A Read-only Friday post by William Smith
Conference season for Mac Admins starts this year in late March and lasts through October. Locales range from Australia to Great Britain to Sweden to Canada to the United States. And despite the tragic wartime circumstances in Ukraine, the MacAdminsUA free online conference carried on for its second year in 2022.
The fact this conference exists shows our Apple Admins community may be small and spread across the globe, but it’s tightly knit.
Yuri Vlasyuk, the organizer of MacAdminsUA, brought his story to the January 9 Mac Admins Podcast where he said (paraphrased):
“In these conditions, I have a strong belief any community needs to talk more and maybe closer about topics they are working on, because there’s a lot of stress, a lot of depression, and community needs this kind of support badly… And it was good to understand that in such conditions, we have such strong support.”
Vlasyuk went on to say discoverability of Apple management tools has been low in Ukraine. So, his goal was to put together a gathering that not only addressed the mental welfare of his colleagues but also advance their knowledge around the technologies of Apple device management.
That’s very similar to why I attend conferences myself. They’re a mental mind shift from daily work where I can go deep on technical subjects I need to understand while connecting with other human beings with similar interests. I leave every conference exhausted but energized at the same time. And local meetups are a great way to do the same thing without the travel.
As admins for our organizations, our mission is to support our end users. But as members of the Apple admin community at large, our mission is to support each other. Without peer support, we’ll struggle at best or fail at worst. We need each other to succeed and thrive.
One way each of us can support our community is to learn how to present at technical gatherings. I’d like to tell you why I present and why I’d like you to consider joining me and hundreds of other community members who’ve chosen to share their unique stories and experiences.
Then, over several more posts, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about presenting technical subjects:
In the mid 1990s I discovered Usenet newsgroups when I was starting my career. These were just another form of online communities that have long since faded into history. Very much like channels in Slack, there were newsgroups specific to topics where I could post questions and quickly get answers in a very short time.
But I found that over a short span of time, I was posting answers myself. It was addictive because I received responses from strangers around the world thanking me for my answers. Every “thank you” or positive response released a little hit of dopamine — a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good. Back then, a “thank you” was as good as a “Like” today in social media but a little more personal and sincere.
As I’ve joined other communities, I’ve continued to help with questions or technical problems for that same little hit of dopamine.
Then about 15 years ago, I started presenting at conferences where I discovered a whole new level of dopamine hit. Now, I could see people. I could see them paying attention. And best of all, many of them came up to me when I was done and said “thank you” in person. Every time that happened, I was flying!
As I continued presenting one or two times a year, I found it benefitted me in new ways.
Putting together as presentation is a fantastic way to learn any subject. I’ve said repeatedly to many of my peers “those who teach make the best students”. Teaching a topic reinforces your understanding about how something works. Your mind engages with the material in a different way. I’ve submitted a few proposals where I knew I didn’t have the technical expertise to speak on it at the time, but it committed me to learning it.
Presenting is also something most of us aren’t required to do every day as part of our job descriptions. But there will be times when we need to stand up in front of a group and explain a complex topic — to our peers, our customers, or company managers. It’s not your daily work that gets you recognized for promotions or advancement; it’s being recognized as an authority for something.
Being recognized as an authority by your community has its own rewards. People find it easier to reach out to you and communicate. You begin to network with your colleagues across the world. And networking is key when seeking new employment. I’ve had opportunities presented to me that have literally changed my career path because I blogged, presented, and shared resources that I developed, with the community.
And if you’ve ever struggled to get approval for training from your employer, keep in mind most paid conferences waive conference fees for speakers. You can tell your manager, “If you’ll pay for my travel expenses, I’ll cover the cost of the conference.” That can be anywhere from a few hundred US dollars to a thousand dollars or more. The time you spend putting together your presentation has valuable.
Best of all, your audience wants to see you succeed at presenting whether it’s at a conference, your boss (or future employer), the conference organizers, or your local Apple community. You’ll be supported whenever you try.
If the thought of standing up in front of an audience, whether it’s in person or virtual, makes your skin crawl, trust me when I say every new presenter gets that feeling. But there are three techniques to overcome stage fright that really do work.
Tell a story
Or rather, tell your story.
We’ve all told stories to our friends and family about interesting things that happened at work, famous celebrities we’ve met, or struggles we’ve overcome. They’re easy to relay because they’re personal lived experiences. And they’re enjoyable to hear because we as humans like stories not only of triumph but lessons learned.
Pick a topic you know and then make yourself an expert
If you’re already familiar with a topic, it’s easy to explain. The mechanics of a workflow or the details of specific steps will come naturally to you. But don’t stop there. Anticipate problems that might have occurred or questions your audience will want answered and test those scenarios too.
A well-rounded presentation has a middle, beginning and end. It poses a problem and delivers an outcome.
Practice delivering your presentation as you’re writing
I hate waiting until my presentations are done to start practicing, so I practice them before they’re done. With every slide I create, I write a script and add animations as needed. I’ll silently rehearse that slide to see how it sounds. Then I rehearse a group of slides to see how they flow together. Eventually, I only need to run through the entire presentation one or two times because I’m already familiar with it.
And knowing what you’re talking about and what you’ll say means you won’t find yourself stumbling.
Familiarity with your content is key to avoiding anxieties. Take a few deep breaths and then seriously consider making presenting at a conference or meetup a goal for this year. If the idea scares you a little, that’s good. You’re opening yourself up to a new challenge pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Nothing worth doing comes without some friction.
And I make this challenge to anyone new to Apple administration as well as experienced. We need discussion that speaks to every skill level from learner to expert.
Your homework until next time is simply to commit to yourself that you’ll present. Maybe you could pair up with someone and co-present. We’ll talk later about choosing an event and finding a topic; and if your topic is accepted, how to get ready. It’s a rewarding way to contribute to the community that’s probably helped you along the way.
Thanks for this. I keep getting the “maybe I should present?” vibes over the last two years. The promotion and establishing oneself as an expert bits really resonated. Also the “audience wants you to succeed” bit is so true: no one wants to be unengaged!
You are awesome Sir as always!!
Great post! I was seeing myself in many of your points, especially the dopamine hit comment. It's so cool to experience the recognition in people's eyes (hopefully they're not nodding off) from live interactions. I agree, starting with telling stories about day to day work is the best and easiest jumping off point. Can't wait for your future topics.
Many thanks for these useful tips. I've never been great with public speaking (much prefer being a backroom boy), but I started up a local Apple Users group to try and work on that. I'd love to get out of my comfort zone and present at JNUC later this year. I now just need to think of a topic to talk about!
I am getting ready to present at a 'new to me' conference and this is the encouragement and inspiration that I needed. I really liked your tip of practicing while writing - I think that will really help me with getting comfortable with the material and will help to ensure that it's more conversational than just reading from slides. I'm excited to tell my story and appreciate the helpful tips shared!
Thanks for all the kudos on this post. 🙏 It’s really validating to hear the kind words and that some of you are ready to take the plunge. Here in Minnesota, “take the plunge” usually means the Polar Plunge at the beginning of the year. Think to yourself: “If I had to do one or the other — present at a conference or take the plunge — which would I choose?” 😁
The next post — about finding inspiration and ideas — should go up tomorrow. Hope you enjoy it!
One of the things i can say from presenting myself is to always remember "You have a story to tell". Everyone is doing some amazing things in their jobs / field and if you are doing something amazing always feel free to stand up and share :)
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