Are you ready for #DerbyCon?!?! pic.twitter.com/n1Dq3BGoM3— DerbyCon (@DerbyCon) August 29, 2017
Two weeks until DerbyCon
Freaking out - a wild deadline appears
Whoa, where’d all my time go? I mean, yeah, sure, I had a lot going on at work and in my personal life, but what happened to months away? I have two weeks to get all of this together. Luckily, I had already finished writing the tool I was going to present on. I just needed to write the slides and think of a few jokes, right?
Learn from my mistake: Don’t procrastinate. Even if it doesn’t feel like you are. Working steadily will remove a ton of stress in the end.
Have you ever seen someone’s live demo fail? Ever had it happen to you? I have. After the first time it happens, you’ll feel foolish and vow to be more diligent. One option is to record your demo and play the video during your presentation. This is a good option! Otherwise, you need to test, test again, and then test a bunch more to make sure everything will go according to plan. For my DerbyCon presentation, I went the test route. I thought, “I developed the tool, right? I should know it inside and out. If it doesn’t work for me in a live demo, it won’t work for people using it in their daily work.”
Lesson: Determine which route you’re going and become perfectly comfortable with it. Also, back-up videos, even if you don’t end up needing them, is a great idea.
At the Con
Oops, I broke something
So, I tested, and I found bugs. I found bugs… two days before the presentation. Remember when I only had to write the slides and think of a joke or two? Ahhh, those were the days. The Friday before the presentation, I stayed up until 3:00AM crushing bugs (or so I thought). After I wrote up my fixes and started testing again, I found I had broken everything.
Learn from my mistake: If you’re tired, STOP CODING. You’re probably too tired to make progress, and you might even be hurting your project. I passed out and slept for 4 hours.
Sleep is important
When I woke up, I immediately realized my mistakes from the wee hours of the night. I mean it. I woke up at 7:15AM and had my project working again at 7:20AM.
Now, with a working project and slides starting to come together, I felt like I was in a much better place. I’ve always written things somewhat subconsciously, so when I sat down to write up the slides, they came out mostly in a fluid stream.
What about the presentation? I wrote mine in Markdown using Marp, but decided to present using Reveal.JS. I chose to use Reveal.JS because it allowed me to embed notes within the slides. I wanted to have the ability to have my thoughts in front of me during the presentation. Next, I had a to make sure my environment was ready to present. Within my presentation in Marp, I included a
:heart: in one of the slides. Marp rendered a heart emoji, Reveal didn’t. Also, I noticed that Marp didn’t enforce the same slide size limits as Reveal. On slides that contained both text and an image, the image almost always fell off the slide in Reveal.
Lesson: Make sure your presentation is presentable. Modify as necessary.
The slides are done, project is bug-free (obviously), time to practice. I ran through my presentation, from start to finish, about eight times before I presented. With each iteration, I found something I could make better. I would often stop mid-presentation, make my adjustments, and restart on the improved slide. As I practiced, I took notes, with pen and paper, regarding the flow of information during my demonstrations. Doing this helped make sure I would intuitively repeat the delicate dance steps on stage.
Lesson: Run through the presentation one more time. You can never be too comfortable with the content.
It’s the night before the presentation. I decided to take a break and enjoy working on the CTF with a co-worker and some new friends. I elected not to drink all the booze and got to bed early. I wanted to feel good before my presentation.
Lesson: This one is more personal, but I think getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding intoxicants is a good way to establish a foundation under you.
The final countdown
I accepted that I had no more time for changes, this was the final copy. Depending on your level of comfort with the material, and comfort doing some on-the-spot improvisation, you might decide to make your final copy earlier.
Time for the final practice run. I ran through my talk one more time. I stood in my hotel room and presented to the couch as if it were a live audience. I’m no Bill O’Reilly, I need practice. After that final run-through, I packed up and headed to the Stable Talks room.
Lesson: Unless you’re A) Bill O’Reilly or B) prepared to do it live, practice-practice-practice.
I had the benefit of being in the 10:00AM (hangover) slot. That’s right, the hangover slot was a huge benefit. I had the privilege to arrive early, set up, and make sure things would work as expected. I arrived about 30 minutes early, met the wonderful AV team that would help with my presentation, and started to set up. When I entered the room, I said, “This is my first presentation at a conference.” The gentleman at the AV station smiled and said, “You’re going to do great.”
Lesson: Arrive early if you can. And remember, the AV people are awesome. They want you to succeed.
Panic - wait, no, it’s not so bad
I connected my laptop and found I hadn’t guessed the right resolution when I made up my slides. Yet again, I found my images had been pushed off the slides by the real estate-greedy text. Well… I didn’t think I had time to make major changes to the slides, and I knew the material well enough. Just a few minutes before I was to speak in front of real people, I was deleting text from my slides to make sure the images were on screen. Oh, remember those embedded notes I wanted? Well, it was about this time, I realized seamlessly presenting would require mirrored displays. Bye-bye presenter view.
Lesson: Don’t panic. Things are going to go wrong.
Remember: you’ve got this.
Wh-what happened? I blacked out for a few moments there. Oh, the presentation is over. Cool. Did it go well?
Lesson: Don’t be hyper critical of yourself as you exit stage-left. Maybe things could have gone better. But they certainly could have gone worse. You’re here, breathing, and, believe it or not, ready for your next challenge.
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is: Be able to laugh at yourself. I’ve since watched the video of the presentation. And for the most part, I’m super happy it… There was one part though…
One of my co-workers took that. After the presentation they asked, “Did you do that on purpose?” Cringe. I suppose I did that onced.
Lesson: Have awesome co-workers. Try to surround yourself with people with enough faith in you and your humor to think you would intentionally misspell words in your first big presentation.