We’re regularly asked questions by our members about how on earth they can kick start their speaking careers. Unless they’re a recognised expert how do they find a topic to talk about? Are they experienced enough to have something of value to say?
With this in mind, we were fortunate enough to catch up with experienced speaker, Java Engineer and Evangelist Trisha Gee. Trisha is a Java Champion with expertise in Java high performance systems. She’s a leader of the Sevilla Java Community and dabbles with Open Source development. Trisha is also the IntelliJ IDEA Developer Advocate for JetBrains.
Here are her top tips for new speakers…
1. Don’t be scared to give an introductory talk…
From experience, both as a speaker and as a leader of Java and MongoDB user groups, introductory topics are very popular; particularly in user groups, our Intro to MongoDB talk at the MongoDB user group is always the most popular talk we run.
So, as a relatively inexperienced person, you are more than capable of presenting intro-level talks. You can even present on a subject you don’t know that well; it just takes a weekend of googling, reading and watching other people’s talks to get enough knowledge to present a 45 minute talk on something.
2. Treat your inexperience as a positive…
Being relatively inexperienced, whether in a field, a technology or a process makes you the perfect person to present on it. You’re not overburdened with so much knowledge that you try to squeeze it all in.
You’re in a much better position to understand what a beginner needs to know; you’ll also recognise what’s too confusing or too advanced. Very experienced people are often the worst at trying to teach people something about their area.
Your view as a beginner is also really useful for people who have deep knowledge of an area. Why? Well, for two reasons…
i. It’s easy to forget just how hard it is to get started in something if you’ve been doing it for years
ii. Also, by getting a fresh view on a topic, experienced people can improve the experience for others by providing better documentation, improved APIs, better tooling, better mentoring etc
3. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything…
People who’ve been coding in Java for 20 years still don’t know a lot of things; and those who are truly masters are very open to hearing “I don’t understand” and also, generally are very willing to help people to level up in their field.
4. Set people’s expectations at the start of the talk to give yourself confidence
When I started out I never felt like an expert, but I did feel comfortable saying “I’m a normal developer like you, I’ve made mistakes, and this is what I’ve learnt, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes”. By pitching myself as an ordinary developer, and by making sure my talks set that expectation in the abstract and in the intro, I feel confident about the stuff I’m going to present.
5. Don’t underestimate the level of your experience.
3 years’ experience in industry might not be a long time, but 3 years’ experience of a particular technology is plenty.
3 years’ experience with Java 8 is a lot.
3 years’ experience of Java 10 is impossible, because it came out this year.
You might not feel like an expert but you’re not a complete novice.
– “Introduction to…” talks are always very popular and can pretty comfortably be delivered by anyone.
– Talking about anything at any level with the up-front expectation of “this is my experience using this tool/language/technology” is also completely valid and very valuable.
– Find the level that makes you comfortable, use that and be clear where you’re coming from. If you’re doing introductory talks and are also a novice in that area, just say so.
PS: My view is that people who sneer at others for not knowing something are just suffering from their own lack of self-esteem. I have also found that in the Java world people are really really supportive of speakers of all levels, it’s rare you’ll find even one person in the audience is going to be negative about beginner-level talks or “this is my personal experience” talks.
You can find Trisha on Twitter @trisha_gee and read her blogs here