Each year at TechEd, there is a competition called Speaker Idol during the typical lunch break at noon each day. This competition features community lecturers giving brief five-minute sessions and then being judged by a panel of experts in a manner that resembles the American Idol television show. Contestants can choose any topic they would like. There are preliminary judging rounds on days one through three of TechEd, and on the final day of the conference is a championship round. To the winner of this grueling affair goes a paid trip to next year’s TechEd and a speaking assignment at that event. For the second year in a row, I accepted the challenge of competing in this competition.
I have been speaking for some time, travel on behalf of Telerik and speak at various user groups and events. You can see my list of recent events and travels on my personal blog. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to highlight how much my speaking skills have improved and that I deserve a shot to speak at large events. For this year’s event, I condensed a version of a talk that I give called “Mobile ASP.Net Web Forms – Making the Impossible, Possible”. This talk would highlight the four main steps needed to enable mobile detection and rendering in ASP.Net.
If you have seen me present in the past, you know I typically give sessions that define a problem, walk through the solution to the problem, and then summarize the lesson with follow-up resources available online. This competition would be no different, as I applied the same techniques to this five-minute talk: I introduced the problem with a great set of images and quirky animations demonstrating the problem, and then some quick demos to illustrate the solution. I concluded with a quick summary of what I covered.
My assigned day for the preliminary rounds turned up to be the first day of the conference. When I arrived at the venue, I quickly learned from the hosts that I would be the first speaker for that day. What pressure! I was going to ‘set the pace’ for the entire competition! This means that I was going to define the metrics by which all other speakers would be judged. This could go very well for me, or very wrong – as other speakers could identify my weaknesses and adjust their content to address those concerns the judges were focusing on.
Fortunately, I won my preliminary round and advanced to the finals on Thursday. Once I learned I had advanced, I took some time with each of the judges to understand their criticisms and determine how best to address those concerns. This is one of the key elements of Speaker Idol – the judges look for how you are going to improve your presentation between the preliminary round and the finals.
In my case, I was told that I had several conversational tics in my presentation. I also used a demo screencast without announcing that I was showing a video, one of the judges focused on this and made it a significant criticism of my lecture. I wanted to correct these issues and prove that I could deliver a TechEd quality talk. I replaced the template of my presentation slide-deck with the official template in use at the conference. Addtionally, I added a slide introducing the demo video – in this way, the judge would see that I am declaring a video is being presented. Finally, I updated my summary slide to include links, emails, and a QRCode that would allow attendees to locate my provided resources online. The resources for this presentation are found at: http://bit.ly/FritzSi13
I gave my presentation without any hitches, failing demos, and with my typical vocal flair. Carl Franklin has uploaded a video of the Speaker Idol finals to YouTube, I will link it here once it becomes publicly available. I encourage you to check it out, learn what a good five-minute talk is, and see what the judges thought of each presentation.
I am proud of the talk I gave, and the judges thought it good enough to name me the runner-up in this year's contest.
For those of you who are aspiring speakers in our technical community, I recommend you check out a few resources that taught me well on my path to Speaker Idol:
There are plenty of opportunities for new public speakers at user groups and code camps around the world. Try it, you may find that you like it. If you do enjoy the experience, don’t be afraid to submit to bigger and bigger conferences. Speaker Idol will put more pressure on you than any other speaking assignment, due to the competition element. When you are experienced enough, enter a future Speaker Idol contest. You will learn some new things about yourself as a speaker, and you will be a better speaker for it. If you enter next year’s Speaker Idol competition in Houston, let me know, and I will be there to cheer you on.