Sharing Experience through Speaking

Photo by Xava du

Photo by Xava du

A group of us sat in a row together. We wanted to listen to our friend Ryan give his presentation on retrospectives. This wasn’t the usual “how to facilitate effective retrospectives” talk either—this was his experience of focusing on one problem and using retros to experiment and learn from trying to solve it. Over the course of a year and a half. It was one line of code.

I LOVED IT. A humble and wise presentation on using retrospectives to do the very thing we dream they can do: enable a team to solve problems. It was honest and inspiring.

Ryan will be presenting this topic again at DFW Scrum tonight (July 16th). It’s an evening of experience reports in preparation for Agile 2019, and I’ll also be presenting the talk I co-wrote with Skylar Watson (“The Downfalls of Coaching in a Hierarchical Model”). Our papers have been published online here.

I hope you come support Ryan (and me) this evening at the meetup. More importantly though, I hope you’ll find your topic and volunteer to speak at a community event. We learn from reflecting on our experiences—good, bad, and ugly—that may inform what all of us can do differently tomorrow. Watch the below video for more of my thoughts on getting started as a speaker:

However how small, or mundane, or obvious it might seem, there is something in sharing your experience with others that can be incredibly powerful. We as a community grow stronger as a result.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Co- in Co-Presenting

Photo by Lynn Gallagher

Photo by Lynn Gallagher

After posting about co-presenting and referencing Barry’s blog, my friend Chris Murman teased me via twitter in his good-natured way. There’s more to be said about co-presenting, it seems.

My version of co-presenting is this: two people standing and speaking on a topic together with both people sharing their thoughts and experiences naturally—playing off one another and the audience. This is not the “I take this section, and you take that section” version of co-presenting. While my co-presenter and I will often talk about where each of us might want to lead and share a great story or an interesting model, we’re both involved throughout the whole presentation with the group and can change things up on the fly. That’s what makes it exciting. Two people working together in real-time to share their wisdom with an audience requires trust.

Sometimes a presentation starts with a co-presenter, and we find a topic together. Other times I start with a topic and recruit a co-presenter who can contribute to the presentation a cool perspective. And once in a while, I have a fully baked presentation and see someone who is ripe for a speaking opportunity and invite them to join me.

Chris Murman happened to fall into the last category.

There was someone else who I wanted to co-present with so they could get public speaking experience, and we came up with a rough topic together. He wasn’t sure how much time he could commit to working on the presentation, and I assured him that I could handle the work and have him tag in at any time—everything would be ok. And as the conference date approached, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to join me. And that was totally ok. I had done everything possible to make this opportunity work, and it just wasn’t in the cards for us.

Coincidentally, around that same time Chris and I run into one another at DFW Scrum. He’s been struggling to accepted as a conference speaker, and he wanted to know if I could help him. Chris has had the unique experience of trying to deliver too fast in an agile environment, and we’ve been friends for years, so my answer was clear: ABSOLUTELY. “Want to co-present with me in January?” I asked. He said yes.

Chris is a fantastic co-presenter, and he brought a new dimension to the material that hadn’t existed before. And when he arrived at the conference, he shared that he’d been accepted to another one. On his own. With his fresh view on agile. That’s when I knew: 2016 was going to be the year of Chris Murman. We kicked off his conference journey together, and he’s been rocking it ever since.

Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of giants to get our start. Co-presenting can also mean discovering that we’ve each had the power to present all along. Being together just made it more fun.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Growing New Speakers through Co-Presenting

Photo by mezhen

Photo by mezhen

Public speaking can be terrifying. I remember my hands shaking as I gave a prepared speech in the seventh grade. My notes were visibly moving and showing my nervousness in the front of the class. Two boys in the front row were trying hard not to laugh.

Thankfully that experience feels like a lifetime ago. Thanks to nudges from coworkers that boosted my confidence and provided me ample opportunities to develop as a speaker, I'm now comfortable presenting to audiences of nearly any size.

Over the last two years or so, I've been more intentional in helping others become more confident speakers and get experience presenting at conferences. It's been super-fun and rewarding. Barry, one of my co-presenters, wrote about his journey as a speaker. He's one of my favorite people in the world, and I'm excited to be co-presenting with him again soon at Agile Arizona.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Four Building Blocks for Excellent Presentations

Photo by Ashley Chastain

Photo by Ashley Chastain

Transforming an organizational culture and its processes typically includes a number of presentations, and I'm excited that I've reached a point where I'm coaching others to give presentations to internal communities rather than doing all of them myself--it's a sign that agile will be sustainable when employees want to teach one another.  Developing new content and standing in front of a group of people can be intimidating.

This summer I was in St. Louis for the Theta Tau Leadership Academy, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Each Leadership Academy starts with introductions and icebreaker activities to form our learning community, and this year’s attendees jumped into the fun immediately.  In almost no time, it was my turn to be in the front of the room.  I was little nervous--it was the first time my friend Jeff and I presented together, and I had persuaded him to change the material and activities this year. 

Jeff and I had the 100+ attendees break into 8 groups and practice brainstorming and group decision-making activities found in our leadership toolkits; I talked about how I often use these activities in my work with teams, and I shared a few stories.  We never attempted having the entire learning community participate hands-on during this session before, and it was an experiment that went off without a hitch!  I had the courage to attempt this because of my experience encouraging large groups to self-organize during lunch and learns and user group meetings, and I was super-excited that it worked.  The positive feedback from the attendees was overwhelming, and they really appreciated the real-world examples.

For the rest of the Leadership Academy, I co-facilitated the parallel track, which focuses on presentation and facilitation skills and gives a small group of attendees the opportunity to practice these skills during the conference.  In the parallel track, we reviewed the 4 building blocks for excellent presentations, which were also the keys to why Jeff and I were so successful with our leadership toolkit presentation:

  1. Concise, clear learning purpose and plan -- What do you want your audience to take away from your presentation?  Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose.  I recommend starting with this end in mind.  At conferences, I believe in the law of two feet and will walk out of sessions that do not meet my expectations.  I walked out of a session at a conference earlier this year; I heard that towards the end of the session an audience member asked the speaker for the top 3 takeaways, and he struggled to answer the question.  Don't be that guy.  Identify the learning outcomes you want, and limit them to only a few.  People cannot learn 10 new things in an hour.
  2. Preparation for delivery, knowledge of activities, connection to purpose -- Preparation is essential.  I know I felt under-prepared for some of the materials and activities at the Leadership Academy, and I should have spent more time reviewing in advance how the sessions flowed.  It had been years since I attended the parallel track, I was co-facilitating with someone I don't work with regularly, and the physical space was unknown until we arrived that weekend--that's a lot of potential pitfalls to overcome.  I had depth of knowledge that I shared throughout the weekend, but I had moments where I had to read and learn along with the group.
  3. Compassion for your audience -- Focus on the audience understanding and being inspired--not on what you have to say.  This is one of the hardest things to do, and it is the sign of being a great presenter if you accomplish it.  Pay attention to the mood and tenor of the group, ask open-ended questions to illicit responses, allow silence for people to process, and develop an inclusive environment by being non-judgmental toward opinions. 
  4. Passion about your topic -- Whether you created the presentation or not, you must own the content.  Show excitement for it.  Tell stories about it.  Your energy helps the audience see the importance, and you want to inspire an emotion in them.  I'm an introvert, and I've found it helpful to have alone time beforehand to focus; I may also listen to some upbeat music to get pumped up and help me clear my head.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.