It was a strange moment when Jacek, co-author and maintainer of utPLSQL, asked me last November if I’d like to be part of the next ODTUG CodeTalk series about PL/SQL testing. Not only that I immediately got hit by a strong impostor drive-by and felt way too low-skilled and inexperienced, the host would be Steven Feuerstein, Mr. PL/SQL himself and to that day an unreachable, a bit unreal celebrity for me.
Nonetheless I immediately agreed and tried to behave and communicate as professional and skillful as possible so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of the other, highly skilled and seasoned panelists of the talk.
While a good portion of tension and anxiety never faded completely I was very eager and motivated. It was also a great benefit to have Jacek continually encouraging me. Together with him and Pavel I developed a narrative and overall-theme for the talk, prepared a dedicated Star Wars demo-project which could be used for all the different parts of the CodeTalk and also did some slides.
It was fun and I got somewhat confident. I had that picture of myself in mind where I casually type code and explain in an entertaining and understandable way what I’m doing and why it’s important, switching to the prepared slides at some crucial situations. I had already done presentations in the past about technical topics in German which I think were good or at least okay. I knew what I wanted to present, built all the examples myself and therefore felt well-prepared.
We had the first meeting of all participants roughly a week before the event. I suggested to do a dry-run of my part and was encouraged to do so, while Steven would check how much time I’d need.
It was a disaster.
I couldn’t articulate one straight sentence, I mistyped the most basic statements, was constantly stammering and forgot lots of what I wanted to say, replacing it with meaningless jabbering or silence while trying to type.
To make things worse Steven told me that I just used 15 minutes when I had fought myself through about a third of what I wanted to show. I had previously estimated that my part would only take 10 minutes.
I guess it would have been much worse if the Steven, Jacek, Pavel and Stefan wouldn’t have been as kind, positive and encouraging as they were. I got lots of good advice, nonetheless I felt like I’d make them look ridiculous and they knew it.
At that point I knew very well that I had to change my approach completely.
The same evening I started to write down what I wanted to say word for word.
A funny coincidence was the following tweet in my timeline the next day:
Well-presented talk is well-written first
— Anton Arhipov (@antonarhipov) April 18, 2018
That was the main part of my new plan, but not the only one. What I did during the next two days:
- Wrote down exactly what I wanted to say
- Threw away all slides so I could stay completely in the IDE
- No live coding. I Prepared every bit of code so I just had to open the correct files.
- Threw away half of what I wanted to show, concentrating on just three examples
- Practiced and at least partially memorized the text
Most of these things aimed at reducing the amount of brain power I needed because that was what I identified as the original source of my struggles: speaking in English consumes a lot of my brain resources. I’m just not used to. I don’t do it because it’s not needed in my daily life. And I totally underestimated that speaking is a totally different skill than reading or writing – especially in a foreign language.
I did some partial and complete dry-runs for myself before doing one for my best friend and later for Pavel. It was a totally different experience. I wasn’t that cool live-coding badass hacker, I wasn’t spontaneously joking and seamlessly switching from funny slides to code all the time, I even had the whole written text on my main screen with the names of the files I had to open at a specific point in bold, red letters.
But I was clear, I could articulate in an understandable way and could provide my message.
Coming from that base I could further improve details and wasn’t even that nervous when I finally took a seat in front of my webcam for the actual presentation – I had done it several times already and was confident that I wouldn’t have to search for the right words because I had it all prepared.
You can watch the result here (no, I won’t tell you where my specific part starts because the whole CodeTalk is worth watching):
I want to thank all the people who encouraged me and provided me with confidence and advice throughout the whole preparation. It was a great and precious experience and I wouldn’t want to miss anything.
For everyone who faces his or her first presentation in a foreign language I have the following tips:
- There’s nothing more helpful and valuable than people who believe in you and encourage you.
- Keep things as simple as possible! You need so much brain power for just SPEAKING – limit the things you have to do and remember as much as you can
- Don’t hestitate to throw things away
- Prepare everything! It’s not cheating to memorize your pre-written text. It’s not cheating to read it from your screen. It frees some of your brain resources – and you need every bit of that.
- Practice. Do a dry-run for someone of that first bullet-point’s category. Then practice again. Repeat that several times.