Why you should participate in your local user group

A lot of conference speakers will tell you that giving a presentation is a wonderful experience, not only to share knowledge but also to learn a lot for your self. I am not a conference speaker but I try to follow the advice of people from whom I think that they know what they are talking about. So I thought I share some thoughts and experiences from my amateur level of view in the hope it is of interest and a motivation for others.

Giving a presentation to learn

It’s actually pretty easy: Search some topic you like and explain it to others. You can do it in your company, in your local user group, do some video tutorials and put it on youtube or just explain something to your friends.

It is a great experience.

When I became active with SwedenCpp, the C++ user group of Stockholm/Sweden, one of my motivations was also to have a change to give talks.

If you ever visit Stockholm and would like to present some C++ related topic to the local C++ user group, just contact me.

I know I need to practice. In Austria I did not do too many talks in English. Today an additional challenge is to master living with 2 second languages, Swedish and English. This is sometimes very confusing.
So having the chance of doing a talk and getting some experience is extreme important to me.

An other motivation for me is, preparing a presentation of some topic I think to know shows me how much more there is to know about this topic. Collection and preparing information in a structured way to a topic is something, if I have time enough, what I really enjoy. Everytime I do this I am so astonished what I lean through doing it.

And than there is, of course this

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

I am unsure if this is from Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman or some other person, but I think this is not important. Important to me is the truth in this sentence.

Don’t fear not being good enough

A local user group is a great place to gain some practice.

Local user groups are usually a friendly environment and events are free to attend. In opposite to commercial events where people pay for attending, not everything has to be that professional and it is OK to act on amateur level.

There is no need to fear that you are not professional enough. No one will throw rotten tomatoes on you if you lose the context or need to go back to repeat something. In my experience, user groups are very helpful environments and people will be happy to help.

Don’t fear your topics are not advanced enough

User groups usually have all types of members, professionals but also beginners. There need to be advanced topics but also beginner friendly topics. Talk with the organizer, tell them your topic and the difficulty level. It is up to the organizer to find the right mix for an event.

All topics, also beginner topics, are great. So do not fear what you can present might not be advanced or interesting enough.

It is OK to be nervous

I guess every one is nervous before speaking in front of an audience. I am definitely, so you are not alone. But it might be possible to get used to be nervous and maybe lose the fear.
The way to this is: Give talks.

And again, the local user group might be the perfect environment to train such a situation. Usually they are friendly and helpful environments and so there is no reason to fear the fear, enjoy it.

Getting feedback

If there is a chance for doing video, make one.

It does not need to be that perfect!

Luckily SwedenCpp has group members that do the creation of video, what is an extreme lucky situation for a local user group.

It enables to share content and information also to outside the group and also allows speaker to do some analysis of the given talk. I do not now how it is for others, some people say they never watch their talks. I find it very helpful to see myself talking. I hope, and I think it will, help me to improve my skills and that the next time I do a presentation I will be a little bit better.

If you have no video camera just ask if someone in the group has one. The chance that this is the case is pretty high. For the purpose of feedback the quality does not need to be the best.

If there is no chance for doing video

If there is no chance for a video, do not take this as an excuse. You still have to chance to get feedback from the people listening to you. This can also be very valuable.

Alternatives to videos

You can also use your mobile phone do do an audio recording. This works great. There are plenty of free audio recording apps, just try one. Start it, put the phone in front of you and record you talking.

Additionally you can do a screen recording from your desktop while doing the presentation. There are many screen recording software tools available, just search for one. Together with the audio this is nearly as good as a video.

This should be done even if you do video.

Just do not forget to create some synchronization point that you can sync the desktop recording with the audio.

Don’t fear recordings of you

For me it is strange to hear my voice and to see me talking. From a lot of other speakers in our user group I know they feel the same about their talks. It seems the reaction 'OMG, how horrible' is natural for some persons when they see them self on video, even if they give excellent talks.

So do not fear your recording and trust others if they tell you that you are not that horrible as you think :-)

You do not need to upload a video to the internet if you do not like it, and you local user group will also not do it if you do not confirm.

Don’t shy the work

It is of course some work to prepare a presentation.

Maybe more for some than for others. Some people claim that they do their presentations the day, or even the night, before the talk. I can not do this.

For me, preparing a talk, is usually quite some work, but I enjoy is also very much. Collecting information, bringing it into some order from which I think it makes sense, review and improve. I did this several times for several topics during the last years, an every time I am surprised how much I learn about topics I thought I have some solid knowledge.

I am not the fastest in preparing talks. What about you?

Other roles than speaker

As you can see, beside giving talks there are also other roles, like helping with video/recording, user groups can need help with. The organization on an event, finding event hosts, pizza sponsors, …​.

If you think you can provide some help and would like to do something, just talk with the organizers of a group, they will for sure be very thankful.

Thanks for reading

As usual, if you find any mistakes, especially in my spelling, please let me know.
Ideas for improvements, or any other feedback, is also very much welcome.