The Speak Easy program, Part 2: Arachnofobia and Fear of Public Speaking

This is a very personal story about my fear of speaking in public.

I have previously indicated I have had a great fear of speaking in public. It is not limited to a public event but in fact to mostly any kind of groups of people I don’t know. In fact even with people I know, I get nervous. Why? I think it is the feeling of being observed, judged that scares me. With that in mind it might be difficult to understand why I have chosen a career which in fact requires speaking to groups of people I don’t know very well, almost every day. It actually sounds crazy when I think about it.

Why I have chosen to follow the path that have led me to where I am today is thanks to my ambition to:

  • learn from my mistakes, even when they hurt so much you think you never want to do this again
  • continuously improve myself
  • share my experience, so that others might learn from it
  • help others to improve and find there strengths

So how did I reach to the point where I held my first recorded international presentation (Visualizing Testability at CAST 2015)? Let me first share a different story about fear.

Capturing the spider

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had what you would might refer to as a light degree of arachnophobia. I would panic in the near sight of a spider. I would start sweating and behave completely irrational.  As a child I refused opening the windows to my bedroom when it was hot outside. I would rather sweat and not be able to sleep because of the heat, than opening up an opportunity for a spider to get in to my bedroom.

One time I was laying in my bed, reading a book, when I noticed in the corner of my eye, something crawling on my pillow. The horror I felt when I saw it was a spider is completely irrational. In Sweden where I live, we don’t even have any poisonous spiders, at least not any that would be lethal to humans. That night I slept on the couch in another room, since the spider had disappeared before my parents could catch it and was not to be found any where.

When I got older I realized I couldn’t rely on my parents or other people to help me out every time a spider appeared. The breaking point was the day where I had just gotten a new apartment and my parents were helping me to move. My new flat already had an inhabitant, a spider and I panicked. I was lucky to have my father remove it. I believe I was in my twenties! This could no longer go on. What would I do next time a spider appeared?

I decided to take control of my fear. My process was rather straight forward. It has taken many, many years to get to where I am today. I still don’t like spiders, but I can control my fear a bit better. So what did I do?

catchspider

When searching for what resulted in this picture, I realized I can still easily lose control over my fear. Search for “spider in a glass” and I think you will understand. I had to bring out one of my tools from my tool box. It’s the same one I use when I get nervous on stage. I use the Deep breathing technique to calm myself down.

  • I trapped the spider with a glass
  • I slid a stiff paper under the glass
  • I watched the spider closely
  • I lifted the paper and the glass and threw the spider in the toilet (yes, sorry all animal friends, this is what I did)

It sounds easy, right? Well it wasn’t. I cried the very first time I caught the spider. The first times I left the glass with the spider in it standing for days on the floor. I also let the glass with the spider in it standing on the paper on the floor for days. I’ve made horrible mistakes using too thick paper, leaving a gap large enough for the spider to escape when trying to slide the paper under the glass. I have used glasses that were too small and completely missed the eight-legged monster. I’ve tried to throw the spider out the window and it blew back and landed on me! Yes it might be funny now. But I was surely not laughing at the time.

When I became a mother,  I had even a bigger incitement to not let fear take control over me. I wanted to be a role model and show them how you can overcome, or at least take control over your fear. When I think back to my childhood and think of how I felt when a spider appeared I can only wish I had dealt with my fear earlier.

Getting control over the fear of public speaking

It might sound like a cliche, but the more you practice the easier it gets. I don’t know how many spiders I’ve captured with a glass but today it feels a lot easier than it did many years ago.

After a speaking incident that left me with low self esteem and tears, and with a new upcoming presentation only six months later I knew I had to do something about it. On top of it, this presentation was THE presentation, my first presentation at a conference, which happened to be Let’s Test. It was THE presentation, where so many of the testers I respect would be. It meant a million to me and I didn’t want to fail again.

I used a similar approach as in treating my arachnophobia. I decided to accelerate my learning and I  was lucky enough to have a boss who supported me and agreed to pay for me to consult a speaking coach. We met 10 times before my presentation. So what was the process:

  • Speak – the moment we met, he made me stand in front of him and speak
  • Recording me speak
  • Watching the recording of me speaking
  • Showing me a structure of the speak
  • Immediate feedback
  • Challenging me – continuously challenge me to take control over the space.
  • Making me practice – over and over again
  • Setting up a sub target – a speaking event where I could practice before THE conference

The process was not easy. I don’t think my coach knows this but I cried at home during the process too. I doubted many times that I could go through with it. I doubted that I could have a dialogue with the audience. I doubted I could engage the audience and get them to respond to me. I doubted I could be or do all those things he challenged me to do. The thing I remembered the most was our second encounter where he immediately told me to get up and speak. I couldn’t get a word out of my mouth.

Since then I have only spoken three times in public counting my first presentation at Let’s Test. My last presentation at CAST went pretty well I think even though I was so nervous I couldn’t remember very much of what I said. Luckily it was recorded and I’ve managed to force myself to watch parts of it. I have also had several workshops which I don’t feel the same about. I actually love workshops.

I believe you too can take control over your fear of public speaking. That is what is so great about Speak Easy. It’s a program where people voluntarily wants to help you! You can choose for what you would like to be mentored for. Some one in that program might be able to help you as my coach helped me. The two main things to summarize my process in overcoming the fear of speaking and to get better is:

  • Practice – As easy as it sounds it’s all about practice, practice and practice. The first time I couldn’t even stand in front of my husband and present. You would think that would be easier than practicing in front of your coach. To me it wasn’t. Practice is not only about practicing your speech in front of the mirror. It is also to practice in front of people, so that you can receive…
  • Feedback – To be able to improve you need some kind of feedback. Perhaps not as part of the process of overcoming fear, but in order to accelerate your learning and improvement. When you know what you do well you might feel better about speaking in public. There are many ways you can do this. I think you can to some extent do this on your own to. You can record yourself and watch it. However I am my worst critic and prefer to ask others for feedback. The feedback I ask for needs to be constructive. If people liked my talk I would like to know what they liked. I also want to know what I can improve and how, though I mostly already know that myself.

I have come far but I still have a long way to go where perhaps I one day will even like speaking in public. Today I have reached the phase of where I have taken some control over my fear. I can now hear some of you asking: “Why do you even bother to speak in public if you don’t like it?” That is a very good question, and I will elaborate on a few of the points I did in the beginning of my post next time.

Now I wonder, what keeps you from speaking? What is your fear? How can you learn to take control of it and trap that spider?

This is the second of a few post in a series related to being a mentor for the Speak Easy program. The Speak Easy program, Part 1: Becoming a mentor

 

The Speak Easy program, Part 1: Becoming a mentor

Speaking easy, really?

Speaking in larger groups or in front of people has never been easy for me. My heart starts pounding every time I’m in front of people. Some times I have to look down at my chest, certain you can see my heart pounding through my t-shirt, like in a cartoon.

I used to hate speaking in front of people. If I could avoid it I would happily do so. Ironically I’ve chosen a career where I need to speak in front of people; in project meetings, to my team and in all sorts of context at work. It is also quite funny that my new job will be teaching software testing in a vocational program. To hate is a very strong word and a very serious matter. I don’t hate speaking anymore. I don’t love it either. Yet I choose to do it! (I will get back to why I do it and when I actually felt comfortable in a new post)

In my career I have done very few official speaking events, such as speaking at conferences and meetups. Though the ones I’ve done have been a real challenge and a great experience.  Now a days the biggest reason for speaking very occasionally is the time it takes for me to prepare ( I will get back to this part too).

My reasons for becoming a mentor

Given the background it might seem strange that I volunteered to become a mentor for Speak Easy. But the program which Fiona Charles and Anne-Marie Charrett have started is something I am very passionate about and the main reasons for me are:

  • The possibility to influence bringing diversity to the arena, specifically tech conferences.
  • The possibility to support speakers or new speakers who might share my experiences.
  • The opportunity to give something back to the CDT community and people who have supported me and helped me throughout my career.

I will go deeper in to some of the reasons in a few upcoming posts.

Kudos to Eric Proegler for the idea of creating a series of posts!

This is the first of a few post in a series related to being a mentor for the Speak Easy program.

Let’s Test is on!

Rambling from an Introvert’s aspect of the conference

Well officially Let’s Test doesn’t start until tomorrow, Monday.
But informally the conference has already started and I am having a blast!

Reflecting

I am an introvert but I love conferring. So as an introvert I have now headed back to my small, but beautiful room with a fantastic view over the lake to do some reflecting.

One thing I have realized is how easy it is to for me to get caught up in all the discussions and wanting to meet new people and talk to people I’ve only “met” on Twitter. The thing is I really want to just suck in all of the things going on  but a lesson I made from conferences where conferring is the goal is that I need to listen to myself, take a beak, reflect and regather some energy. Normally I just tend to drift along with the flow.

This time I am trying something new. I will try without too much of structure to actually write down my reflections as the conference goes on.

Arrival

I arrived yesterday, Saturday to be able to mentally prepare for my session on Tuesday. I instantly met up with some dear old friends Louise, Carsten and Henrik with whom I shared a cab. That is when the conference actually started!

During the evening we were about 20 people, including Johan Jonassons little newborn Ingrid. The discussions were somewhat let’s say pending from very low to let’s say more intellectually stimulating subjects in the bar with the Eurovision song contest in the background. I had a great time but forced myself to hit the bed around midnight which I today think was a wise thing to do even though I wanted to stay up longer to chat with all the great people.

Sunday

So after breakfast it was time for facilitating training. The training was held by Ilari Aegerter and his Master Paul Holland (part of the Let’s Test Team). This is the second time I signed up for it and it is a very good thing to do to when it comes to learning how to facilitate a discussion. I was at one time regretting that I did sign up, since I came up early to mentally get prepared (but then I got this awesome Let’s Test jacket to wear when I’m facilitating, so it is totally worth it now ;)). The training was well performed and fun and then we actually got to practice real facilitating in the peer conference Lets Wet that was organized by Simon Morley and Jean Paul Varwijk.
It was great getting direct and constructive feedback on my facilitating. And to me it is not only about learning but also to challenge myself in areas I’m not very comfortable in. I got very good feedback.  These are the three main things I will take with me when facilitating.

1. Recap from the stack, so that the participants knows who’s on next and that I as a facilitator have noticed them
2. Scan the room, notice the participants when they want to talk
3. Find a good structure to keep track on your threads.

I am writing this in the context of me assuming that the reader is familiar with the concept of a peer conferences and facilitating. If you don’t know read Paul Hollands blog.

Now I’m going to rest for a while and get some energy and then head back to the conference again!

DSC_1401 DSC_1405 DSC_1406

My thoughts on SWET4

Getting there
Sigge and I arrived late on Friday evening after a five hour train ride and an unnecessarily long taxi ride to Kilsbergen were the conference was held. The fog was so thick that the taxi driver couldn´t find the hotel and went back and forward on the road several times. When we arrived most people were already there, drinking beer and enjoying themselves in lively discussion about testing and wolves.

Facing my worst fear
I almost went straight to bed to be able to wake up early in the morning to make the last preparations for my presentation.
Since this was my first time ever to present in such a conference with people I highly respect for their knowledge and experience I was really really nervous.
In addition to this I can honestly say that I hate to stand in front of people and talk. I actually find no thrill at all in doing it and I have avoided it as long as I’ve could. So I am still not sure why I challenged myself to do this. I knew there was a  risk that I would be selected to present when I sent in my abstract for the conference. But I had such good experience from the discussions from SWET3 so there was no hesitation about participating. I think it is hard for someone  that does not have this fear to understand what I felt during the presentation that of course did not go very well.
First of all I was really nervous, secondly I thought I was presenting an Experience report which I now know that I wasn’t. The open season after the presentation went better though, especially for me since I got questioned in ways that gave me a lot of ideas on how to proceed with my story the next time I tell it.
The next time, you might think. To be honest I had a few moments were I thought: “I will never ever do this again!” It was so terrible that I wouldn’t like to experience it again. Though after many hours of reflections and helpful constructive feedback I will present again.

My overall experience
In overall I have a very positive experience from the conference. I got a lot of good questions regarding the subject of my presentation “Model based Exploratory Interviewing” which I will process and use to evolve my thoughts.
I got very useful feedback from James on how to improve my presentation and how to present an experience report. As usual James presentation was fascinating and inspiring.
The discussion were of high quality and I was inspired by all of the participants who belongs to a group of people I respect and enjoy for their experience and skills within software testing. I also met some great new people that I hope to meet again!

What happens now
Unfortunately my experience was a little bit blurred by the fact that I was to do/did a presentation but there are several things that I’ve already done since I came home, all inspired directly or indirectly by the conference:

  • I called for a meeting with my fellow testers to discuss collaborative testing/ mix-up testing which I’ve thought about for way too long now. Just do it!
  • I booked another occasion to make a presentation about Tester skills.
  • I booked a meeting with a new team to start up RCA of bugs in production.
  • I am already doing this with one team.I wrote my third blog post.
  • I booked a meeting to have breakfast with a coach in communication and presentation skills

I also have things that I will give some more thought in the coming weeks.

  • Look over the Low-tech dashboard again and try to figure out why it didn’t work out as well as I was hoping to.
  • Try out collaborative TDD with my husband (who is a programmer)
  • Practice in visualising my thought process.
  • Write an experience report.
  • Continue the work on Model based Exploratory Testing.

More reading on SWET4

If you would like to read more about the conference, check out Johan Jonasson blog which gives you a great summary of all the presentations and talks.

Erik Brickarp also shares his experience on SWET4 here.

Thank you

To all of you who participated!

Anna Elmsjö, Simon Morley, Tobbe Ryber, Oscar Cosmo, Erik Brickarp, James Bach, Johan Jonasson, Sigge Birgisson, Rikard Edgren, Joakim Thorsten, Martin Jansson, Saam Koroorian, Sandra Camilovic and Henrik Emilsson.

Reflections from Let’s Test – a conference for everyone?

I just attended Sweden’s well Europe’s first context driven test conference! Knowing a few of the guys that organized it I expected it to be an extraordinary event but it actually over passed my expectations! So I decided that the reflections from this conference would end up in my very first blog post.

What I really liked the most about  Let’s Test is the concept of the conference, where conferring, discussions and socializing to exchange ideas and experiences, characterizes the event. It might seem a bit scary for some people, like me for instance who once in awhile prefer to be alone and where mingling in a large crowd can be a huge personal effort.

But since I’ve been twice to CAST and quoting Paul Hollander, ” Let’s Test has stolen the concept” I sort of knew what to expect from the conference so I was better prepared this time. There were a few things that were different from CAST and these are the things which made it the best conference I’ve attended so far. So what made it so spectacular?

The people, sessions and talks
Both speakers and participants came from all over the world.  I really enjoyed catching up with some old tester friends that I met at CAST and SWET3 but I also got to meet and make some new interesting tester friends which I hope I will get to chat to again.
I listened to many interesting presentations and I attended two great tutorials though it was really hard to choose which sessions to attend. There were so many I wanted to go to! I won’t go into details here regarding the sessions or things I will try to incorporate in my job (this might become a second blog post!).

The venue
The location of the event was amazing, as close to nature as you can get without going camping (I live in the city!). Not even the fact that I could hardly breath due to pollen allergy affected my positive experience! I even had to go for a jog Monday morning to explore the beautiful surroundings. It only happened once though and luckily Ola Hyltén had brought an arsenal of allergy medicine which he kindly enough shared with me( I wonder if my positive experience had anything to do with those blue pills?!).
The rooms were small but really clean and nice and since I hardly spent much time in my room it served it’s purpose in providing me a bed to get a few hours of sleep in.
There was really something for everyone at the venue. The facilities for recreation was definitely in my taste. I visited the gym a couple of times but missed out on the Sauna and both the pool table and the swimming pool. But that leaves some things for Let’s Test 2013!

The food and drinks
The food was really nice with alternatives for everyone from vegetable lovers to meat junkies and people with a sweet tooth, healthy or less healthy style. Meaning I could get my oatmeal for breakfast whilst others could feast on scrambled eggs and bacon. And a vast variety of food makes me very very happy!
I don’t know whether beer and wine serves as food but it certainly provides you some parts of your daily nutrition needs. And there were plenty of that to choose from as well. Though next time  I promise I will contribute to the alternatives with some whiskey for my new and old tester friends since it seems to be a favored drink.

My own challenges
I believe my own determination to get the best out of the conference surely played a part in why I think Let’s Test was so great. I needed to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. I had set up small personal goals so that I could benefit more from the conference. And by achieving those, such as asking/commenting at least 3 things during Open season (something Henrik advised me to do at CAST 2011), mingling and making new tester friends, staying open minded but also critical thinking I influenced my own positive experience of the conference.
I also asked if I could contribute to the conference in some way and I got the opportunity to facilitate two sessions. It was a fun experience and I hope I will get the chance to do it again.
Actually I did send in an abstract together with my colleague Mattias for the conference and I am a little disappointed that we didn’t get the chance to talk. On the other hand I am pretty relieved that the proposition did not get accepted since I did not have to be nervous and could focus on the other talks and my other personal missions.

So is there something I would like to change?

No, not really but I have some thoughts that triggered from something that Michael Bolton mentioned  in his Keynote. My interpretation of what he said was that we need to stay critical to our own thoughts and to our community and that we need to welcome diversity in order to continue evolving.

Since Let’s Test was the first context driven conference in Sweden I assume that some people that attended were new to the concept and the school that many of the other participants supports. They may not understand the language spoken in the community and I think that  if you are not fluent in a language it might become more difficult to understand when irony is used. I spoke to one person that did not appreciate the sarcasm and the harsh tone especially used when mentioning certain certification organizations (no names, but I’m pretty sure you know what I….am referring to). You might think that one person doesn’t matter but I think every thought needs to be considered.

My concern is that we might have scared off a few people. The conference is praised by many voices, strong and active people in the community. The few people that may not agree to everything said or the way that it is spoken and does not speak up will not be heard. If we are not receptive and notice the whispers, conferences such as Let’s Test and CAST will only attract those who already belong to the community.

As I mentioned earlier Let’s Test had something for everyone whether you wanted to run in the nature, go geocaching, buy some new shoes in the village, lift some weights in the gym, hit a ball or two (referring to the pool table), drink some wine, beer or/and whiskey, hang out with friends in room 3??, mingle with the large crowd, test in the Test Lab, play Set, play motion sensing games, go for a swim, sweat in the sauna, ask a question during Open season, listen to an Aussie, Englishmen, South African, Swedes or just go to bed.

But is the conference for anyone that does not (yet) belong to context driven community? Is it only for those who think alike? Do we not want to encourage diversity? Let’s Test is a conference for the context driven community and maybe we are comfortable and prefer to hang out with “our kind”.

I don’t know really where I’m heading with my concerns yet, but I just didn’t  want to leave them unspoken.

See you at Let’s Test 2013?
I will be there!