The dust is still settling from Dreamforce 2017, having only gotten back to the UK yesterday, but I wanted to share my thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind. This will be a two part blog, first about my experience speaking there, and the second about Dreamforce itself.
Update: Video of my talk has been posted on YouTube, check it out here!
Speaking at Dreamforce
As you may be aware, this was my first time speaking at Dreamforce, and my first time speaking at such a huge event. As a fresh graduate of Speaker Academy, I had decided to submit an abstract for Dreamforce (actually, I had not even graduated at that stage, as the call for papers closed before our graduation) I had thought to myself that this would be a good opportunity to practice writing an abstract.
To my great surprise, my talk got waitlisted, meaning that it would be accepted if other accepted talks were not able to go ahead.I was happy I had gotten that far, I figured it meant my abstract was at least half decent. Much to my surprise, a week or so later I was told my talk had been accepted! To be honest I was absolutely terrified, I still hadn’t graduated speaker academy at this stage, so I’d not really done any proper public speaking before and now, all of a sudden I am talking at the largest tech conference in the world!
I started work on my talk immediately, I had the same topic as my graduation speech, so I already had some content, however my graduation speech was a lightning talk (5 minutes max) and my Dreamforce slot was 20 minutes. Graduation rolled around and I gave my lightning talk, I think it had gone fairly well and I got good feedback from my peers and Jodi and Keir.
I was feeling a little bit more confident at this stage, but still quite scared about Dreamforce. I was assigned Philippe Ozil as my session owner from salesforce, and he was amazing, he helped me hone my title/abstract, and my presentation itself, listened to my dry runs and gave helpful feedback. Having a good session owner made the whole process that much easier.
Having a couple of dry runs under my belt (with just myself and with Philippe) I was asked if I wanted to present at the London Salesforce Developer User Group as additional practice. I jumped at this opportunity and was very glad that I did, as I uncovered a bug in my presentation (Lucidchart’s import process had changed) and was able to both talk around it on stage, and had a chance to fix it before Dreamforce. It also gave me a chance to make some slight changes to my presentation and hone it that extra little bit.
The week before Dreamforce I gave a dry run to my partner, which, to be honest was probably the hardest one to give. No one likes to look like an idiot in front of a group of people (which is a big fear I had about talking), but you REALLY don’t want to look like an idiot in front of someone you love! However, I am glad I did it, as a) she had some suggestions that as an outside person, I would never had thought of and b) It wad good practice for dealing with nerves.
Finally the big week came, I hopped on a plane to San Francisco and Dreamforce began! My talk was on the second day of Dreamforce (Tuesday 7th Nov) at 12.30pm, so I had a good chance to get over jet lag and a little bit more time to prepare myself. On Monday, I made sure to explore the Trailhead area at Dreamforce, where my talk was to take place, so that I had an idea of how long it took to get there, the setup, the layout of the stage, etc.
I also had a chance to test my laptop and make sure everything would work as expected on the big day. Another advantage of scoping out the venue first, was I was able to see where related areas were that I could reference in my talk, e.g I was able to refer people to the Heroku area, or the SLDS area if they wanted more information about these things.
Tuesday finally came, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I woke quite early and did yet another dry run in front of the mirror, I also updated my speaker notes in my slides to include the things I had noted the day before. I got to my stage in time to watch the talk before, and by this time the neves had well and truly set in! Funnily enough, the talk before actually included screen dumps of schema builder, something I specifically reference in my own talk. Several of my colleagues from BrightGen and even some guys I used to work with in Australia were already in the audience in anticipation.
The previous talk ended, and it was my turn to take the stage. I got mic’d up and set up my laptop, by the time this was all done I only had four minutes to wait until my talk would begin… these felt like the longest four minutes of my life, nerves were in full force as I waited for the sound guys to indicate my mic was on and it was time to start. I finally get the thumbs up, mic was on and the counter started.
I begin my talk, introduce myself and SchemaPuker, and something quite strange happened, all of the nerves I had before melted away, I was focussed and it almost felt like the audience wasn’t there, I felt like I had found my stride and my talk was flowing well, I finished talking about how SchemaPuker came to be and it was time for the live demo… the nerves were back, even though I had run through it that morning, and again just before I did my talk, I was still worried it would somehow go wrong.
Luckily, it worked flawlessly, and I transitioned into the more technical half of my talk, explaining the tech I used to build and host SchemaPuker. Before I knew it, I was at about the 18 minute mark, and with only one slide to go I was ready to conclude and ask for questions, I had hit the timings I was hoping for and the talk was over.
I was feeling quite pleased with how it had gone, and I had quite a few people come and ask questions afterwards, about the tech, about SchemaPuker itself, and even questions on how I could integrate or take the tool further, which was awesome. My BrightGen colleagues told me that they though it went very well and that I had come across confident and that my pace and articulation were spot on.
So what did I learn from all of this? Well, first of all, speaking at Dreamforce is an amazing experience, and the folks at salesforce want you succeed and provide you with all of the help and support you need, not only that, but you won’t be boo-ed off stage or heckled by the audience, the Salesforce ohana is a supportive place. Secondly, I am incredibly thankful for the hard work Jodi and Keir put in to speaker academy to help prepare me for something like this! Finally, that public speaking is terrifying, but strangely addictive… I definitely want to do more of it, and I plan to submit talks for other conferences and events in the future.
I want to thank Salesforce, for accepting my talk and providing me with this opportunity and also I want to thank BrightGen, for sponsoring my trip and being 1000% supportive of me and my talk, both before Dreamforce, during Dreamforce and afterwards, It’s amazing to work at such a supportive company! Finally, I want to thank everyone that came to my talk, to my dry runs and who asked questions and gave feedback, knowing that people use the things you create, want to listen to you want to say, and want to help you to improve makes it all worthwhile.
So my advice to anyone is; we all have something interesting to share, it could be something we have built, something we have learnt or even our journey and perspective on things, so I would encourage you to get out there and talk about it, even if public speaking isn’t for you, you can always blog, tweet, podcast or contribute to the success community/stack exchange! It’s not as scary as you think.