I held my two first conference talks earlier this week at the Swedish SAP user group conference SAPSA IMPULS 2019, and in this post I will share some of my experiences. SAPSA IMPULS is a yearly conference targeting people working with SAP solutions in the Nordics, and the event had more than 800 attendees this year. This was a two days event, and I was scheduled to hold two different presentations, one on each day of the conference.
Day 1 - a broader appeal
On the first day I held a presentation titled "How to stay up-to-date within the SAP space with openSAP". openSAP is an excellent MOOC platform to stay current with the SAP space and acquire new skills. I explained the structure and advantages of using MOOCs in general and openSAP in particular, to expand my knowledge within SAP. I also shared my personal experiences attending about 30 openSAP courses.
I was quite nervous before the talk, since I haven't really done any public speaking. After having rigged up my computer, there were still about ten minutes to wait for the planned starting time of my talk. I found these ten minutes the most nervous part of the talk, since I was just standing around waiting. Thankfully a former colleague of mine came into the room about five minutes before my talk was to start, and we engaged in some small-talk which helped me relax. Once I got started presenting, my nerves calmed down. There were seven parallel tracks as I was presenting, and my presentation attracted about 70 people. This meant that the room was full, but not crowded. After the presentation, several attendees came forward to discuss some questions they had and they also gave me some positive feedback. I think that the talk was generally well-received.
Before holding my presentation, I had the opportunity to attend the key-note. This enabled me to tie the topic of the key-note back into my own presentation. The key-note was mainly about customer experiences and experience management. Since there is currently a course on the topic on openSAP, The Power of Experience Management, I referenced this in my presentation. Even though that this was just a small detail, I still think that it was a nice bridge between the key-note and my presentation.
I was also able to attend a few other sessions before I held my presentation. This made me realize that I had completely overlooked the fact that I should have included a slide presenting the organization I work for in my presentation. I was able to correct this mistake in the break before my presentation.
Day 2 - the technical niche talk
On the second day, I held a talk titled "Improving your ABAP code quality with open-source tools". The talk was about how we have improved our code quality through the use of open-source tools at the organization where I work. The tools I explained and demonstrated are:
- SAP Style guides: Clean coding recommendations for ABAP
- abapOpenChecks: Checks for SAP Code Inspector
- abapGit: Git client for ABAP
Since the session was only 20 minutes long, and I had a lot of material to cover, the talk felt a bit rushed. I feel very comfortable with the topic I presented, which probably made me talk a bit more than during my rehearsals of the talk. I felt much more relaxed than on day 1, most likely since the first talk was well received and I had already received positive feedback.
In retrospect, the talk might have been a little too technical for the audience of this conference. However, I still had about 20-25 people showing up. I was approached after this talk with some interesting comments and questions, so even though it was more of a niche talk, I'm happy that I gave it. I also learned a lot as I was preparing for the talk.
I'm happy to have participated in the conference and to have shared my experiences and knowledge through the two talks. It was a learning experience both when it comes to the subjects I presented as well as regarding the whole process of writing presentation proposals, preparing and finally delivering a talk.
Some of my takeaways are:
- Start preparing the talks early. I fine-tuned my talks over a period of about two months, and still ended up doing last-minute changes.
- Ask someone to review your presentation. I asked my manager as well as my colleagues to review the presentations, and this gave me some valuable feedback.
- Rehears, rehears, rehears. I practiced my talks alone as well as in front of my wife and kids, and it was important for discovering transitions in the presentations which weren't smooth enough as well as practicing my presentation skills.
- Try to engage in small-talk and use the opportunity to network ahead of a presentation. This helped me shift into a more talkative mode and made me more relaxed.
- People want to hear your story. Both of my presentations contained personal stories about why the topics were important to me, and how they helped me to be successful in real-world situations. This made the presentations as well as me as a presenter easier to relate to.
- Attend the key-note, so that you can relate to it in your own presentation if relevant.
- Attend other sessions to see how the other presenters are presenting. This helped me fine-tune my presentation.
If you are considering submitting an abstract to a conference, just do it! It's a fun learning experience!