was pretty nervous, and Joel took over the introduction. However, I soon recovered and managed to deliver an overview of the project and what I was hoping to accomplish. However, I knew I could do better, so started thinking about how to improve for next time.

In preparation for my next talk, I had an online meeting with Jen Myers, an experienced conference speaker and instructor at Dev Bootcamp and Girl Develop It. Jen runs a weekly office hours for women who are beginner tech speakers. We had a very useful chat on Skype covering talk structure and performance tips, leaving me feeling a lot more confident about preparing for my next speaker slot.

When giving a talk, I prefer to improvise rather than stick to a strict script. However, that doesn’t mean that preparation isn’t required – freewheeling takes practice. One of the best tips Jen gave me was to develop a mental map of the path of the talk, so that if you meander off at any point (which is fine), you can find your way back to where you were going. I spent a while running over the content, finding where I was liable to stray that bit too far and where there were dead ends.

My presentation was at the Open Knowledge meetup, which this month was held at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. We went through airport-style scanners, and then I chatted to some of the other people attending whilst I waited. After a couple of talks and a break, it was my turn, and I cued up my slides on the touch-sensitive projector screen (which was fun to use!). This time I felt far more confident and assured, and ran through the content with a clear idea of where I was going and little hesitation. It just goes to show that the right preparation can go a long way, and most things get easier with practice.

There’s no video this time, but I did get to pose with a parliamentary mace: