Wednesday 9 July 2014

Open to Feedback

I spoke at AgileWelly last night in order to practice my talk for CAST2014. It was the first time that I'd presented in an auditorium, to a very large audience, from behind a podium, under a spotlight, with a microphone. The environment was certainly intimidating.

Before beginning, I emphasised to the audience that I was keen to receive feedback on my presentation, so that I could improve it before repeating myself on an international stage. I was nervous about asking people to critique my work because I was worried about what they would say, but I was also worried that they might not say anything! Indifference is the worst reaction.

As I finished speaking, I had already self-identified a couple of areas that I wanted to improve.

I thought that my introduction and conclusion were weak. These were the areas in which I was least prepared, and it wasn't as easy as I had imagined to improvise the content.

Additionally, when I checked the clock at the end of my first section, I realised that I was speaking far too quickly. I was so nervous that I flown through my slides, and I had to consciously collect myself in order to continue at my planned, and more sedate, pace.

Given that it was so easy for me to identify these two changes, even in overwhelming-post-presentation-brain-overload, my feedback fears intensified. No longer did I think that people wouldn't have anything to say. Instead I thought that they'd have so much constructive criticism that I would be overwhelmed!

In the last 24 hours I have been privileged to receive a great deal of feedback from a number of different people. Thankfully, it's been largely positive. The suggestions offered have been constructive, and I've seen some consistent themes emerge.

Many people have endorsed my self assessment. But in addition to identifying these same issues, they've also offered helpful and specific suggestions as to how I might change my approach. These have included both general presentation skills, and ways to expand particular pieces of my content.

I've also had feedback that I never would have thought of myself. Great ideas for how I might add content to the presentation based on the questions I received at the end, tips to promote my associated blog posts, and terminology for concepts that I was describing.

The feedback I've been given is a reflection on the strong IT community in Wellington. Thank you Aaron, Sarah, Craig, Ben, Stu, Larrie, Nigel, William, Adrian, Shaun, Yvonne, and others.

Though the whole experience was really challenging, both presenting in a difficult environment and opening myself to critique, I really have learned a lot from it. I would have felt annoyed to be leaving the stage in New York thinking that I could have done it better. I want to deliver the best talk that I am capable of.

If you're yet to open your next presentation to feedback, I would encourage you to do so.

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