Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A speakers (second) worst nightmare

Imagine you've submitted a paper for a 3 hour workshop to a tech conference and it gets accepted. You spent hours upon hours, every night for weeks on end, preparing the workshop: Creating exercises, preparing discussions and of course outlining the required amout of theory. Prepping, fine tuning and making changes until you have to realize that you've satisfied your own expectations.

You fly across the country to the conference in question, super excited about hosting the workshop, hoping you've prepared enough. You head on over to the room you've been assigned quite early to get everything ready and make sure the room has everything you need. And the waiting begins. Everyone who's held a presentation knows that the last 15 minutes before it's time to start are the worst. The nerves begin to take over, you try not to think about what you're going to say as that will only make you forget everything you've actually planned on saying. What if no one likes it? What if someone asks a really difficult question you can't answer? 

Then the workshop participants start arriving. First one, then two. Three. Four... You check your watch and it's time to start. But there are only four participants? Well, numbers don't matter, the important thing is that you give these four participants your best effort! You introduce yourself and within a couple of minutes you mention .NET. One of the participants put their hand up:

Participant #3: "Excuse me, is this workshop aimed at .NET developers?" 
You: "Yes, unfortunately it is. It says so in the workshop description"
Participant #3: "Oh, sorry. I guess I'll have to find a different workshop then..."
Participant #4: "Crap, me too. I don't even have Windows installed."
The two participants leave and now there are two left. 
Participant #1: "Were we supposed to bring laptops? Because I don't have one". 
Participant #2: "Me neither"

Imagine that happening. Brutal, right? 
Well, it happened to me today and I'm heartbreakingly disappointed. But before I start getting mushy, let me tell you how this all ended. None of the participants had their laptops, and the majority of the workshop was based on the participants doing hands-on exercises. In other words: Without laptops, I really didn't have a 3 hours workshop to go on with. I asked them straight out, "Would you rather attend another workshop or would you like to me to show you the parts that do not require laptops?" They wanted me to go on and I did. I had planned on approximately 30 minutes of theory and the rest would be hands-on exercises and group discussions, so I had to throw all my material out the windows and wing it. We went on for an hour and half of some interesting discussions and theory, and then we called it the day. 
So here I am, at the airport on my way home. Disappointed and slightly angry, wondering how this could happen. I think I've gone through all the possible options:

Was the topic wrong? 
The topic was "Getting started with Octopus Deploy" and based on previous talks I've done on the subject and blog posts I've written, this is a topic that really seems to excite people. Also, I don't believe the workshop would have been accepted to the conference if the topic was wrong. 

Am I not a good enough speaker?
Maybe the conference participants looked at the agenda, saw my workshop and thought "Interesting topic, but I'm not a fan of the speaker". However, I'm not able to make that add up either. Most of the participants haven't ever heard me speak and the one lightning talk I did at the conference last year received good enough feedback. 

Was the audience wrong? 
The conference is said to be non-technology specific, meaning all types of developers attend. Whether it's Java, .NET or something completely different, everyone should be able to find something that appeals to them. However, my impression is that the majority of the developers were Java developers. Still though, you would think that the conference organizers take this into account when selecting their agenda. If they don't believe the potential audience to be large enough, they wouldn't accept the talk, right?

Or maybe it was bad luck? 
As none of the above fit, this is the option I'm left with. I'm not ready to accept that it was all bad luck, but I can't decide whether I have the right to be angry or if I just have to accept that this was not my day. Right now, I just want to board my flight so I can get home to my bed. 
The only thought keeping my motivation up right now is that this is only a speakers second worst nightmare. What's the worst? The worst is a room full of participants hating your workshop. At least that didn't happen.

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