Monday, August 29, 2016

Being Present - Mid-Year Review

At the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to Being Present at events where I'm speaking. I've been thinking about this the last couple days, so it's probably time to put down some specifics. (And yes, I know it's a bit past mid-year, but we'll just ignore that.)

Lots of Time Away from Home
In case you haven't figured it out, I really like speaking. I like helping developers take an easier path around the hurdles that I had to get over when I was learning these topics. Since January I've spoken at 22 events. These range from local user groups that are 8 miles from home to conferences that are 9 times zones away from where I live.

In all, I've spent 54 days on the road. A regular job would advertise that as 25% travel. That's a lot more than I've done in the past (and I've still got several more trips before the year is out). Fortunately, I don't have much that keeps me from traveling (the cats pretend to not get lonely), so I'm taking advantage of the opportunity while I can.

So how are things going?

Awesome Interactions
I've had a ton of awesome interactions this year. I first made it to the central time zone last year, and I've made some really good friends who make the rounds in that area.

Music City Code is freshest in my mind (since I was there a little over a week ago). It was really great to spend some time with Eric Potter (@pottereric) who I think I first met at Nebraska.Code() last year. Also, Cameron Presley (@pcameronpresley) who I spent some time with at Code PaLOUsa in Kentucky earlier this year. I also had some good conversations with Chris Gardner (@freestylecoder) and Heather Tooil (@HeatherTooill) -- I've seen both of them at other events, but never really sat down to talk. It was great to get to know them better.

Other people I got to know for the first time included Hussein Farran (@Idgewoo), Jesse Phelps (@jessephelps), Paul Gower (@paulmgower), and Spencer Schneidenbach (@schneidenbach).

In addition, I got to catch up with people who I know well from other events, including (but not limited to) Ondrej Balas, Justin James, Jim Wooley, Jeff Strauss, James Bender, Duane Newman, Kirsten Hunter, David Neal, Phil Japikse, and Paul Sheriff. (Sorry, I'm too lazy to include links; I know I've mentioned them in the past.)

And this is really just from Music City Code. If I look back at the other events I've been to, I've met some great people and been able to get to know them better (as an example, I met Matthew Renze (@MatthewRenze) when we shared a ride from the airport to CodeMash; we both went to NDC London; and we hung out again at KCDC). And speaking of KCDC, it was great to spend some time with Cori Drew (@coridrew) who I first met at That Conference last year, and Heather Downing (@quorralyne) who I first met at Nebraska.Code() last year and got to hang out with again at Code PaLOUsa. (More on KCDC: A Look Back at June 2016.)

This makes it sound like I only hang out with other speakers, but that's definitely not the case. I tend to spend a bit of additional time with speakers because we're often staying at the same hotel and/or looking for things to do after all the local folks go home for the night. And repeated interactions at different events reinforce these relationships.

I have great conversations with the non-speaker folks, too.

Other Interactions
I'm always surprised at the folks that I end up running into over and over at an event. At Music City Code, I had a conversation with Eric Anderson one morning, and we kept running into each other throughout the event.

At Visual Studio Live! in Austin, I ended up having dinner with Andrew, Mike, and Mike (differentiated as "Jersey Mike" and "Baltimore Mike"). None of us knew each other before the event, but we walked over to an event dinner together, ended up talking throughout the week, and even rounded things out with really excellent barbecue on the last night.

I made a ton of new friends at NDC Oslo (I mentioned just a few of them previously). CodeMash was awesome because I got to sit down with Maggie Pint to get to know her better (and you can read more about that in the NDC article).

Okay, so I'm going to stop now. I've been going through my notes from the various conferences and there are too many awesome people to mention. I've met a ton of great people. The conversations are useful because I get to hear what other people are successful with and what they are struggling with. Even if those relationships don't continue, we're still the better for having had the conversation.

And when the relationships do continue, it's a great thing.

Being Present
I credit these conversations and these relationships to "being present" at the event. I'm around during the morning coffee time before the event. I'm around during lunch time. I'm around at the breaks. I'm around for the dinners and after parties (with some caveats). And because I know that I can sleep when I get home, I try to be around for the hotel lobby conversations late in the evening.

This gives me a lot of opportunities to interact. I'm not always successful, but the more I'm available, the more conversations I have.

Stepping Out Early
I have stepped out early from parts of events. This is actually something that I put in to my original commitment:
  • This also means that I will be available at the noisy, crowded receptions that clash with my introvert nature (although I reserve the right to find a small group of people to go have coffee with in a quieter location).
I don't usually last very long at receptions or after parties. As an introvert, the noise and activity are overwhelming and suck out all of my energy. So I usually try to find a group of folks where I can "anchor". Sometimes this lets me stay at the party, sometimes it means that we go off somewhere else.

For example, at CodeMash there was a reception at a bar that was *very* loud. But I managed to get into a circle of 4 or 5 people (and stay in that circle), so I was able to manage by focusing on the conversation with the people around me. I managed to do the same thing at the KCDC party. I walked around the venue a little bit and had some good (short) conversations. But when I was saw that I was running out of energy (I even stepped outside for a bit), I found a table of folks where I could "anchor". I could focus on the 5 or 6 people at the table and block out the rest of the activity.

Other events played out a bit differently. At the Music City Code party, things were extremely loud. I had a couple good conversations, but it was overwhelming. A few of us ended up going upstairs to the restaurant (which was a bit quieter) -- our group kept getting bigger as more people stepped out for a "break". I think we ended up with 6 folks having dinner. I went back down to the party for a little while to make sure I had a chance to say goodbye to folks I wouldn't be seeing again. And I ended up talking with Erin Orstrom (@eeyorestrom) about introvert & extrovert developers.

The party at NDC Oslo had a couple bands. I kind of wanted to stay for a little while to hear them, but I ran into a group of folks who were going out to dinner. Since I knew I wouldn't last long at the party, I decided to take the opportunity to go to dinner with Evelina Gabasova (@evelgab), Tomas Petricek (@tomaspetricek), and Jamie Dixon (@jamie_dixon).

I'm still working on how I can best deal with the overwhelming situations. I'd like to be present for the entirety of those, but I know that I need to take care of myself as well.

Tough Decisions
As expected, there have been some tough decisions this year. This is the first year that I've had to decline events because I was accepted at more than one for the same time period. That's a good problem to have, but I want to avoid it as much as possible. It's hard enough for organizers to select speakers and put together a conference schedule; it's even worse when one of the selected speakers can't make it.

When there are multiple events during a particular week, I've decided to submit to only one of them. This has been tough because I don't always make the right decisions. I've "held" a week for a particular event (that I was pretty sure I'd get selected for), and then I don't get selected. By that time, it's too late to submit to the other event for that week. The result is that I had some gaps in my schedule that I would rather have not had. But I'm just playing things by ear at this point. I'm not sure what the "right" events are.

As an example, I would really like to be part of the first TechBash (particularly since Alvin Ashcraft (@alvinashcraft) has been such a great support in sending folks to my blog). But I held that week for another event that I had submitted to (actually 2 more local events that were back-to-back). One of those events didn't accept me; had I known that, I would have planned differently. But it also opened up an opportunity for me to do a workshop at Code Stars Summit (there's still space available), so I've got something good to look forward to that week.

It has been hard getting rejected by events that I really wanted to be at. And it's even harder when the event is happening, and I'm watching folks online talk about how awesome it is. Rejection is part of the process, though. It's normal, and it doesn't reflect on who you are as a person -- at least I keep telling myself that :)

There are some events that I went to this year (and I'm really glad that I did), but I won't be submitting again next year. These are also tough decisions. If you really want me to be at your event, contact me personally, and I'll see what I can arrange. I try to move stuff around for people who send me an invitation.

Falling into Success
I think that my decision to only submit for events that I really want to attend helps me stick with my commitment. If I'm at an event that I want to be at, then I'm more likely to be engaged and excited about it.

I've had some awesome opportunities as a speaker this year. I'm very thankful to everyone who comes to hear me speak and for those who tell me that it was useful to them. I'm looking forward to the opportunities that are still coming this year (Upcoming Events). And I'm also excited about some events that are coming up next year -- I'll announce those as soon as they are official.

In the meantime, I'm glad that I'm conscious about "being present" at the events I'm speaking at. It gives me lots of opportunities to meet new people, catch up with old friends, and expand the amount of awesome that I get from each event. And hopefully it expands the amount of awesome for the folks I talk to as well.

Happy Coding!

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