Public Speaking, Terrifying and Rewarding!

Hey guys!

So, as you know, I have recently began teaching classes on Agile methodologies at quite a large organisation. And I wanted to share some of my feelings about this.

Some background:

So far, I have taught about 5 classes, all on the subject of Kanban, each to a group of about 20-40 people. These people work as IT delivery outwardly to the rest of their organisation. They are unsurprisingly overworked, and receive more requests then they can realistically deal with, all of which are HIGHEST priority… So, all in all, a completely typical IT teams.

Before I started, I assisted in a 2 half day classes with someone who had been doing this for a while. (The best possible thing I could have done!)

My first class:

The first day of standing up there was absolutely terrifying, at least right up until the point I started speaking. Also, a side note, I woke up sick as a dog that day and really never should have left the apartment, let alone stood up and spoke for 8 hours.

So, as I said, I was extremely nervous in all the time leading up to this day. I was barely able to sleep for several days before hand. I tried practicing by myself in a room about 20 times, and I can tell you that this only served to make me more nervous.

However, the night before I practiced on my girlfriend, which went a long way to making me feel better. The problem with working alone in a room was, I got no feedback from participants and nothing to work from, so, I was basically trying to read a prepared speech for 4 hours’ worth of class, and every time I stumbled was completely devastating, because it seemed so huge without anyone there.

When I started to practice with an audience, I suddenly had engagement to work off of, and that made a major difference. I felt more like an expert, and was able to tailor my approach to meet the needs of the people I was speaking with (in this case, 1 person) So, when the day came, I was terrified right up until I started speaking and then it all dissolved. I realized very quickly that I did indeed know what I was talking about, and the audience was engaged enough to help me find discussion points whenever I ran dry.

My second class:

Each class was broken in to 1/2 day segments, so when I say 2nd class I mean part 2.

On the second class, I went completely the other way, I did very little preparation and decided to let the classes questions drive the discussion more (they had been using the stuff from the first class for about a week, so they had a lot of questions.) While I feel these were also successful, they were less so… I think I needed a little more “go to” material to bring a bit of order to the discussions. These discussions tended to get off topic, and felt less professional.

The conclusion:

Prepare a lot, but not too much!

Remember that you are indeed an expert in your area, and will be able to deal with the unexpected.

When you need to stall to think, ask the class a question 😉

Now the important part!

The reward:

The first reward was simply pulling off the class, realizing it went well.

But after that came the real reward, seeing that you got through to some people. I should be clear, the majority of people you spoke with, most likely went back to doing exactly what they were doing before. But there were a few people in every class who you could see you really reached, and that was a amazing feeling! To feel you inspired someone, and maybe made a small difference in the world was one of the nicest feelings I have ever had. I can only imagine how it feels for school teachers to see!

I love doing this work, and apparently I am fairly good at it, the classes gave me an average score of 5.2/6 which is apparently extremely high.

It is extremely exhausting, to attempting to make 20-40 people enthusiastic and engaged, and is often times terrifying, but also the most rewarding work I have ever done.

I suggest you all try it; I personally can’t wait to get better at it!


4 thoughts on “Public Speaking, Terrifying and Rewarding!

  1. Wow Jeff, this sounds like a great experience indeed! Well done, and thanks for sharing.

    Let me echo the importance of preparing even for “looser”, more dynamic sessions. If you are there as a moderator/facilitator, people will expect you to keep things running smoothly. Also in my experience, people actually get more creative and inspired if they have specific topics, problems or restrictions to guide their thoughts.

    As an example, I did an idea session with the web guys where I asked them to find three web sites that they thought were great and think of one thing or element from each site that we could use or get inspired by for our own web.

    The key here is that I didn’t phrase it as “Find some web sites that you like and see if we can use something” or “Get inspired by surfing for an hour and report your findings” but instead put it as “Find exactly three good websites and extract exactly one good feature from each that we can use” with emphasis on “three” and “one”.

    Although that seems to limit creativity, I’ve found that it helps a ton with getting everyone creative as it avoid the “blank sheet paralysis” syndrome and also puts everyone on more equal footing. The most creative guys with a ton of ideas learn how to edit themselves down to their best three proposals, and your least creative people get a reasonable target to shoot for so they can contribute equally.

    I think that a few “ice breakers” / key discussion questions (“What has been the most successful project this month? Why can we say it is a success? What has made it into a success?”) should be enough preparation for a session of 1-2 hours. Think about SCRUM Beers and how much the topic and the tiny bit of moderation helps to get the discussion going there. Awww, I miss those guys (and those beers)!

    Also, did Lisa really sit through four hours worth of Kanban talk? If so, you are certainly a lucky man, sir. 😛

  2. Great feedback!

    Heh heh, since she was only one person it did not really require 4 hours, more like 1ish. Also, they have been working a lot with the ideas of lean at her work, so, it was somewhat relevant to her as well.

  3. Also, I am wondering if the name of the blog should be changed to Jeffe-and-Matte since the Kalle aspect seems to have total vanished!

  4. Hi Jeff,

    It really does sounds like a great experience!

    And I’m inspired…
    As you know I am quite attracted to teaching but it does seem scary. Somehow it brings comfort to hear about the nervousness you experienced, perhaps since I see you as an expert in the arts of speaking and entertaining of any audience.
    Most prominently though, your description of The reward makes me happy, it sounds exactly how one wants it to sound :).

    This is “the Kalle aspect” getting back into the game ;).

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