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So You Want to be a JavaOne Speaker...

02.07.2008
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JavaOne just sent out their acceptance and rejects on Friday. Thankfully I got a congratulations one. I originally wrote this article about my first experience speaking at JavaOne a few years ago and it has some useful information but it also is just a interesting perspective on the whole process.

11/14/2003

My CTO sends me an email with the subject "JavaOne Paper for 2004". I am not really sure what he wants so I continue reading. From what I can tell, he wants me to come up with an idea for a paper to present at the next JavaOne conference. Having given numerous demos and product talks both to internal and external people in the past; I think this should be easy enough. As I finish reading the email, I realize there is only one week left to complete my abstract.

So now what; I need to decide what to create my paper on. Obviously it needs to be something that I am very knowledgeable of, nothing would be worse than being up on stage being asked question after question having no idea what they are talking about. It also should be something interesting, current and technical. The main goal was to come up with a topic that I thought would have a chance at getting accepted. Being involved with developing tools for Eclipse and NetBeans lent itself to filling all those objectives of the proposal. Over the next week, numerous revisions of two proposals are written before the final ones are uploaded to the JavaOne site.

For the next 4 months I occasionally check the JavaOne website seeing if my paper was accepted. There are continual delays in the announcement of the conference schedule (this hasn’t been a problem since), and the date of the conference is getting close, meaning less time to complete the needed work to have a great presentation.

3/1/2004

Today the pressure of the last week of a release is in full effect and the last thing on my mind is JavaOne and the papers. A co-worker and I are talking about an issue that is holding up the release and two emails flash up in my inbox both with the topic "2004 JavaOne(sm) Conference Session Proposal Notification". I quickly read the first one "Sorry but your presentation will…" so I delete it. Now I skim the second one as I continue talking and delete that one too without really reading it. Luckily my co-worker is reading it for me and tells me that it was accepted so I quickly undeleted it, and read it thoroughly.

My first thought after realizing I was actually going to have to present was; "oh shit", memories of my high school speech on "Proper care and maintenance of a bicycle" are neither good ones nor does it qualify me to give a speech to hundreds of experts, though the demo of how to properly clean and dry a bicycle may come in handy. That memory seemed to far outweigh the confidence I had in November of past presentations to CEO's and potential customers.

3/15/2005

Two more weeks go by and another email "2004 JavaOne(SM) Conference Speaker Resource Center" explains how to log into the speakers website. In between finishing the release, I log onto the site and start reading all the stuff that needs to be completed and the dates they need to be completed by. I have exactly one month to finish the presentation. I have not thought about the presentation sense the submission in November. Now with work deadlines and the conference deadlines plus research and possibly demos that need to be created; this seems like an impossible task. But I have no choice, so I start reading more and download the templates provided, also provided are sample templates with a lot of great information on how to put together the presentation. All these things definitely are helping making the preparation go more smoothly.

Over the next month my nights and weekends are consumed with preparing for the presentation. Templates provided remove any formatting decisions and let me concentrate on the content, which helps make the presentation easier; also I need to think about the demos and how they will fit into the presentation. The actual demos don't need to be submitted and can be done later. How many slides do I need to fill the 45 minutes? I am also planning on having two demos: one demo of our current product which makes marketing happy, the other to round out presentation.

Then one night an unforeseen problem arises. While working on my presentation, without warning, my laptop turns off. Thinking, "that was weird", I turn it back on and recover the document and continue on. Over the next two weeks; the period of the unwarranted computer shutdowns shortens. With the deadline of the presentation closing in, I don't have time to send it back and get a new laptop so I live with it, remembering to save after every modification.

4/16/2004

By the time I finish the presentation, my laptop is shutting off every 15 minutes but finally it’s done all 50 slides (Which is way to many for a hour presentation). I go to the speaker’s site and submit my presentation. Now I have at least 73 days to prepare for the presentation; speech rehearsal and finish my demos and dry runs. I get back to work on the next version of my product and the days go by. I continue to check the site and read information provided and complete the tasks that are required which are quick; fill out the release form and register for the conference.

As the days go by, I find myself getting more and more anxious about the presentation. This combined with a new deliverable only a week before leaving for San Fran, I get started on preparing. Going over the speaker tips provided, I notice that they offer speaker coaching so I sign up. The other thing I notice is they say you should rehearse for at least one hour for every minute of your speech. That's 60 hours. Up to this point, I have already put in at least 100 hours with the presentation, demos and abstracts.

28 Days left

With less than a month left I need to get started preparing for my speech. How do I do that? The approach I take is to find places to rehearse that are quiet and go over the slide deck; putting words to each slide, then repeating. Great plan, but as I start to execute the plan, I am stuck on slide number one: the presentation title, my name, title and company. What do I say about myself and the presentation? "Hi, I'm Bob Buffone", "Hello, My name is Bob Buffone" all sound as retarded today as the first time I tried to say them. So I rehearse the opening, coming up with different openings; each one sounds cornier than the last. So for two weeks, I skip ahead and perfect the other slides, though I continuously come back to the opening, never with anything that sounds good.

14 days left

Now a new email comes, "Bob's 1st Dry Run of his presentation for JavaOne", we had talked about doing this, but now it is official and the whole company is invited. The anxiety level reaches a new level, each day I work in as much prep time as possible. But with a new product release only 7 days away, that comes first and the days are long enough. With an hour here and a hour there, by the time the dry run comes, I have rehearsed a total of 18 hours. Based on the recommendation of 1 hour for every 1 minute, I am ready for my 18 minute presentation (this is going to be a quick dry run).

6 days left

Sitting down at the conference table before the dry run, I am nervous and saying over and over "I am never going to do this again". Everyone comes in, there are about 15 people from the company seated around the conference table. I start the presentation, and three words in I lose my place and need to restart so I pause and restart. This time it starts much better. I try to remember eye contact but I keep looking at the computer screen when I do look up I notice one person looks like they either are in extreme pain or the speech is giving them a migraine. Continuing on, I get to the second demo and pause; I hadn’t finished the demo yet, so I skip it. The speech ends and I await feedback; which was positive and constructive. The dry run, though painful helps to illustrate a few things I need to work on: I talk way to fast and I need to slow down, which is a common problem with nerves, and I better get started making that last demo.

3 days left

I am notified of my presentation date and time, its June 30th which is in the middle of JavaOne. Good news: I can use my time there for more preparation. On the Sunday before the conference I leave. On the plane, I sit next to a burly looking guy with a flannel shirt. Without a doubt he is going to the Conference. About an hour in he strikes up a conversation and wonders what I am doing. I inform him I am about 15 hours short of a second demo, so the whole flight I continue to work on the demo. When I get to the hotel and continue through the night and by morning my demo is mostly done, few more hours and it should be finished.

2 days left

The first day of the conference was time to sign in, there is a huge line but I am able to by-pass the whole thing and go to the speaker’s booth. There was only one person in front of me: speaker perks as I find out are one of the best parts of the conference; short lines, free soda, a lounge with plenty of space. It sure makes all the work worth it, plus I get a cool badge that says "Speaker" and an awesome clock.

I am also curious about the room I am going to present in; size, configuration, stage or on the floor and try to imagine how many people will be able to fit in the room. I don't actually count the seat, "I am that neurotic, but it seems like to much work". I must visit the room about 10 times over the next two days. Not sure what I was trying to see, but it made me feel more comfortable in the end.

What to do with the rest of my time? I have two days left before my speech, so I attend a few presentations, trying to pick up some tips. One thing I notice, there is no right way to give the presentation but if you are uncomfortable, it makes the audience uncomfortable, and nothings worse than sitting there being uncomfortable for an hour.

1 day left

Today is the day for my speaker coaching. I get to the room and the lady goes over what's going to happen. It was very simple; I stand up in front of a camera do the opening and closing. Then I will get a report on what I need to fix. After completing the opening and closing I sit down and watch myself. I right away notice two things, I still am talking way to fast; the first ten sides were finished in 2 minutes, at that pace the slides seemed to be animated. The second thing was "Uhm", "mmm", "Well", when I wasn't talking, I was adding filler during every pause and transition to the next slide. This made me seem completely illiterate, so I go over it again and again trying to slow it down. Taking out the fillers was easy, slowing it down, now that is hard. When listening to the tape, I could hear that it was fast but not any faster than normal. But with people, who speak English as a second language, slower is better, so after three more tries I finally slowed it down enough. Speaker training is definitely worth is, I advice everyone to go even if they have presented before.

Now I am on my own, with exactly 24 hours left before my speech and I needed to practice and get a good night's sleep. So I go back to the hotel and practice my speech, and try to get some sleep.

7 hours left

Getting up at 6:00am, I get ready for one of the biggest days I have had as a professional and make my way to the Speaker’s Lounge to practice and relax. On the way there I notice the Metreon is playing Spiderman 2 all day.

5 hours left

I find a quiet place to practice at the end of the hall and start rehearsing over and over. I go over the opening and closing, though it sounds just as corny as it did the first time I said it. It is what it is, and I stick with it. For the next 4 hours I walk around and practice, not really in the mood to see any presentations. One of the speaker’s tips was to consume plenty of water well before the presentation to help keep the throat lubricated, so I keep drinking bottle after bottle.

1 hour left

I continue practicing and pacing around the hallway by the room where I am going to give my presentation. Though I have had butterflies since arriving at the conference I am not nervous, but I am getting impatient. I just want get the presentation underway, and continue walking around.

15 minute left

I go to the room and put my things on the stand, and have the room attendant rearrange the table, setup my laptop, and wait. People start to come into the room which holds about 300 people at this point there about 50 people seated and more are coming in.

10 minutes left

All the water and the nerves seems to have created a situation, I need to take one more trip to the bathroom… I wash my hands and start back to the room, I check to make sure everything is zipped thinking how embarrassing it would be to give an hour speech with the my zipper down. I look down and double check and notice something even worse, when washing my hands I leaned up against the sink and my pants are completely soaked, I go back into the bathroom and start drying my pants frantically. Finally they are dry and I quickly head back to the room and get on stage.

0 minutes left

Starting the speech, my opening comes out perfectly making the rest the presentation much easier, now I get the first demo, one thing I have learned over the years of giving demos is - do, then talk. I always talk about what I just did which makes covering up any mistakes much easier. The 45 minutes seems to fly by, I get to the end of the speech and then comes the applause; it's a great feeling having everyone applaud.

What to do with the rest of the day, presentations, show room floor or go to the opening day of Spiderman? In case my boss is reading, I will just say this; "Metreon".

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Bob (Buffone)

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Robert Buffone.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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Comments

Jim Bethancourt replied on Thu, 2008/02/07 - 2:50pm

Thanks for the scoop!  I've never been to JavaOne before, much less given a talk at a major conference, so all of this is great to know.  I don't know how intense it will be for a BOF, but I'm planning on preparing very similarly.

 

Cheers,
Jim Bethancourt
President, Houston Java Users Group

Geertjan Wielenga replied on Thu, 2008/02/07 - 4:47pm

Everything you said in this article is so recognizable. I was at JavaOne as a speaker before and it is great to know it wasn't just me experiencing the agonies/joys you enumerate.. :-)

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