How I went from the idea of being horrified about the idea of public speaking to actually talking at a tekkie brekkie in front of a room of my peers….

Some background

The theme of the early 2000s in testing was very definitely social engagement and testers opening ourselves up to peer review. There was an explosion in testing blogs, testing support sites, testing forums and the foundation of the wonderful Software Testing Club in 2007, later on to become the Ministry of Testing

In everyday testing, things were changing. Where appropriate, we were moving away from reactionary waterfall to engaged agile. Our work was bringing us closer to the architecture, the requirements and the code of the systems we tested. Our engagement circle in work expanded exponentially as well to allow us to take on the new knowledge required to work in this way.

Collaboration models included empathy as well as the necessary technical understanding. We now understood the trials and tribulations of whole new groups of people within delivery teams.

I was very happy with the workplace collaboration and engagement. It was a way of working I championed even before agile was a fewifesto, never mind a manifesto. I had a blog with a small but regular readership and I went to conferences to talk to my peers one to one. However, the thought of standing up and talking to a room full of them? No way. I would rather eat a bucket of stranger’s toenails. (A beach bucket, I’m not a weirdo)

Despite my public speaking reticence, I was coming to the realisation that the social aspect of testing was starting to scale. This was noticeable by the number of testers talking at testing and non-testing conferences. I liked this trend despite my horror at the thoughts of being the one standing on that podium. I liked it because it helps testers identify good companies who encourage their colleagues to spread their wings in this way. It helps us testers to be able to deep dive into the guts of what it means to be a tester and hone our skills. As an added bonus, we learn how to influence rooms of people at a time. All good stuff and a very good direction for our industry.

The planning

I knew I should at least attempt one public speaking event. I just felt I had nothing to say or rather I had nothing new to say. I read prolifically, testing and non-testing related pieces and I felt that anything I had to talk about was already covered somewhere else and better than I could say it. I talked to my peers about this and got various pieces of advice:

Plan a talk on something that makes you mad

Do something on something test-related trending on Twitter

Do something close to but not testing

All conversations come around every 10 years anyway - don’t worry about repeating something gone before

Find a convention and tear it apart

Top Tip on public speaking no.1 – If stumped, crowd-source for ideas to talk about

This was good guidance and I feel fortunate that I work for a company where testers (and everyone else) will pile in to help with conversations like this. I still wanted something that was about my experiences as I felt this was the best way to have a unique voice amidst all the specific and contextless chatter that testing produces.

I decided to go with the things that make me mad (well a little bit crazy – it doesn’t do to let this kind of stuff become an emotional burden you have to take on) and so my talk was born:

‘How to do Quality if testing IS NOT the be all and end all of Quality in the context of the software development lifecycle in enterprise environments’

Now I had a catchy title(?) I was sure the thing would just write itself.

Top Tip on public speaking no.2 – The thing NEVER writes itself.

I just poured everything out on paper intending to hone it down later as per the great advice given by my former colleague Rosie Hamilton here. She has said everything that needs to be said on the subject of getting started in doing public talks and I urge anyone looking to take part in similar madness to read up on her advice on the same.

The honing part was the hard part. I poured over the right words to use, was anything open to misinterpretation, can I get away with only the bare minimum on a slide. I was already using a loaded term in the title and on every single page of the thing. Was this just the path to madness? Often walking away was the best idea and with a rest I got clarity on how to best express my thoughts succinctly.

Top Tip on public speaking no.3 – Honing will bring on the groaning. Make lots of tea for this phase.

The day was booked for me to speak. A tekkie brekkie from our Bristol office. It was tweeted about then re-shared on social media so this thing was really happening. The closer the day got, the more my legs felt like they were entirely comprised of rattling jelly babies and the more my voice sounded like I was talking through a reverse megaphone from the depths of a dark well. This was going to be just fine!

Imagine your own internal voice is busy trying to crawl out a hole in the base of your spine rather than start rattling off the reasons NOT to do this. Imagine being a tester, naturally risk adverse trying to mitigate every risk you can think of and some you can only imagine as part of preparing to speak. Imagine being both of those in the one person watching the retweets trickle up and the sands of time trickle down……

Top Tip on public speaking no.4 – Avoid hourglasses and social media in the run up to your talk

Start talking….

Of course the audio / visual connection did not work on the day despite me testing it the evening before. I even looked at how the text came across from different parts the room. (Bit of visual impact testing – nothing like it) Thanks to some nifty foraging and subsequent repurposing of a hub from a colleague’s desk, I was good to go with only a few minutes lost. Walking to the office that morning, I had envisaged various scenarios where the office was on fire, no-one turned up, people turned up but the bacon sandwiches did not so things got increasingly hostile and lastly being struck dumb with sheer fright. When none of this happened, I laughed in the face of mere tech going wrong.

Top Tip on public speaking no.5 – Testers are sympathetic to tech going wrong. Don’t sweat it if it does

I had it easy as it was a very friendly engaged crowd that came to the talk with a nice mix of testers, scrum masters, recruiters and technical leads. I found the bit I enjoyed the most was the question time afterwards and hearing the experience and perspective of others around the often bandied but very rarely correctly applied terms of “quality” and “assurance”. A lot of people stayed to have follow up one to one conversations which was really rewarding too. I had committed to getting everyone out of the room by 9 as I knew a lot of attendees were there on their way to work so appreciated them taking the time to introduce themselves and share their tales on how QA was used (and misused).

I didn’t pick it up off the street….

I was the one standing at the top of the room but it was a supportive army of people who got me there. Laurence, our head of testing, for giving me the shove to finally do a talk. Andrew, our Bristol office manager, for letting me use the Bristol office as a platform. Rupert, our Bristol recruitment bod, who organised the food and the social media campaign. Alex, Nikolaos, Tom, Dillon and all the devs and testers who turned into furniture arranging services to put together and tear down the meeting room. Thank you all.

Also, thank you to all who attended and got into the spirit of the talk. You made it very easy for me and I will always appreciate that.

Slides from the day: We need to talk about QA Speaker notes are viewable by hovering on the lower left hand corner and choosing that option from the menu that appears.