Reflections on speaking to an empty room.

I gave a talk on agile at DDD Sydney to a, nearly, empty room. It seemed a long fall from the standing room only session I gave on Postman just a year before. I was pretty disappointed by the turnout and I think I let my presentation suffer as a result. I've been giving some thought as to why the talk would get so few attendees. I think the key issues were the topic and the presenter.

Agile is a topic that I expect most people feel that they know enough about and my talk was a very high level overview. I can see how it wouldn't attract the attention of the more experienced developers. The talk was originally proposed for the junior track but it was positioned on the general developer track. Looking at what was on the Junior track this makes sense. The junior track had some great talks from more junior developers than myself. In regards to turnout it means that much of the intended audience was in a different room. There is probably a large overlap with the junior track attendees and the attendees that were likely to vote for a high level agile talk.

I could use this to push at the idea that maybe it's not my fault, there were other more interesting talks on at the same time and someone has to lose that lottery. To me that feels like a cop out. if it's all someone else's fault then there is nothing for me to learn, the actions would be to do the same thing again and hope it works out better next time.

So what will I do different next time in hope of avoiding speaking to an empty room?

  • I think I'll steer clear of broad high level topic areas, particularly for "Intro To ..." style talks, it's too easy for potential attendees to pass off this kind of talk as something they already know enough about.
  • I'll also probably avoid submitting talks aimed at junior developers. I think that I was not the best person to be putting forward a talk aimed at juniors. Looking at the speakers on the junior track there were some great speakers and a good number of them were relatively junior themselves. This was part of what made that track so great, juniors sharing their experiences and helping each other. Why should their be some goober like myself in there giving what is essentially a university style lecture?
  • Finally I will endeavour to give the best talk I can regardless of the audience. While I feel that I gave a good enough performance, I can still hear my year 5 teacher in my mind saying "Good enough is never good enough". It's not reasonable for me to expect people to want to come and see me talk by giving good enough presentations. 


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