On Becoming a Public Speaking Mentor for Speak Easy

7213719436_3a26e412f7_z
image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/frenchista/7213719436

Back in 2007 I went to the StarEast conference in Orlando and among other sessions I took part in James Bach's workshop on Exploratory Testing. At that time I was working for a medical device company and I was in search for a better way to do testing. The workshop was enlightening and I thought it would be a good idea to spread the message to other testers here in Switzerland.

I sent in an abstract.

As it turned out, there was a huge interest in the subject and I ended up in front of 300 people at Switzerland's biggest software testing conference Swiss Testing Day in 2008. You can imagine the nerve-wracking experience I suffered through as someone who has never spoken publicly. I was so nervous that I had to remain seated in order to hide my shaking knees and I just hoped nobody would notice my insecure voice. What an experience that was!

There was no mentor to guide me through my first public speaking experience.

Of course I would have loved to have had an experienced person on my side giving me feedback on my slides and somebody who could teach me how to speak and handle my nervousness. Unfortunately, Speak Easy did not yet exist at that time.

In the years since my first gig I have spoken at dozens of conferences and I believe I have learned a thing or two about it. At least I now think I know how to prepare and I find speaking at conferences is a tremendously pleasurable endeavour. A little secret here: I am still nervous right before I go on stage. The difference is that I know exactly how my system is reacting and I also know how to handle it.

Sharing is a great thing and I am proud to be part of the Speak Easy mentor crew. Let's work together and make your session a success. I am looking forward to talking to you.

Comments

Observation Ninjas & Description Superheros



Comments

What Is the Secret Sauce that Made Let's Test Such a Great Conference?

letstest_organizers

Many of us have put on weight during Let’s Test because of a combination of fantastic nordic cuisine and an abundant availability of Swedish micro-brewery beers. For me it has been an overwhelming experience and I feel very privileged to have been part of the first Let’s Test conference.

But, what is it that made it great? What’s the secret sauce?

One approach could be to list elements such as:

  • fabulous location and facilities
  • good food
  • great beers
  • interesting sessions
  • format of the sessions with facilitated discussions
  • cool people
  • the nicely foldable program
  • perfect WIFI coverage
  • friendly approachable organizers
  • the sunny weather

Only that I don’t think that explains anything. In order to perceive it as great, there must be something else. And I think it is the dynamics created by a combination of factors. Like a tasty sauce, it is the balanced combination of ingredients in interaction with each other, which makes it mouth-watering.

Many of us know each other on Twitter, we have had conversations on blogs and discussed stuff on a Skype chat. At Let’s Test I have met many of my tester peers for the first time in person. There was already a lot I knew about these people. Some of them had sessions and my excitement about it was already great before they started. Also, during a session it was well possible to have e.g. my BBST Foundations instructor Ru Cindrea to the left and Anne-Marie Charrett, with whom I have discussed Skype coaching a lot, to the right. Hence, it was like a family & friends gathering.

A unique aspect was the extensive evening program with art tours, test lab, social gathering, XBox games, free beer and a mind blowing band that played some sort of beautiful eastern style klezmerish music and had a violin player who made my jaw drop. Now, this was combined with having taken place in a room that looked like a massively oversized living room with candles on the tables. At the same time there were Oliver Vilson’s metal and wood puzzle making turns among the people. Hence, it was like a family & friends gathering.

Free beer can help to become sociable. The guy at the bar was a friendly tall Swede with a goatee and oversized earrings. I am no longer in my 20s, but Let’s Test made me behave like one who is. Long, beer-saturated nights that created difficult mornings, where people were glancing at each other knowingly. Oh, man, what a laugh we had during the late night conversations. Hence, it was like a family & friends gathering.

If you gather a group of people and everybody just wanders off after the sessions, then there is no soul to it. Runö is somewhere out in nowhere and it kept the whole group together. Interaction was inevitable. Wherever one walked there were people to meet. Smiling was a facial activity that was used extensively. Hence, it was like a family & friends gathering.

Are there dangers for the future?

I guess there were roughly 150 people at this year’s conference. Many of them will go back to where the come from and tell their friends and colleague about their positive experience at the conference. People following the #LetsTest hash tag on Twitter also mentally constructed their impression of the conference. They will all want to come to next year’s conference. In my opinion the success of Let’s Test may become a liability.

Why so?

I think that what I perceived as the soul of the conference - a friends & family gathering - may get lost if there were twice or three times more people. I am not sure if bigger is always better. The conference would suddenly become more anonymous and that could destroy the dynamics mentioned above.

How to avoid it?

Surprisingly there is a beautiful and straightforward solution to it: Do it at Runö again. Just checked their website and it says there are 228 beds, which quite effectively limits the number of participants.

Anyway: Ola, Henke, Henrik, Tobbe, Johan & all participants, I love you all for having made this conference possible. You guys rock, and hopefully see you next year.

Comments

Let's Test Conference - Update #5

paulholland

Have a look at Paul Holland’s facial expression. it makes you chuckle, doesn’t it? That is because Paul has not had a long enough rest. And that is because we had a joyful night at Runö. Let’s continue this post with some images and have the text for another time.

benkelly2

Ben Kelly had a both very entertaining and troublesome presentation on the testing dead.

alanrichardson

Alan Richardson talking on testing hypnotically.

coaching

Anne-Marie and me injected a coaching session into the test lab assignment.

runo╠łoutside

Runö is such a beautiful place.

Comments

Let's Test Conference - Update #3 + a bit of Update #4

startLetsTest1

I initially planned to write this update before the conference started but I achieved to deactivate my alarm clock at 7am when it rang and fell asleep again. That resulted in me waking up again at exactly 9am. That’s the official starting time. I jumped in my jeans, grabbed my messenger bag with my stuff and ran. I managed to arrive exactly at the time when Ola started talking.

Yeah, well, who is perfect. Perfection is unappealing anyway, isn’t it? To have shortcomings is what makes us human.

Alright, we had a very good Sunday. Oliver Vilson brought some cool puzzle gadgets to play with and Runö started to fill up with testers. We seem to have the whole compound for our sole use and it is a beautiful place because it does not feel like a cold conference center at all. It’s more like being with friends at a holiday retreat.

We discovered that Henrik Emilsson is my unknown brother. Have a look at both of us here:

HenrikEmilsson

Paul Holland gave a group of us a very useful introduction into LAWST-style facilitation. Every session will be facilitated and I am looking forward to the session on Wednesday I am going to facilitate. Great, haven’t done that before.

Later on Sunday many of the people I converse a lot on Twitter and Skype, etc., arrived. Hello my tester friends:

Huib Schoots
Simon P. Schrijver
Tony Bruce
Anne-Marie Charrett
Michael Bolton
Duncan Nisbet
Markus Gärtner
Joep Schuurkes
Christin Wiedemann
Scott Barber
Zeger Van Hese
Alexandru Rotaru

Exellent conference and especially the food deserves an honorable mention.

Comments

Let's Test Conference - Update #2

runo╠ł

My flight had a very interesting route display. Zurich has suddenly changed its name to Düsseldorf and Antwerpen was relocated to somewhere in the south. I just hope there is no connection between the passenger display and the pilot’s navigation system.

flightdisplay

Anyway, we arrived well in Stockholm and I met James and Dessi Lyndsay at the airport. We shared the taxi to Runö. So, that’s the start of Let’s Test then. Runö is a nice and quiet retreat on the country side and I think it is the perfect location for a conference.

We had a nice dinner with Ola Hyltén, Henke Andersson, Henrik Emilsson, Tobbe Ryber, Johan Jonasson, James and Dessi Lynsey, Ben Kelly, Julian Harty, Paul Holland, Chris and … hm, what was his name again? (UPDATE: Thanks, Neil. Yes, it’s Neil Thompson. My memory would like to apologize for not remembering)

Honoring the Scandinavian tradition we proceeded to drinking and had a a lot of fun as can be seen in e.g. Ben Kelly’s Tweet:

benkelly

After midnight I had some BBST Foundations work to do and I had a very hard time reading and understanding the text of the quiz. Shouldn’t do that likewise for the next deadline.

Comments

Let's Test Conference - Update #1

lounge

Checked in at ZRH and the check-in machine shut down with an error message while printing out my baggage tags and my boarding pass. At the baggage drop the lady asked me where my third suitcase is. No third suitcase. She apologized and said there was something wrong with the computer system.

Then going through the scanners, placed my boarding pass, my ID card and my flat cap in the bin for the scanner. After the scanner my ID has miraculously disappeared. Strange kind of bug. Disappearing objects. The security people helped me search for it but then the ID card reappeared; it was between my flat cap and my head. Embarrassing, but happy it was not caused by a bug.

Now waiting in the lounge for my plane that takes me to Let’s Test. Oh man, cannot wait.

Comments

How I Presented at STPCon without Being Present

coaching testers

Have you ever presented at a conference without you actually being there? I did. It was fun. Of course I could not even see the audience as I was not there. I did not hear a word from them.

By now you might ask yourself: “Has he lost his mind?”
That could be a valid explanation but it is not correct.

The conference I am talking about is Software Test Professionals Spring 2012 (STPCon) in New Orleans. I did the second part of Anne-Marie Charrett’s track on coaching testers. It was a live Skype coaching session I did with Vernon Richards who was my student. The audience saw our transcript unfolding while Anne-Marie identified patterns and commented on what we did.

See? I am not crazy.

We only had half an hour which is unusually short. So, we had to skip many elements of a typical Skype coaching session. But Vernon did great under the time constraints.

The exercise we did was an observation and description task. I won’t say too much about it because I do not want to spoil the experience for students who want to do it.

Anyway, it was kind of unusual to know that there is an audience watching us while we unfold our session. I hope there is a video recording. Will have to talk to Anne-Marie.

So, dear audience at STPCon, I hope you liked what you saw.

BTW: For free Skype coaching go here

Comments

James Bach and how I Enjoyed his Visit to Switzerland

Some weeks are boring, some weeks are frustrating, some weeks are just regular. But once in a while there is a week filled with exitement, learning opportunities, joy and intellectual challenges. I am a lucky guy because I happen to have lived such a pleasurable week recently. James Bach came to Switzerland for the first time.

His flight was coming in from England where he attended several appointments in Cambridge. I was waiting for him to exit into the arrival hall. As expected it took not long for James to drop a puzzle bomb on me. It goes as follows:

  1. You have a range of integers from 2-180
  2. Two integers x and y are chosen from the range (x and y may be equal or different)
  3. A person A is given the sum of x + y
  4. A person B is given the product of x * y
  5. First, person B says to person A: “I don’t know your sum”
  6. Then, person A says to person B: “I already knew that you do not know my sum”
  7. To which person B replies: “Now I know your sum”
  8. And then person A says: “And now I know your product”

Question: What is the sum of x + y, what is the product of x * y and what are the values of x and y
A hint: It is possible to solve it by the sole use of your brain, a sheet of paper and a pencil

IMPORTANT: Please do not leave the solution in the comments below

While driving James to his hotel I tried if there was a simple solution to the puzzle but I could not find one so I decided to attempt to solve it as soon as I got home. Also, it is not such a good idea to try to solve puzzles while driving.

In the hotel we had some more testing discussions before James retired to his room and I was very eager to get back home to solve his puzzle. I think I was on a good path towards the solution but I decided to give me a break because I was stuck somehow.

Interesting enough, the brain seems to have its playful free time during sleep. My brain decided to wake me up at about four a clock in the morning giving me a hint about how to solve it. I decided to get some more sleep and just took some notes on the general idea. Later in the morning I solved the puzzle which made me kind of proud. Tricky one, this one!

Sunday afternoon I picked up James from his hotel and we strolled through Zurich while he entertained me with a lateral thinking puzzle involving a waste dump. Again I enjoyed it very much and it gave me the appetite for the dinner. James is very good at challenging your thinking.

IMG_7804

Monday morning we took the train to my workplace Phonak AG, where James spoke all day about tester self-education and did many puzzles with the audience of about 50 people. The astonishing thing was that there were more developers present than testers. What a great success for software testing. Developers become more and more interested in what we do. We testers have won! (Just joking, I love you all, dear developers)

IMG_7809

This year’s Swiss Testing Day saw an amazing record breaking number of 800 participants. James had the first of the keynotes in the morning (you may see the video here) and I hope he inspired many testers to become interested in the context-driven school and self-education. I expect to see more Swiss testers working on their reputation in the future.

IMG_7811

We sold James’ excellent book Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar at our conference booth and every 10th person at the conference bought a copy. That, too, gives me hope that there are more context-driven people in Switzerland. If you - dear reader - are one of them, please contact me immediately. I want to get to know you and talk to you. James talked all day to many people, there were dice games and his hand must have been tired from all the book signing.

Thursday was a work day, we went through some of my Skype coaching transcripts and James gave me a lot of valuable feedback. We did that in one of my favorite coffee shop/book store Sphères in Zurich. It is the perfect place for productive work.

IMG_7826

Friday came and James was very eager to learn about Swiss cheese. We drove to Engelberg where there is a public display of cheese making located in a monastery. In the middle of a room there was a kind of glass igloo where a cheese maker was doing his stunts while the visitors pressed their noses flat on the outside. A bit like in a zoo, but without animals.

IMG_7827

In Engelberg we found the wonderfully victorian Hotel Terrace from where we had a beautiful scenery of mountains. Again we went through more coaching transcripts and tried to identify patterns.

IMG_7833

After coming back to Zurich, we ended our day with a dinner at the Prime Tower on the 35th floor and challenged each other with some more lateral and mathematical puzzles. James also made fun of me because I was eating my hamburger with fork and knife. See, that’s us Swiss people behaving at a fancy restaurant. Anyway, great day, but then we were both tired at the end. It was like in Monty Python’s “Just a thin mint”-scene (Caution: this link is not suitable for the faint-hearted), one more puzzle and my brain might have exploded.

James headed off to Stockholm on Saturday, I said good bye at the airport and I hope he comes back to Switzerland soon. You’re always welcome, my friend.

BTW: Here is the link to James’ view on his visit to Switzerland.

Comments

How to Choose a Good Software Testing Conference

It just occurred to me that there is a whole bunch of below standard software testing conferences out there. How to avoid them? And what exactly is it that there is to be avoided?

Here is my “to be avoided” list:
- Overcrowded with the sales people of tool vendors
- Conference is organized by a tool vendor
- Sessions were selected on the criteria: “what tool vendor is willing to pay for it”

Here is my “oh yeah, great” list:
- great speakers
- interesting formats, like unconference or coach camp
- participation and discussion instead of 45min bloody boring bullet ball battles (yes, I know, it is called bullet point, but it wouldn’t have made such a cool alliteration)

What is it that should happen at a conference?
If you are inspired for action = that is good.
If you learn something new = that is good, too.
If you are inspired, delighted, enlightened, and cannot stop smiling = then it is really great.

Make up your own mind and choose wisely. Maybe you’d like to follow @testevents. They promise to update you on testing events.

Comments