Delivering a Conference Talk at VMware Explore US 2022

Welcome to episode 190 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss the preparation for, delivery of, and post mortem on our VMware Explore US 2022 presentation. We’ll share our process to help our listening audience.

Original Recording Date: 09-17-2022

Topics – The Nerd Journey Crew’s Visit to VMware Explore US 2022, Begin at the End, The Session Origin Story, A System of Connected Notes, Moving Show Notes Into Obsidian, Writing the Presentation Content, Suggested Improvements, Sign Posting the Management Career Section, More Practice Needed, Smart Notes Can Help You With Content Creation

0:57 – The Nerd Journey Crew’s Visit to VMware Explore US 2022

  • This week we’re going to talk about the session we delivered together at VMware Explore 2022 US in San Francisco titled Adventures in Technical Career Progression.
    • The presentation shows a video of the slides with John and Nick’s audio but not video of them while presenting.
    • It was a digest of lessons learned since we launched the podcast trailer back in July 2018 (while Nick was on vacation in Galveston). If you’ve never listened to the trailer, you can find it here.
    • If you follow the link above to the video of the session, you will need to login with a Customer Connect account to view it (free but need to register for one if you do not have one).
  • Today we plan to start with the outcome, talk about the submission process for the session, how we created the content, the delivery, and some reflections on what we could do better. We will also share how the process we followed can help YOU improve in preparing content to present – at work, at a local community group meeting, or at a conference.
    • We got some great feedback on ways to improve. Thank you so much to those who submitted feedback!
    • Having been through the process, we want to share what a good process could look like for listeners.

3:11 – Begin at the End

  • Taking advice from Peter Cohan of Great Demo, we begin at the end.
  • We had a well-attended session at VMware Explore 2022 US. The process of building the content was greatly aided by practicing the Smart Notes process we’ve been reading about.
  • You can see our connected notes at graph.nerd-journey.com. This includes all show notes, all links between notes, and links to ideas and patterns.
    • We plan to put this all over the main website as well.
  • We "sold-out" the pre-registration with 130 registrants and some waiting in line before the session started. We had 77% of those seats filled (instead of the 50% we expected).
    • It was completely humbling to see so many attendees! We hope that means our content is resonating.
  • We received extremely positive feedback with 1/3 of the eligible attendees leaving feedback (way more than we expected).
  • The session overall had a 4.52 average rating out of a possible 5.
    • That feedback included some constructive areas where we could improve, so we’re excited to refine the both the content and our process.
    • Thanks so much for the feedback. This is also a little bit of a report card for us.
  • We’d really like to share that process here; Maybe it will help you write your next user-group or conference session better and faster than it would without that process!
  • One of the points in the session was to show your work, and we want to model that.

6:20 – The Session Origin Story

  • This started with a session we developed for a number of VMUG UserCons called Breaking Career Constraints. That was originally a 30-minute slot and different format.
  • This talk was a new version of that, and we landed on Adventures in Technical Career Progression. In the abstract that we submitted, we stated we would cover topics such as:
    • Becoming a people leader
    • Communicating with your management
    • Becoming a top tier individual contributor
    • Protecting yourself from burnout
    • Using relatable experience
  • If you submit an abstract for a conference, it’s important to be aware of the tracks and types of content they will accept.
    • For Explore, there was a People and Culture Track and one on Vision and Innovation. Nick chose the latter when submitting the session because he felt he and John were innovating in the career space.
  • Nick received a message from the person in charge of the Vision and Innovation track for Explore near the end of June and was told the session was nominated for a people’s choice award along with a couple of others. It was to be put to a vote that would determine which session would happen at the conference, and we were fortunate enough to win! Check out this post for details.
    • We had about 8 weeks to build and deliver the presentation. The lesson here is write the abstract, submit it, and wait until it is approved to build the presentation.
  • We had the content available from show notes but needed to mine it further.
  • Once the session was accepted we had to do things like work with a speaker manager, understand what would be available in the room where we would present, know if we would be able to look at notes during the presentation, if there would be water in the room, when deadlines for submitting drafts are, etc.
  • John says we had very little completed beforehand. We had done the VMUG presentation, and we had all of our show notes.
    • On a strategic basis we knew we had the content to pull out. It was a matter of organizing the content to match the abstract.
    • This is the power of having really good show notes. Without them we would not have been able to do the previous VMUG presentation or this one.
    • Teamwork makes the dream work!

11:00 – A System of Connected Notes

  • We’d long been discussing how to make our content more connected and discoverable.
    • We have show notes on the website and we have tags. The tagging system probably isn’t great. It’s what we happen to write down when we do show notes and may mean we’re not using the same tag consistently, that we have different tags that are for the same thing, etc. There’s not a great way to make sub-tags for one tag that may fit inside a larger category.
    • We had come across the Zettelkasten method after speaking to Josh Duffney.
    • We knew we had the tools to connect the notes, we knew it would enhance the experience of our audience, help people make connections between conversations, and we hypothesized that it would make insights more discoverable. So we went for it – using a connected smart note system.
      • Imagine taking an idea we have discussed in a specific episode and showing connections to everywhere else it has been discussed (all other episodes). That’s the idea.
      • Another output could be more web discoverability. Search engine optimization has come up multiple times with different guests.
  • If you were to watch the session replay you would see screenshots of the connected graphs / nodes. Nick doesn’t think we did a great job of explaining what those represented during the session. But these represent what we’re getting at.

14:01 – Moving Show Notes Into Obsidian

  • The first part of this process was moving the show notes into Obsidian, which is free for personal use.
    • The tool stores text notes locally using markdown format.
    • We had been formatting show notes in markdown since the early days, and the move to putting these into Obsidian was simpler because it.
    • Kudos to John for figuring out how to put all this information in Obsidian and doing the work to get us there!
  • John created a note for each episode, titled it with the episode number.
  • The next step in the process was making connections.
    • Obsidian helps identify where an episode has been mentioned elsewhere but not linked back to other notes (i.e. everywhere episode 101 was mentioned, for example but was not linked back). There may have been a hyperlink to the episode but there was not a link to "connect" them in Obsidian.
  • Going through and creating connections with just episode numbers came first, and then it was on to connecting people.
    • For example, mentioning Josh Duffney in this episode requires adding a hyperlink in our show notes back to the relevant episodes but also a link in Obsidian back to the episodes and the note specific to Josh Duffney.
    • Nick had been trying to keep a list of all guests and their respective episodes in this blog post, but using Obsidian is WAY better!
      • This is a good jumping off point for a map of content note / table of contents (still under construction). This is a first pass.
  • The final phase was abstracting concepts people were repeating in our shows.
    • Any time someone spoke to becoming a better individual contributor we needed to tag it since it was being covered in our conference talk. We did the same for discussions of moving into people leadership (one note for the concept and a link to every episode other note that mentioned this for a two-way connection between concepts and episodes).

18:46 – Writing the Presentation Content

  • After making connections we moved to writing content.
  • John calls this the start of the writing process, but it’s really more like a continuum where we began refining the notes.
    • To take an example, there was a "considering management as a career" note. Inside that note we created links to any episodes / guests who had mentioned the topic and a short digest of each (a few important points made on the topic).
    • This was a lengthy summary of all content on the topic across our shows. Consider it an intermediate step in the process before getting to information that can be presented. There was additional refining and trimming to do from here.
    • When we filtered out duplicates and refined / edited, we were actually writing because there was a need to add detail here and there.
    • We were getting down to the core people and the episode quotes that would show up in the presentation.
  • As an organizational step we put these note titles in the order they would appear in the actual presentation (the 5 we mentioned earlier).
    • In doing this we found some of the patterns across our catalog were top level ideas and others were ideas that supported those top level ideas. For example, participating in a community is an action we had listed, but it supported the larger idea of showing your work which then supported the top tier idea of becoming a top individual contributor.
      • To put it all together…being a top tier individual contributor means showing your work, and one way to show your work is through community participation.
  • We refined how we would tell the story and the structure, which points were main points and which were supporting points, who to quote, when to quote them, and how we would introduce them.
  • Nick feels like the patterns and tiering of them / making some subcategories of one another helped organize the material a lot better.
  • John says you write things down and then an organizational structure emerges. You don’t start with a preconceived structure and then jam everything into that.
    • Nick mentions they had an outline which was ditched for the process described here, which helped us develop a new outline.

23:05 – Suggested Improvements

  • We received some really good feedback which was generally positive, but positive feedback does not mean there is an absence of constructive criticism.
  • We have our own critiques of ourselves that we wanted to combine with the feedback of survey respondents.
  • Early on we wanted to make sure we were emphasizing the collective experience of the guests we interviewed and not make it sound like everything came from our experience. We wanted to call out the patterns we observed from speaking with different guests.
    • In doing so we needed to quote our guests which means we needed to introduce them and share a brief bio of each so people could get context for why they should care.
  • We chose to give guest bios verbally while we had some of our points on a PowerPoint slide. But what we probably should do in the future is reserve a portion of some of the slide to provide a guest bio (picture, background, maybe a quote).
    • Introducing probably 20-30 guests that we quoted (name, title, company, how that has changed since we interviewed them) meant we had to read some notes. Memorizing all that wasn’t going to happen.
    • The giving bios verbally may have taken away from the audience experience, and thinking about it after, Nick and John wish they had done it differently.
    • Someone suggested in the feedback that they would have liked us to include more episode numbers (much like we do when we reference a guest during a show), which we could also put on a slide to show.
    • One possible reason for our format could have been John’s instinct of non-promotion, and maybe he didn’t need to worry about promoting the podcast in the session after all.
  • Another improvement related to slides is about the knowledge graph photos we inserted into many of the slides.
    • It was an attempt to show a visualization of the knowledge graph for each of our 5 major topic areas.
    • The concept of a knowledge graph comes from graph theory. A decent close comparison is a mind map.
    • With a tool like Obsidian, you can create many connections to the point where a visualization may look like a complex spider web that points out areas that are very connected and others that are not so connected.
    • We do not think we did a good job of explaining what the images represented during the presentation. It may have been a focus on leaving time for questions at the end.
    • The knowledge graph serves as a visualization of the holistic data. Each dot is person / idea / concept / episode, and the connection line indicates a common thread between the dots (or nodes, which are single note files).
    • We’re releasing this as episode 190, so it will be a dot on the graph. And since we already talked about episodes 156 and 157 in this episode, there will be a line from this episode to each of those episodes (the dot that represents each one on the graph) and one from this episode to Josh Duffney at a minimum.
    • Reclaiming some of the time we used verbally introducing guests to explain the graphs and connections between dots could really help provide additional context to listeners in the future. Our instinct to put the screenshots on slides without explaining it well may have been a poor choice.
    • We would take the time to explain we’re making our notes available at graph.nerd-journey.com for listeners to see the interconnected nature of the data.

30:31 – Sign Posting the Management Career Section

  • During the management career section, John realized we did not sign post it well enough.
  • We broke down the people management section into introspection (people management is a completely different job than being a member of the team and characteristics of good managers) and then actions you can take if you have decided to pursue a management career (i.e. talking to your manager about it to get their support and then studying for the interviews like you would for a certification exam).
    • Someone mentioned in the feedback at times they didn’t know where we were going. It made John think we had not sign posted the management career section well enough (and the way we had structured it).

32:04 – More Practice Needed

  • While we felt we did ok, but we referenced notes a lot and perhaps went back and forth too much.
  • The back and forth was to be dynamic, but it may have been more than was needed.
  • We could have used more practice the presentation together but fell short on time.
  • We tried to compensate with a good backing process and enough rest ahead of time to ensure energy was high and our intellects were as sharp as possible.
    • Nick set himself a hard deadline for bedtime in the week leading up to Explore so there was enough in the energy tank to last the entire week.
    • The decision to read out bios of people meant we had to refer to notes. You never want to put everything you are going to say on a slide that is displayed to the audience, but we might have ended up with too little information on the slides overall (i.e. not putting more info about the guests).
    • We felt our content was good and that we had intimate knowledge of the content over the years.
  • If you were there or watch the recording and we said one thing that was helpful, we accomplished our goal.
    • John mentions seeing people nodding and felt they were connecting with the material.

35:37 – Smart Notes Can Help You With Content Creation

  • This process could help you with content creation and does not require you use Obsidian.
  • John has also committed to publishing a blog post covering his task management process using Obsidian by October 1, 2022.
  • This process is most useful when you are already capturing written content early on.
    • We had 4 years of show notes that went into Obsidian that we were able to extract info from.
  • But, you can start doing this process today. The tool doesn’t matter. You can start with Obsidian since it’s free and migrate to something else later if you so choose.
  • John read How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens .
    • What if you are asked to do an ideation process to figure out what you would like to write?
    • All you have to do is look at the knowledge graph and look at most connected areas. Those areas can indicate high interest and that this is an area where you can start developing content.
      • The things we were pulling out were extremely well connected ideas with many links to other episodes and guests.
    • Imagine then organizing all the data into a table of contents. We were able to then put topics in the correct order, and while we were trying to do this we realized we needed to make refinements and reorganize certain things.
    • John mentioned the promises made in the book were very much true based on our experience, but we needed the accountability kick that was provided through our topic being approved for the conference.
    • Now that we have started we plan to continue doing this process, and you can see our process.
      • This is backed by GitHub, so listeners will be able to make a suggestion, file a big, etc. in the form of a pull request.
      • Our goal is to continue showing our work.
  • Nick mentions he forgot to look back at previous episodes on presentations as the conference presentation got closer:
    • Episode 41 on Presentations
    • Episode 73 and Episode 74 with Al Rasheed discussing his experiences presenting at events
    • John read the show notes for these in depth before the presentation at Explore.
    • John suggests we have another note that needs to be created that is for writing conference presentations that needs to link to the 3 episodes mentioned above.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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