One year ago I attended my first conference as a speaker. That conference was LeanAgileUS 2018. The organizers invited me to return to speak once again. This is a story of my experience at a conference that holds a special place in my heart.
My normal preparation takes about 20 days to complete. For this conference, I struggled to get my full preparation in, and I felt a little nervous as I packed for my flight.
My material was complete, but I wondered how much better I’d be if I had a few more days.
I arrived on Sunday at 9:30 AM. When I took off it was 38 degrees out and when I landed it was 85. I made it to my hotel a little after 10 and checked in. Later in the evening, there would be a speaker’s dinner. I wanted to practice and rest before that. I unpacked and did a dry-run of my talk.
I run a stopwatch during my practices to see where I’m landing for timing. My timings have been bouncing between 30 and 40 minutes. I knew this was a good sign, as I’d likely blast through my material in less time than that.
Once my practice was done, I decided that would be my last rehearsal. I would now have to trust my preparation.
I’m pretty new to speaking at conferences, and something I have noticed is a lot of speakers make plans to get together as they arrive. I wanted to try to get into some of those shenanigans. The difficult part was contacting them.
I decided to get lunch instead of worry about that. I sat outside at a restaurant and enjoyed the moment. I sent pictures of lizards to my kid.
I started sending messages on Twitter to see if anyone wanted to carpool to the dinner. Partially to keep my costs lower, but also I wanted to see these people before we were all in a room together.
That is an introvert strategy of mine. Find someone I can feel comfortable near before I get in a busy room.
I wound up in a Lyft by myself heading to the dinner. Last year it was my first time doing this and I had a hard time introducing myself. I still feel that, but this time almost everyone knew me. I was welcomed into a crowd of people who are known as incredible people. These are people I look up to and respect. These are people that make me better.
Strangely the tables wound up sorted by gender. I was sitting on the side of the room where all the women sat, and behind me, the room had all of the men together. I decided to state my observation. What the fuck is up with that, was the reaction I believe.
I got a car with @garyfleming and we decided to have a few beers in the lobby. It was my first time really talking to Gary and he was brilliant and my conversation with him was a great way to end the night.
The First Day
I met @garyfleming downstairs to carpool to the event. I asked if he had a jacket because the venue is ice-cold and that the breakfast was really pretty good.
Seriously, these two facts really stood out in my mind after a year.
I had breakfast with a small group of speakers. I think this is where I met my friend for the conference @HmngbirdAgility.
The conference began with a Keynote by @heidihelfand. Her talk was on the nature of teams and how fundamentally we have to get good at creating teams that are great at changing. Because they will change.
I decided to incorporate one of her slides into my own. I don’t know how other speakers feel about it, but when I can I try to bring something they said to my talk as a way of showing my respect and amplifying their message while creating some common threads throughout the conference.
I then attended @HmngbirdAgility’s talk. Her talk reminded me of how important it is to stop the rat-race of work and protect my own space and mindfulness. It was something I needed to hear as work has infected me to the point it’s consuming me too much.
I attended Mark Kilby’s talk on remote facilitation. I wanted to meet him after joining a community of writers. People everywhere were scribbling notes on the patterns and techniques he offered. A message that was said numerous times that I hope sinks in is that remote facilitation isn’t about tools.
During lunch, I sat with a few speakers and finally got to talk to @_lockard. This is a bit more silly than it should be. He and I have been at numerous conferences together, but we’ve almost never talked. There is a running joke that he and I make up 2 of the 3 Ryan’s of agile. Yet, we’ve almost never talked. Finally, I was going to get to talk to this guy.
Ryan’s talk was right before mine. I normally would not attend it as I’d be concerned about starting my talk and dealing with any technical issues. I thought I’d rather attend and show my support.
During dinner, there would be disagreement around if he cursed during his talk or not. He did.
The moment of my talk was at hand. I used a lapel mic for the first time. My set-up was working.
I couldn’t remember anything about my talk. I drew an absolute blank. I could see the slides and they were foreign to me.
There was a lull in the conversation, so I decided to use it and started my talk.
I noticed quickly that my room was full of speakers. Front and center was @HmngbirdAgility. I wrote previously how intimidating this exact thing was at a previous conference. Turns out that in the short time that we were able to talk, her presence was actually comforting and gave me confidence.
There was someone in the back that would hold up cards to help me keep time. I never saw a 10-minute warning. Did I miss it? Was I about to have to accelerate through my talk?
No. As usual, I spoke so quickly I was done before that warning came up.
I suspect my talk took around 25 minutes. I don’t actually know though. The good news was I went over time answering questions. I was so hyper-focused that I would absorb the questions without hearing them. I have a hard time remembering any one of them.
I looked to the speakers for nods as I did my best to answer questions that people joked were, “Icebergs.”
I ended my talk and the line of people wanting to speak formed.
Two things I’ll never forget happened. Someone came up to me and said they loved my talk last year and came to see my talk this time. Also, give the talk I’ve been teasing, “Everything I Learned About Being a Scrum Master I Learned From Being a Dungeon Master.” I recognized her and told her I will do that talk next time. Another person came up and said my talk was the best in the conference. She said my mission statement alone was worth it and she already shared it with people as an example to emulate.
I would continue to get feedback that I am still struggling to accept.
In fact, towards the end of the day @HmngbirdAgility said, “Have a seat, I need to give you feedback.”
I sat, I listened. She said a lot to me. I’ll summarize this way, “You are the stratosphere.” It will take a long time for me to figure out how to accept this as true, but I must try.
A group of us were going to get dinner. This is one of my favorite moments at a conference. When we all get to relax together and just talk.
How many agile coaches does it take to plan dinner? First, we’d have to talk about how estimation like that is fundamentally broken. Second, we don’t have working agreements, so all bets are off.
We wound up at different restaurants.
It would be inappropriate for me to talk about our conversations that night. I will only say that I couldn’t have been happier.
I went to my hotel room vibrating. I had a beer and watched Netflix.
Day 2 - Heading Home
I woke up in the morning exhausted. I couldn’t sleep well that night.
My flight was at 12:20 PM today so I packed up everything. A group of us decided to meet at 8:30 AM to head to the venue. I was stir-crazy in my room by 8 and headed down.
I got to talk to @heidihelfand that morning. She and @scrumhive were the two people that made me feel comfortable at this conference last year. They were people who made my first speaking engagement so good I thought I could keep going.
A group of us piled into a car and headed to the conference.
I was able to stay for the opening by @kjscotland. His talk was a mashup of a number of ideas that I’d summarize as something to create a steel thread through an organization that can create change. I want to use his TASTE worksheet myself and see what sticks.
I said goodbye to the people that have meant so much to me. Gave hugs and went to the airport.
Preparing for a conference is a lot of work for me, and it is an exhausting experience where I feel awestruck by the people around me. I experience bits of doubt and imposter syndrome.
I keep going back because of the people that I find.
This year, at LeanAgileUS, I wanted to show my gratitude to the following people. Each of these people encouraged me, inspired me, and gave me something that will keep me speaking and coming back (This list is in no particular order Dan).