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PradeepSoundararajan

September 01, 2013

CAST 2013 : My talk report

Everybody who blogs about their conference experience, does a wide coverage. They cover what happened in the keynotes and what happened in the bar. I do have those experiences too but I would like to write about my talk report which would also cover some experiences from the bar and before and after the talk.

I made some important big decisions in my career a month before going to CAST that directly impacts on how and what I will not speak at conferences. It forced a different man out of me and I didn’t know if it would work out. Note that everybody is a speaker at the conference however, some have dedicated slots to speak where others as a group listen. I belonged to both categories of speakers and the category-less listener.

Putting together a presentation

On 23rd August, 2013, Mohan and I sat in Starbucks New York, adjacent to Google Office and opposite to Chelsea Market for about 3 hours and were having an argument about how I should structure my talk. He said the story is within me but the structure of it is not clear yet. We had a debate on how it should be structured and then he offered to write a structure for me. He wrote the structure and I didn’t like it in the first pass. I sat looking at what he wrote for about an hour and we didn’t talk to each other. After that hour passed by, we got up and said, “Let’s do something else now” and went to a beer garden.

On August 25th, at the Great Dane Pub, around 10ish there were a group of beer drinking testers who were discussing topics that varied. Paul Holland was about to leave citing he had to work on some presentation for the next day. Keith Klain said something amazing, “You mean, I pay to a conference where speakers work on their presentation just the previous night. I got to get my money back” and there was humor in it. Paul with his witty humor said, “We speakers try to make it as fresh as possible to our audience”. We all did have a great laugh but then the speaker in me was saying, “Oh yes, Keith. Lack of preparation is a bad thing and I don’t want to disappoint my audience for the reason I was not prepared although I had great time from being selected to speak on the topic to presenting it at the conference” With our busy lives, we tend to keep things at last because we believe we are super stars. I believed so and my talk bombed in one conference last year. Ever since, I take extra great care about my conference work. The CAST presentation I had to do is my own story so I thought I could bring it out.

That night, I guess it was about 12ish when I got back to the hotel room and started to work on my presentation. I had tried many variations of the slide in past and none of them made me happy. So, I thought I will try something new. I also then started to look at the structure Mohan had helped me with and it started to make more sense than it did in the first pass. I adapted the structure he gave me to the story I had to tell and then weaved around two paths. One path was in the presentation and the other path in my talk.

On August 26th, Mohan and I sat in our hotel room till we ironed out the presentation and rehearsed parts of my talk. He was lying in the bed, relaxing and listening to me while I was at the computer table, twisting the rotary chair towards Mohan whenever needed. He grew confident and so did I as we kept tweaking things here and there. Once I think I was done, I walked confident to Concourse bar and had a beer and vodka. I faced Keith a little more happy this time as I was sure I was giving him a better return for the money he paid for the conference.

The Presentation Day

August 27th. Around evening time in India and morning in Madison, I was chatting with my colleague Mampi Das who was wishing me for my upcoming presentation. I was a little bit nervous (which I have learned is a part of every speaker’s life) but she seemed to be confident that I would do awesome. I was wondering where did she gain this much confidence on me as a speaker and realized she has always seen me speak in Moolya. I have never been nervous speaking to anybody in Moolya and an idea sparked. I decided to think of the conference presentation as though I am going to address a new gathering at Moolya. This instantly helped me overcome my nervousness.

Mohan in the meanwhile was suggesting me to eat less so that I could do a good job with my talk and not keep burping :P Thanks to the vegan food on that day, there was little to eat and nothing to burp. My talk was scheduled post lunch time. Somehow in my previous experiences in India, conference organizers prefer to put me post lunch. They probably think I can wake people up with my talk or loud voice. I am so used to post lunch sessions.

Added to that, the time I was given was superb. I had from 1:30 PM to 4:15 PM. It is both good and bad to have that much time to speak. If your stories are not engaging you may start to see the audience leave. Having that much time means I could also give pauses, breath and take it slow. I entered the room about 20 minutes before my scheduled start time to get the vaastu :P . Right before getting into the room I had a great conversation with a tool vendor exhibiting at CAST. Boosted my confidence further. I was excited to see Griffin Jones as my facilitator. I like Griffin and his work. He is super cool and I have a comfort factor with him from my previous experiences. He was at the CAST 2008 and at Lets Test 2012. Griffin gave me a hug before I started my talk – what a way to bring it on. After meeting Meike in my life, I have started to believe the value of hugs.

So when the time arrived, around 1:29, Griffin asked me if I want to start or wait for a minute. I said I will wait for a minute. Don’t know why but want to start on the time that is allotted :P

There were about 40 people in the room I guess. I didn’t count but there were seats that were vacant too. People were spoiled by choices they had around the same time I was speaking. Illari, Michael Larsen, Erik Davis, Michael Hunter in parallel to me. Oh gosh! I am glad 40 people turned up.

Out of the 40 were – my dear friend, Lousie Perold, the conference program co-chair who probably said, “Lets give Pradeep a space in this CAST conference” and I asked her, “Oh, so you came here to test if your decision to get me as a speaker here was good?” :P We were joking and there were smiles. I was hoping Jon Bach turns up and so did he. It made me happy. Having Jon was important – this was our first meet and I wanted to show him the work we do. Don’t read “show” as “show off”.

I had some other great people in room whom I knew before and some great people whom I came to know through this conference. Martin Hyne, Julie Hurst, Jean Ann, Keith Klain and Caire Moss, Aaron and more people were kind enough to make the choice to attend my talk.

The Presentation

I started with my story of journey from CAST 2008 to CAST 2013. Then I began my talk on the presentation that people expected I will :)

It was a series of stories from my life and that of my colleagues. If I look back on how I did it, I realize this is how it went – short stories, well connected, logically sequential, sometimes story within a story and or another story to convey the story better. There were situations where there was humor of all kinds. I also talked about my research on bull shit and how in India bull shit is actually a holy thing and how America differs from it.

While I did speak about bull shit, I also showed examples of work my colleagues did over the last 3 years. It was an amazing experience for me to go through my colleagues work. I ended my story telling with some predictions for CAST 2016. I don’t know anything else that happened during my talk other than what I wrote here. I was so much inside it that I didn’t observe what else happened in the room. Nobody left my talk. Thanks a lot folks for being patient.

Then came the time to hold up cards to ask me with questions. I was amazed at the number and the kind of questions that came to me. It never seemed to end. This went on till 4:15 and I guess there must have been something good for people to stay till the end. Note, with great choices, few moments of weakness would have kicked the audience out. Nobody leaked. I also invited Mohan to respond to a few questions that came up on the business front and he did a great job. I saw him being emotional about responding to some queries and by doing that he played the Pradeep role :P

There were people who came to my talk when the other talks got over. That was encouraging too but sad they came late and I had already shown the work examples by then. Jon Bach asked many clarifying questions. To me, the experience of having him in the room was like having Anton Ego of Ratotouille and I was the rat giving him the food I cooked. I hoped for a climax similar to that of the movie and so did it happen that way. He liked and gave great reviews.

Post presentation

Lousie Perold came to me and said, “Pradeep” and gave me a tight hug. I was very happy she looked happy. I brought the conversation back, “Was it worth it?” and hell yes, she was very happy. I hadn’t checked the tweets but even before that people who had come to my talk were coming to me and shaking my hand and congratulating me for the talk I did and the stories I shared. It went great for me.

Then I stole some moment to check the tweets. Oh my, they were unbelievable. Clarie Moss, the social media tester is an asset to our community. She live tweeted my talk and so did others. Jon Bach’s tweet got me drop a tear out of my eyes. Then I happened to check others tweet and I would have probably burst out shedding more, happy tears. I just escaped away from the hallway and took Mohan out to learn his perspective about the talk. His feedback was consistent with others.

The next day, I had several people come to me and say, “I missed your talk and people were saying I should not have missed it”. Nothing beats those moments. A good kick to have. Lots of love showered on me and the work my colleagues do. I am humbled for sure. I did great talks before that people came to me and said it changed them but this was different and better than all those. Thanks to the entire CAST crew for making this possible to me in this life. To all the great people I met at CAST  (and those who could not make it) – if you had been to my talk you would have known I acknowledged you for the journey I have had so far.

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