Do You Remember Your First Testing Presentation?

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    Ronan Healy

    Seeing as EuroSTAR Conference have partnered with Speak Easy this year to make one speaking spot available for novice speakers (applications still open by the way), I thought it would be good, as a way of encouraging those thinking of applying, that while speaking can be a nerve-racking and sometimes tough process, everyone who has given a talk had to start somewhere too.

    So what is your story? Was your first talk at at meet-up, a one day conference or even a major conference? Did it all go perfectly to plan? Is there any advice you would offer to those who would like to start speaking at testing events?


    Thursday 11th May 2006! No, my memory isn’t that good; I looked through our archives.

    My first ever talk at a testing conference was a demonstration of a new product, so it wasn’t an experience or technical talk, but it was my fiNrst ever time speaking in front of conference attendees. My strategy for combating nerves back then is the same one I use now: practice and prepare. For that first time, I needed hours of practice. Now, fortunately, I have a good rhythm and the experience to know how much practice is enough.

    I count myself very fortunate to have been a speaker at many conferences, and it’s something I enjoy greatly.

    I guess my advice to anyone starting out would be:

    • keep a list / folder of anecdotes, examples and ideas for talks
    • believe that you have a story to tell – and if you’re really not sure, check with a mentor through e.g. SpeakEasy.
    • don’t be shy about saying what went wrong: help other people to learn from your hurdles!
    • remember that a talk can be seen as a story or a parable. I always think about my talks as being “stories”. Not because they’re made up(!), but because any good talk has a beginning, a middle and an end. People like listening to stories and are used to stories having a message or a moral.
    • for practising: if you know what your story is and can tell it freely without your slides (perhaps not in all detail, but the gist), then you’re ready
    • lastly: go for it! Enter talks, ask for feedback and enjoy being on stage
    • Hopefully some of this helps 🙂 I’m a mentor with SpeakEasy too, so maybe I’ll meet some of you to work with you on your abstracts and talks!


    Derk-Jan de Grood

    I remember my first EuroSTAR in Munich. I was really impressed by all the speakers and had a real wow-I-want-to-be-up-there feeling. So I talked to my manager and told him, that I wanted to propose a talk for next years conference.

    I spent quite some time in thinking abUout the topic. I decided to pick an experience topic and that was a wise decision. It most easy to talk about your experience, because it is easy to talk about what you know. You have been there, done the project, so you do know. Besides you know best what is true. So others may think you did the wrong thing, if you explain them what you did. But hey, everyone has different opinions, and we are allowed to make choices that differ from those others would make. Maybe you agree with the audience, and have would have done differently now. But, hey, that is a great thing to share with your audience.
    Personally I do not like success stories, but always favour the talks that share the things that went wrong also.

    As for content, I try to include:
    -Some practical experience, linke described above.
    -A lesson, something that I extract from that experience and hand out a as a more generic give-away. Its more vision like, something that is probably true for more people and projects.
    -A hands-on give away. E.g. a tool, visualisation technique, a reference to a model, that people can use when they get back to the office.

    By including these three items I think the story has something for everyone and is attractive. If you think about these items before had you can include them in the proposal. I think it will stand out and make a better chance of being selected. You clearly have thought about it, transformed a personal experience into a vision, and thought about practical tips and giveaways that will benefit the participants. If I recognise these items while reviewing you proposal, I will give it good ratings. I do not remember if my first proposal contained these items, but it got selected and I gave a talk on the next edition.

    I hope it helps you.


    I remember my first conference talk. Back in 2003 I flew over to Star East and presented a talk on graph based and model based testing.

    I remember my slides as being horrible, with animated gifs and transitions. But I just had a look at the slides and they were actually pretty serviceable. I could probably use them in a talk now. So either I amended the slides later, or I’m thinking of another talk I did. I’ve experimented with lots of different approaches to slides so I’ve created some disasters, it doesn’t matter – people don’t remember the slides, they remember you.

    I made the mistake of not putting on a microphone at the start of the talk. Because it was a small room I thought I wouldn’t need it. And I might not have, but the air conditioning came on, and then we had to stop, mic up, and start again.

    So if you get offered a mic, take it. If its too loud then that is someone else’s problem and they can turn the volume down, if it is too quiet, again – someone else’s problem, they can turn it up. You get to concentrate on talking, rather than starting and putting on a mic, and fiddling, like I did.

    I put in a lot of prep for the talk. Something I still do.

    I wrote an outline of what I wanted to cover. That fed into a blurb which I used to submit to the conference.

    I wrote a paper, before I wrote the presentation.

    The paper is 27 pages, and pretty detailed. That helped me gather all my thoughts together and collate the images and diagrams that I could use on the slides. It also meant that even if I fluffed the talk horribly, I had a source of information that I could point people at. Because I want to make sure I don’t waste the time of the attendees and to try to provide valuable information in a short period of time. I still do this, even if the paper doesn’t get released because it helps me gather my thoughts.

    I managed to distill the paper down into a smallish slide deck. At that point in my presentation experience I wasn’t comfortable with a long set of slides. I wanted a short set of slides so that I could talk around them fairly flexibly. So I had one slide per 2 mins.

    I can see that I had at least 5 different versions of the slide deck. Each of those would have been a result of:

    – working through the deck in my head
    – amending the deck accordingly
    – speaking the presentation aloud using the slide deck to identify content and timing
    – reworking the deck to add more info on the slide, or add a new slide, or remove a slide that didn’t fit, or re-order the slides
    – and repeat the above

    Once I have a ‘final’ slide deck. I practice the talk, until I get to the point where I don’t make any slide changes any more.

    One thing I found useful was to practice my presentation in different styles, and still keep to time:

    – as outlandish and ‘big’ as I could
    – as structured and formal as I could (as if I’d forgotten everything and had to work off the information on the slides)
    – as adhoc and improvised with quips and jokes as often as I can think of them
    – as if the power has gone off, and I’m working from a summary print out of the slides

    I try to get as much out of my system as I can so that I know that my ‘real’ talk will be somewhere in between. I want the flexibility to respond to the audience, to go off track with examples that come into my head at the time, and still know that I can pull it back on track and come in on time. Practicing may not help remove the nerves on the day, but it helps you to know that you can present this in different styles on time and handle any disasters (like having to mic up after you’ve started)..

    I had the advantage that it was an experienced based talk. I try to only do experienced based talks. Because then no-one can say “you’re wrong”. If you talk theory people can disagree. If you talk from your experience then you always know what you are talking about.

    People often worry about nerves. Hence the practicing. But when people present, they often confuse nerves, with excitement and adrenaline. And so what people often do is try to talk more slowly and move less.

    Forget that.

    Use your adrenaline to your advantage and convey your excitement to your audience. Use it to be as entertaining as you can. I don’t think it matters if you talk fast. Stand up comedians talk fast (at least the ones I liked). Use a range of vocal and facial expression, and remember to breathe.

    Breathing will give you gaps in your talk, that can help the audience recover between slides. So if you can’t figure out how many slides you need then, figure out how long you can go on one breath, and add a slide for each time you need to breathe 🙂

    But if you slow down your talk, to suppress your excitement, and stand still, to avoid distracting hand movements, then you can easily suppress any excitement in your audience as well.

    When you are starting out, you are building your style, and the hardest thing is knowing what ‘you are’ so that you can ‘just be yourself’ on stage.

    I did read a lot of presentation books before my talk, but there was too much advice, and too much that conflicted, and too much that I didn’t like, so I avoided most of it.

    My main guiding principle for talks has been to figure out what I like when I see a good talk, and try to do that. I also try to figure out what I hate, and don’t do that. By following this, then I can at least be happy with what I include in the talk, and if people don’t like the same things as me, then that is fine, because I do, so I assume that someone else will.


    Yes, let’s talk about our first time. I did’t start with a normal talk but I joined Bart Knaack in the TestLab on StarWest in 2011. A really cool experience going to the states for the first time and getting to know the conference scene a little bit. My biggest suprise was how open everyone, especially the speakers, were to everyone. This really helped me set the calm mood to run a good testlab.

    This experience gave me the confidence and drive to enter my first proposal as speaker for a Dutch conference: TestNet. I looked back at why it made the cut and there where a couple of important takeaways for me:
    -Talk about real practical experiences
    -Stay away from to simple or to complex
    -Keep the theme in mind
    -Share to conclusions in your submission

    The talk itself went great and I gave it on (amongst others) EuroSTAR the same year. I had the opportunity to tweak the talk 5 times for big conferences and some things I learned in the progress where:
    -Keep your slidedeck lean and clean
    -Make your abstract theory concrete with clear examples
    -Make Stay away from the default intro and agenda
    -Don’t tell everything you want, keep it to a max of three messages
    -Film yourself when you practice your talks.

    Hope this gives some idears for all of you.

    Regards Bram


    One experience I would like to share is, that I realized that I can talk more confidently to a large group of strangers than to a small group of friends and colleagues. So swim like a duck: calm on top and paddle like crazy below… But seriously, yoDu can think around the fear of the large group – it’s just a mass anyhow.

    And if at first you don’t succeed – you can always turn to writing articles and blog posts for TestHuddle 😉


    I’m relatively new to speaking. It wasn’t until early last year that I was persuaded to start giving back to the community, after a chat with James Bach where he pointed out that nobody knew who I was 😀 Hopefully that’s changed a little bit now…

    I’ve worked my way through a few personal “firsts” during that time:

    My first on-stage presentation was at a company-wide event at Disneyland Paris! It was a mixture of slides (technical) presentation and live demo, which was very much in at the deep end! There were two of us presenting, we rehearsed our timings and cues, and did a couple of dry-runs with an audience to get feedback beforehand. So, on the day, it was just a matter of hitting our marks – it was quite a dry presentation, but it communicated everything it needed to do.

    My first talk to an outside audience was at MEWT#2. It was a peer workshop, where every attendee gave their own talk on a common theme, which calmed my nerves because it meant that everybody was going through the same feelings as me! I felt a bit more relaxed during this talk, as I was mostly talking about my personal experiences, and I settled on a movie-related theme which meant I could intersperse playful graphics throughout the slides. (You can see the slide deck here.)

    My first conference session was a 2-hour practical workshop at this year’s TestBash, themed around creating better bug reports. I over-prepared and ended up trying to cram-in too much material, so it was more like a two-hour presentation interspersed with some audience back-and-forth. I received praise and good feedback, but the most important lessons I learned were about pacing (don’t rush, and pauses aren’t a sin) and content (especially the dangers of “bullet-point spam”).

    My first time on-stage at a conference was at Nordic Testing Days last month, where I had the chance to apply the above learning. Again, this was a personal/experiential talk, so I didn’t have to “learn” much material, which made for much less tension and anxiety. It went so well that I did a second (lightning) talk the same day, which I felt went even better and has spurred me on to create a couple of follow-up talks.

    As I said in my lightning talk, I’m quite introverted so it’s a challenge to make myself the centre of attention for the length of a talk. I’ve learned to control these feelings, but I still find it exhausting so I try to pick my talks quite sparingly.

    For new speakers, or those who are preparing their first-ever slide deck, I would highly recommend watching this presentation by Damien Conway (“Instantly Better Presentations”, 1h30m):

    Also, two excellent resources from security expert Troy Hunt: “Speaker Style Bingo: 10 presentation anti-patterns” and “Dissecting a tech talk” (where you can watch one of his presentations with “director’s commentary” underneath it, explaining why he chose his particular methods)


    Yes, I remember it quite well, mostly because it wasn’t that long ago (2013). It was a short presentation / demo at the sort of annual user gathering of a tool vendor I have good contacts with.

    I remember the presentation going pretty well, even though it was done in English which isn’t my first language. However, I remember some slight issues with connectivity for the demo (it was done ‘live’ on a test environment running on my laptop) but that all worked out well in the end.

    Last year I did two talks, one at the Dutch Testing Day and one at a conference geared towards Continuous Delivery. Both were pretty much on the same topic, although I did tweak the story a bit to better fit the expected audience and general topic of the conference. Both were done in English as well, which is great training for me but admittedly doesn’t make it easier to make your story flow as well as you might want to.

    Looking back to both of these presentations I am pretty happy with how they turned out and about the questions and feedback I got from the audience and I’m looking forward to future talks. Haven’t got any lined up so far but I recently joined SpeakEasy and am actively looking for conferences to submit to.


    When I received my first conference acceptance, I was as horrified as I was excited. The first thing I did was enroll in a public speaking class, which turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The best things I learned were about the mechanics– things like what to do with my arms, what makes a good slide deck, and how to incorporate audience participation. The one negative, and it’s significant, is that every week I would present the first few minutes of my talk and the instructors would re-work it in “more impactful” language, which never quite felt right to me. The first time I presented to testers, those first few minutes felt like a bad dream; because the words didn’t feel like mine, I felt like I had to memorize them verbatim, and my memory was failing me under pressure. However, once I got past the stuff I had been working on in class, it was just me again, and the rest of the presentation felt great– like a conversation (but with 40 people and me doing most of the talking.) I really felt a connection with the audience, and everything just flowed from there. So, my best advice to new speakers is that while it’s nice to be able to practice in front of an audience, don’t let their feedback overwhelm you. Remember that the testers are coming to hear you!


    My first presentation was an embarrassment. As I blogged back then: it sucked.

    It was September 2008. I was still wet behind me tester’s ears and I had the idea of presenting on ‘People Based Analysis’ ( and
    The topic came to me when doing the ISTQB Practitioner course and I heard about ‘expert input’ being a valuable test basis. Back then, my experience was that the test basis HAD to be a document and the ‘seniors’ I spoke with confirmed this. But in the ISTQB course I most definitely heard otherwise and I was determined to plea for this – in my opinion- invaluable basis for testing, especially in the analysis phase. You have thus have to take into mind that agile, exploratory testing, context driven testing, etc. wasn’t common in testing and testing anything with a non-final design document was perceived as NOGO, as far as I was taught till then. So I wrote a piece and off I went. Only to find myself, a no-experience at all, introvert, rookie in a room packed with people AND with the writers of TMap (I had a comment on that book in my preso and having them in the room was a big deal) in there too. I was nervous, couldn’t get my message across, got caught up in a discussion that I couldn’t control and had a ‘colleague’ in the room who was happy to help me further into the shit due to some promotional-issues at the company. One remark of an attendee that I overheard was that I was a blamage for the company and that I should never, ever be allowed to present something again….I learned tons of lessons in the time between that presentation and the weeks after that, that proved to be invaluable for my presenting career.

    • No matter how bad it gets… you can always start anew with a (almost) clean slate
    • Don’t get caught up in a discussion, answer the question(s) and leave discussions to the break
    • Have someone in the room actually helping you out instead of helping you deeper into trouble
    • People don’t know your presentation and don’t know what you were going to say, so if you forget something it’s not the end of the world
    • If only one person likes your preso; it’s still one person more than before your presentation. (if 20 people dislike it, at least you inspired 20 people into a thought of not agreeing with you)
    • Never, ever change something of your presentation or slides that isn’t YOU
    • Take responsibility of you presentation, it’s the good, the bad and the ugly, for better of for worse… but it’s YOUR thing!
    • Just say what you feel; if you’re nervous, just say that you are nervous. if you are scared, just say you are scared etc. People in the room are there because they are interested in your topic and also find it an achievement of you being there (remember your own feelings regarding that when you visited a track), the aren’t there to help you fail, they are there because they want to learn so they have every gain by it to help you achieve.
    • Try to keep in touch with your audience and look at bodylanguage; ask some questions if you think that your message is not landing … think of some extra interactive questions.
    • Don’t use a manuscript, memopapers with texts of (even worse) the presenter mode of your slides with notes. It invites for one thing: reading of paper or screen. It makes you loose the contact with your audience and you lose the dynamics, you are just reading the text as if on auto-cue. YOU KNOW YOUR STUFF!!! you don’t need the memo’s. If you don’t feel confident, tape 1 word of each crucial message on the floor (the red line) OR let your chair help you keep to your story when you suddenly choke…
    • Although it’s nerve wrecking : it’s also FUN! after a couple of minutes the tension grows less and you get in a more natural state, enjoy the process and celebrate that you ARE indeed on stage.
    • Never give up and believe in yourself! It can be the first presentation that is a disaster of your latest. It might not ever happen to you that it’s unsuccessful. If I had given up or believed the attendee that I overheard, I would have never given ‘the Ethics Debate for Software Testing’ a chance..

    These are some lessons I wanted to share with you, hope this helps a bit to relax that even from disaster something good can come. But the most important “lesson’ I have yet to give and that’s one that will help you always, no matter what outcome: Be Yourself.

    Ronan Healy

    Some great contributions guys. It’s great to hear everyone’s memories of how they started out. Keep they coming.

    I was a tour guide and worked in research in a former life so am used to public presentations. I would echo @nathalie words be yourself.

    Also my advice for anyone new to speaking is something that all speakers might not want to hear but is true for everyone: You will not have everyone’s full attention all the time. So don’t worry about your every move and word being scrutinised, it’s not.

    Also I would echo what @jesper said too. It’s much easier to speak to a large crowd of strangers than a small group of friends/work colleagues.


    Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxcley – Vol 1

    April 30, 1852

    “It was the first lecture I had ever given in my life, and to what is considered the best audience in London. As nothing ever works up my energies but a high flight, I had chosen a very difficult abstract point, in my view of which I stand almost alone. When I took a glimpse into the theatre and saw it full of faces, I did feel most amazingly uncomfortable. I can now quite understand what it is to be going to be hanged, and nothing but the necessity of the case prevented me from running away.

    However, when the hour struck, in I marched, and began to deliver my discourse. For ten minutes I did not quite know where I was, but by degrees I got used to it, and gradually gained perfect command of myself and of my subject. I believe I contrived to interest my audience, and upon the whole I think I may say that this essay was successful.

    Thank Heaven I can say so, for though it is no great matter succeeding, failing would have been a bitter annoyance to me. It has put me comfortably at my ease with regard to all future lecturings. After the Royal Institution there is no audience I shall ever fear.”


    I started off my career as a Performance Tester and my first presentation was on “Correlation in LoadRunner”. The audience was just a few team members along with our trainer and the purpose was just to evaluate my understanding was of the concept. Being my first ever presentation I lacked confidence and it showed. But once I was into the flow, it went on smoothly. Did have problems with the Question & Answer session, but I did learn a lot – both, technical and soft skills.

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