Why Are You Here?

cheek to cheek mentoring session

Besides being leader and matchmaker for SpeakEasy initiative (we are looking for mentors, talk to me if you are interested), I also have two mentees. Both happens to live in India, both are already experienced testing professionals and both explore their way to public speaking. My mentees are very different personalities and their speaking journeys are very different, but this week with both of them I talked about how to engaged with audience and how to adapt/reshape talk for particular group.


My work, giving trainings, and my hobby, giving talks and workshops, complement each other in a nice way. At conferences I can experiment new ideas or fulfill my personal goals and talk about topics I care, at work I have to deliver. As a trainer I have my routine. Every training I start with two questions: 

1)    Who you are?

2)    Why you are here? 


About the first question – I am curious and really want to know with whom I will spend next few days. Second question is my way to find out background story. Why you have chosen to be here, what is your exit criteria for this training? I like to put it on flipchart and keep visible during whole training. Why? It helps to stay focused. That includes that you are responsible to achieve your goals and you will give me continuous feedback how we are doing, what you are still missing. Another thing I am aware of, that sometimes people are sent to trainings, they don’t want to be there, they don’t want to learn and I need to deal with that. I always say that I do not force people to attend trainings, but my take is: we are here and, hey, let’s make the best out of it!


This is my trainer routine, I ask questions and explain ground rules around responsibility of outcome. I have tried few other things, but always come back to this as most effective way how to start a training.


Back to speaking. If I give a workshop during conference, I start in similar way as a training. If group is bigger than 10 people, then I skip the first question. For a track talk you need to play another game. To get information you need about your audience you can ask questions where people need to raise their hand. Something like this: “Raise your hand if you work as tester! OK… one third of the group. Now raise your hand if you are developer!” then continue with something like “raise your hand if you want to learn about explorative testing!”. Time to time situations happen when somebody gets up and rushes out to the door. Conferences are overwhelming and people oft mix rooms, if this happened than now is the time to fix it. 


Now back to mentoring to make the full circle. One of my mentees is at the beginning of talking. She has a topic and currently explores how to create an abstract and a talk. The second is going fast forward the finish line. She has topic, good abstract, slides are done, now submitting and practicing the talk. To both of them I asked my two questions. You can create a talk to one specific target group and to address their issues/problems/challenges. Or you can create one more general talk and reshape it during the presentation. To achieve that I put more pictures & less text on my slides, this gives me freedom to change it, if audience does not respond as I imagined they will. 


For me speaking means to be authentic me and to listen to my audience and their needs. Yes, I am standing on a stage, but this is not about me. This is about you, listening my story, taking parts, which fits to you, and making your (working) life better/easier.

So… why are you here?