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Talking the Talk with Faye

At a recent COHAA event, Faye Thompson talked about speaking at Agile events. In her 20 years of industry experience, she has done several speaking engagements, so it was nice to hear some of her stories. For example, once Faye and our very own Jennifer Bleen drove through a snowstorm to deliver a talk on retrospectives to an enthusiastic audience, who, I suppose, powered through the same nasty weather to attend. The event was a hit, and the discussion so good it ran past its scheduled time.

But back to retrospectives. Hasn’t everything already been said about retrospectives? Well, no, not everyone’s unique experience with them has. Plus, you might be surprised how many people don’t know much about them, or the recipe for how to do them well. That’s the thing. Just because you might be super familiar with a topic doesn’t mean others are. And just because books have been written about something doesn’t mean you can’t speak on it and add value too.

Faye asked us to think of a topic that we might like to speak on some day. Crickets. I must admit. Some topics came to mind, but I rejected them out of hand, thinking, everyone already knows about this. Thankfully, one brave fellow in the room who put up an assumingly tired topic voiced what I was thinking. “What’s that?” I said about his topic. “Yeah, what’s that?” someone else said with equal interest. We’d never heard of it. See?

There are all sorts of speaking styles out there. There’s your traditional presentation, where you speak and the audience listens, with some Q & A at the end. But this isn’t the only way. Rather, you could facilitate an open discussion with the room, get them to do the heavy lifting. Who knows, if you do your job well, they might forget you’re the one presenting and you can slip out for a bite.

You don’t have to always roll with the initial room set-up, either. Faye said she likes to rearrange the chairs sometimes to serve her purposes. You might want to, too, as long as it’s OK with the event coordinator.  

Oh, and this is cool. Have you ever heard of a fishbowl? It’s where you set up four chairs in the center of the room, one chair left empty. Only those in the hot seats can discuss the topic at hand, while everyone else watches. It’s better than Survivor. Anyone can join the discussion, but here’s the catch: to do so, you must sit in the empty chair. When you jump in, someone else jumps out, effectively opening an empty chair for the next brave soul.   

Speaking at local (and non-local) events and conferences is a good way to get your name out there. And the platforms are many. Besides COHAA, there are tons of local user groups in existence. Just check out TechLife Columbus, and if you want, you could “eat pizza every night of the week.” By the way, a good way to pack the house for your speaking engagements is to accumulate a following beforehand by blogging and doing podcasts.

Faye gave us some tips on how to submit a presentation proposal for an event – what to include, what not to include. Tip #14: Make sure your bio pic reflects how you want to be viewed. Some are all business, while others could be straight from last summer’s karaoke night. You decide. 

Faye gave us other tips as well. I’m not there yet, but if you’re ever slated to speak at the end of an all-day event, like the Agile 2017 International Conference, say, take time to enjoy the conference. Don’t coop yourself up in your hotel room all day fretting over the details of your presentation. You might psych yourself out and have to leave on a stretcher. I added that last part.

In fact, I got an email from Agile Alliance the other day calling for speaker submissions for their Agile 2017 International Conference. That might be a little too big league for me right now. However, after hearing Faye speak, I could more easily see myself speaking at a COHAA event in the future. What about you?