Cisco Live 2012 was a first for me in a couple of ways – first-time attendee as well as first-time speaker. In addition to my earlier recap posts, I thought it might be useful to share my thoughts on the event as a first-time speaker. I have to say up-front that I was and am grateful to Citrix for giving me the opportunity to come out and share my story and experiences. I was also happy to give a short talk at the NetApp booth before my main session on Wednesday.
The months leading up to Cisco Live
I’ve given various presentations about the XenDesktop system we’re building at work over the last couple of years, to groups within my IT organization, all the way up the management chain, and to stakeholders around campus. So talking about my project and the system are something I’m comfortable with and enjoy. I even got a preview of what it would be like to deliver my presentation to a group of total strangers at Cisco Live back in March, when I worked with Citrix’s Trevor Mansell. That webinar was actually a pretty strange experience for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I was running on very little sleep since we’d brought our first baby home from the hospital for the first time the week before. What was even more strange was giving the presentation, working through my slide deck, with no visual or really even auditory queues as to how well I was doing, or how interested the audience was. Still, there was a lively Q&A session after I wrapped up and I got some positive feedback from the webinar, so I figured the in-person talks I’d be giving at Cisco Live would be even better.
A few weeks out from the conference, a few of my coworkers asked me if I were nervous about speaking, and I told them I really wasn’t. I’d be discussing familiar material about which I am quite passionate, and I felt pretty sure everything would be fine. The very next day I attended a conference call for speakers at Cisco Live that turned out to be primarily targeted at Cisco employees, but was still fairly useful for me. I learned about some of the tools for speakers on the Cisco Live site, something I hadn’t spent much time on before that day as someone from Citrix had registered me for the conference, and I had been working through my Citrix co-presenter, Sean Connelly, to provide my slides to Cisco. One of the handy speaker-related links on the Cisco Live site was a list of all of the people who had pre-registered for my site. I could see the number, either 54 or 58, and with great excitement I clicked on the link to show me the list of names, titles, and company affiliation of the pre-registrants.
That was a mistake. My methodology for preparing to speak has always involved making sure I know my material very well; not to the point of memorizing a script, but preparing my slides to serve more as highlights and reminders for me, to make sure I touch on the topics I’m covering. I don’t obsess about my material because I’m confident I know it better than anybody else. As far as thinking about the audience to whom I will be presenting, I normally just think in broad terms; are they fellow IT Pros, technical managers, non-technical executives, faculty, general end-users? But I don’t really think too much about the individuals, because everybody is different, and I figure the extent to which I interact with the audience on an individual level will come once they start asking questions, and flow from there. My mistake in looking at this list of people who pre-registered to attend my session was two-fold. First, it really drove home that a specific number of people had looked over the sessions and made a choice to come spend some of their valuable time listening to me. I’ve been on the audience side of picking a bad session to attend, and somehow knowing how many people could be attending made me anxious and worried that I might end up being that guy – the one someone would remember as giving the talk they regretted attending. Second, seeing exactly who these folks were, and especially their job titles and companies, made me realize just how varied the audience would be, and made me worry that I might not be able to speak to everyone in the manner and on the level that they needed to get the most out of my talk.
I worried about that for about a week, then managed to put it out of my head by realizing I’ve talked about this system to every kind of potential audience already, and if I had to adjust the nerd level a bit on the fly, I was OK with that.
Arriving in San Diego
I arrived at Cisco Live on Monday, June 11. I forgot Speaker Registration ended at 6:30 that day, and that, combined with my poor map-reading skills contributed to me missing out on seeing the Speakers’ Lounge until Tuesday. I walked around the Citrix and NetApp booths Monday afternoon but specifically avoided introducing myself, mainly to see if I could get a sense of the booths and spot some of the people I’d only communicated with over email, Twitter, and the phone. That didn’t work out so well, as one of the first people I encountered at the NetApp booth scanned my badge and she turned out to be someone I’d exchanged several emails with and had an interview with later in the week.
I had a brief bout of speaker anxiety Tuesday morning after I stopped by the Speakers’ Lounge and picked up my badge with the speaker ribbon. I attended my first session of the day and it was in a fairly large ballroom, definitely larger than any room I’d spoken in before. Luckily, after the session ended, I found the room my breakout session would be in and it was a decent bit smaller.
My NetApp Booth Session
From where I stood, on this platform just a few inches off the ground, I thought my session at the NetApp booth went just fine. Having sat in the audience section for many booth presentations, I can now say that the noise from surrounding booths and the distraction of hundreds of people walking by and talking just feet away from the session is harder to deal with as a speaker than it is as a listener, but it isn’t terrible. My booth audience was polite and attentive, and a few of them asked very good questions. The only negative experience I had with speaking at the NetApp booth, and I think this would have been the case in just about any booth I saw at Cisco Live or any conference, was the physical arrangement of the audience, the screen, and the speaker. Part of that is likely my own inexperience speaking in different venues, and by that I mean I’m used to having a laptop or my iPad in front of me so I can glance down at it to make sure I’ve hit all the points I wanted to before advancing to the next slide. Given the limited size of the stage at these booths, having a second screen for me to look at wasn’t possible. The other physical issue was that the audience was simply very close to me, and by close I mean close enough that I could have reached out and tapped someone on the first row on the head without moving off my little platform. I’m sure that’s a factor of the limited amount of space vendors have to work with in the booths, and I’m also sure I could get used to it, but during my first experience with it, I kept feeling like I was invading the personal space of the folks in my first row, and I also felt weird trying to make eye contact with them, as they were sitting on teeny tiny little stool thingies, and I was a few inches off the floor. So it was a bit awkward, but overall a very positive experience. I definitely think I’ll be less thrown by it next time.
I met my co-presenter, Sean Connelly (@XenDesktopArmy) from Citrix at the Speakers’ Lounge about an hour before our presentation. I was very impressed with the Speakers’ Lounge, especially since I don’t even recall the last conference I presented at, SIGGUCS Fall 2005, even having one. Next time I’ll make more use of the sodas and water, as I would imagine I’ll be just as tired and dehydrated in Orlando as I was in San Diego.
Speaking of the Speakers’ Lounge, I have to say that Cisco really did an awesome job of making sure people coming to speak at Cisco Live got the support they needed. Like I mentioned above, the conference call I attended as a speaker before the conference seemed to be geared more towards Cisco employees, as there was talk of a specific Cisco dress code, as well as discussion of Meet the Engineer and other Cisco-focused events. But even so, there was a lot of back and forth communication encouraged before the conference, and plenty of support on-site if a speaker needed to update his/her slides, etc.
Part II – Coming soon
In my next post I’ll cover my main breakout session, how I think it went, and also an awesome conversation I had at lunch the next day with an attendee of my breakout session.