The 1st time should be like the 100th time and vice versa

This past week I spoke at KCDC which is a wonderful conference in Kansas City, MO. Yes, there are actually developers in the midwest doing amazing things. Last year was the first year I was there, and it added between 300 and 400 people from last year to this year.

I had the joy of doing 2 brand new presentations. The first was on professionalism, called “Can Professionals Wear Shorts?” The second was more on focusing on your career growth called “How to land your next job: you don’t want to be the COBOL guy in the corner do you?” I really enjoyed doing both of them, they’re both on subjects that near and dear to my heart.

In between talks I hung out some in the speakers room. Sometimes this is the best part of a conference, as you get to meet other speakers talk about what they’re passionate about etc. It’s the ultimate “hallway conversation.” At these conferences there are quite a few people who have the job of traveling to conferences and speaking. They might give the same talk on “How to do TDD” or “What is MongoDB?” 20 times in a single year. If pressed, they could probably give you their talk in their sleep.  Then there are folks who are giving their first talk ever, not the first time they’ve given THIS talk, the first time they’ve given ANY talk. There’s also everything in between these two extremes.

As I attended a few sessions a thought struck me. I was super excited about my talks. I was eager to talk about my subjects. I wanted to make sure I did a good job as well. I didn’t want anyone to think “I bet this is the first time he’s ever given this talk.” I wanted to be a seasoned vet in this subject.  For the most part, I don’t worry too much about speaking in general. After years of debate and preaching, talking at a conference is no big deal.

But then the thought hit me, what about the other extreme? What if I had given this talk 50 or 100 other times? Obviously it would be polished. I would know the content forward and backwards, I would probably know most of the questions and comments people would make. But would it be boring to my audience? While it might be the 100th time I’ve given a talk, it’s most likely the 1st time these people are seeing it (unless you have some weird groupies that follow you around and listen to the same talk over and over.)

Speakers owe it to their listeners to make sure the first time they give a talk is as polished as the 100th time, and the 100th time they give a talk is as entertaining and exciting as the 1st time.


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