Talking at conferences: What have i learnt?


This year i’ve been given the opportunity to speak at some well known conferences across Europe. My only previous experience was a 99 Second Talk at Test Bash 2014 and a consensus talk at Agile Testing Days 2014. This time around i was given the opportunity to step up to the full conference program at Belgium Testing Days, Nordic Testing Days and expoQA.

So what have i learnt……..?

Call for Papers

Writing a good abstract is the first step in getting asked to talk at a conference. I initially found it incredibly difficult to write an abstract. Typically you need to get the message of your talk across in a clear and concise manner within the strict word count. Not an easy task. Michael Bolton’s post from Eurostar 2013 has really helped me improve my abstracts. In addition to Michaels comments i’d highly recommend you review your abstract with someone else. This could be your colleagues, the testing community or even family. Also, read abstracts from other conferences for inspiration. That will give you some great examples of different abstract formats.

When submitting your abstract take note of the conference dates! I know it sounds simple, but i sent in a number of abstracts to different conferences expecting none of them to accept. In the end three did and they were quite close to each other which meant a very busy few weeks. In hindsight i’d have preferred to spread the talks not only from a personal perspective but with the impact on my employer too.

Preparing for the talk

One thing i’ve found is that putting together a good talk is very hard. The talks i’ve done this year ranged between 20 – 45 minutes. With my abstract i already had a good idea in my head about the structure of my talk but its a another thing turning the idea into a slick talk. Another thing i learnt was that putting together a great slide deck is hard. This TED Blog really helped when putting together my slides.

When preparing my slides i really wanted to break up the amount of talking. As an attendee myself i know after 10-15 mins of talking i start to switch off. So intentionally had a couple of simple 2-3 min exercises the group could do and some videos embedded. This was an attempt to present my content in different ways during the talk rather than 45 minutes of straight talking!

In addition to creating great slides i did a lot of preparation about How i would give the talk. Focusing on my speech, body language and how i’d get my message across. I practiced this with family and friends which helped to refine my presenting style. Speak: So your audience will listen was a great book that helped with my preparation. For example, the secret to a successful talk is to “Clench your Buttocks”

Finally ensure that you understand the process with regards to accommodation and travel for the conference. Some will pay all expenses, some arrange accommodation for you and some don’t. Ensure that you fully understand what you need to do ahead of the conference so that you are not left homeless!

At the conference

One of the first things you’ll get to do as a speaker is attend the “Speakers Dinner”. This is usually the night before the conference. I’d highly recommend attending as it provides a great way to meet the organisers of the conference and your fellow speakers. It certainly helped to calm my nerves although if your talk is on the first day then try not to drink too much! At the conference you’ll probably be assigned a Track Chair too who will be in the room when you do your talk. Try to meet them early on as they’ll be your main point of contact if you run into any problems. Try to visit the room where your talk is based and if you can, view a talk there. It will let you get a feel for the room and any specifics you may want to take into consideration.

Another big important learning point was how the conference experience changes when you are talking. You’ll probably be nervous for your talk so that will mean your concentration levels for the rest of the conference will be impacted. It can be hard to focus on the other talks when your constantly thinking of your upcoming talk. So in my experience, if you are talking at a conference, expect your learning capability to decrease.

Your talk

When the big moment comes it’s incredibly difficult to distill your emotions into a learning experience. When i look back on my talks everything is pretty much a blur. 45 minutes sounds like a long time but it if you have prepared well and know your content the talk really does fly by! There were a couple of things i learnt with delivering the talk. All three talks i gave were in countries where English is not the first language. I made an effort to talk slowly so that my strange northern english accent wasn’t hard to understand. Secondly i noticed a big difference between the cultures of the conferences. In my talk i had a simple exercise around “What stops you pairing?” At Belgium Testing Days the audience were very interactive so i asked attendees to shout out their thoughts. However at Nordic Testing Days and expoQA the audience were much quieter so instead i provided Post-It Notes to gather their thoughts.

Time management during my talk was really hard. Try to get someone to signal to you when you have 10 minutes left. At expoQA they had a person at the back room who would let you know. In hindsight i wish i had practiced my timing more.

Now its your turn

Talking at conferences has been a great learning opportunity and hopefully my talks have helped some attendees make a change in their teams.

Just over a year ago i’d never talked at a conference and now i’ve got a couple under my belt with an upcoming talk at Agile Testing Days 2015 too.

If you want to talk at conferences but are not sure where to start hopefully some of the my experience will help give you some motivation and confidence. I’d highly recommend starting like i did with a Short Lightning talk at a conference or your local meet-up. So many of todays great conference speakers started this way. Also there is a great initiative called Speak Easy which is another great route for those new to conference speaking.

See you soon!

My Top 5 from Nordic Testing Days 2015 #NTD2015


#1 Katrina Cloike Become someone who makes things happen


Katrina introduced a model she uses for introducing change called SPIN. This is definitely something i’ll be using back in the workplace!


You can read more about the SPIN technique here:

#2 Adam HowardAgents of Testing: Earning your empowerment


Firstly, the graphics in Adam’s slides were awesome, below is an example. In addition to great slides, Adam also shared his journey from test case perfectionist, through to a context aware tester who has testing agency. CGuPmnHUcAEWqcj

If you are not familiar with the phrase Agent/Agency in this context you can read about it here(I had to do this aswell!):

#3 – Rob LambertWhy remaining relevant is so important


What i love about a lot of Robs blogs, talks and general thoughts are they apply to much more than our isolated testing context. This was also the case with his Keynote on Day 2. How to remain relevant as an Individual in the workplace. He framed this in the context of testing but his ideas apply to every person in a professional career. Here are the 10 behavious Rob thinks highly successful testers(or individuals) should have: CGt8xzOXEAEGyrz

You can read more about relevancy here:

#4 – Richard BradshawAutomation in testing


Richard has some great thoughts about automation and also has a great style of teaching. In this workshop he introduced the ideas of how to do great automation, what to avoid, what abstraction is and many other topics all using lego. We also worked in groups which helped meet some new people. If you are at a conference check out this workshop, its interactive and has some great learning points! Snip20150605_3

If you want to get into Richards mind he bares all on twitter @FriendlyTester

#5 – Lightning Talks


There is some great about short talks. At conferences it sometimes feels like information overload, an hour long talk and your eyes start to glaze over. On day 1 in the evening we had a lightening talk session. The talks were 5 Minutes long followed by a short group discussion. Some great topics came up. My favourite was Neil Studd: Whats wrong with 9 – 5 Testers?

Thanks to Richard Bradshaw for live stream via Periscope:

See you next year? Don’t forget your Gilet! 44348303_xxl This Gilet Joke will mean nothing to 99.9% of people who read this. You’ll have to come next year ad find out what it means 😉

A Retrospective – My first conference talk (longer than 99 seconds)


So earlier this year i did a 99 second talk at Test Bash. This was a good start for an aspiring public speaker like myself but since then i’ve been determined to get a longer slot. When i was offered a slot at Agile Testing Days it was time to hit the big stage.

What was my talk about?

“Practical tips for pairing with developers to test.”

You can read the full abstract here:

You can view the slides here:

So how did it go?

As it was an Agile conference what better way to do this than a retrospective. In one of the Lean Coffee mornings we talked about how Retrospectives can be a bit boring. However the last thing i want to do is write a boring blog post, so i’ve come up with my own simple twist on your usual retrospective format – “The Conference Kit bag”


I asked for feedback at the start of my talk so luckily it made this retrospective pretty easy!

What should i keep in my kit bag?

    • Great Content and topic
    • Confidence and enthusiasm was great
    • Humour was good, especially use of video
    • Clear and Understandable
    • Reference other articles from people in the testing community
    • Ask for feedback, i got some really useful advice.

What should i take out of my kit bag?

    • Stop looking at the floor during the talk. Engage with the crowd more
    • Stop using They didn’t display well on screen
    • Stop adding too much detail to slides that isn’t talked about

What should i put into my kit bag?

    • Talk a little bit slower, especially when talking somewhere there might be people who don’t have english as a first language
    • Talk about my experiences in more detail, go deeper
    • Mac VGA Connector
    • My slides were hosted online, look at better software so that if the wifi doesn’t work I’m not screwed
    • Download videos locally rather than streaming incase wifi is unreliable

A good retrospective always has actions. I like to phrase these as:

Where should i carry my kit bag?

  • Content might also suit a workshop on pairing. Look into how that might work. Richard Bradshaw has some thoughts. I’ll buy him a beer.
  • Do this talk back at my workplace.
  • Invite one of my developers to present with me next time. Might be an interesting twist on the pairing topic.
  • Submit the talk to other conferences. Look on Test Events for Call for Proposal deadlines.
  • Dan Ashby is interested in me doing a brown bag session at his work. Buy him beer.
  • Ben Williams suggested doing the talk at “Canary Wharf Agile Forum”. Buy him beer.

I’d like to develop further so get in touch if you’d like me to talk at your conference, workplace or even just in the pub.

Thanks to the following people for their feedback:

David Evans, Ben Williams, Tom Roden, Dan Ashby, Alan Parkinson, Chris George, Richard Bradshaw, Christina Ohanian plus those who i didn’t remember your names!

My Top 5 experiences from Agile Testing Days Conference


So Agile Testing Days(ATD) is over, but really, this is where the hard work begins! With so much learnt the challenge over the next few days will be to debrief, reflect and identify how i can turn some of this stuff into actions. To help me, and maybe others, here are my top 5 moments from the conference:

1. Conferring – Everyone

Before going to ATD i had the objective of conferring with as many people as i could. Thankfully the way ATD was structured meant that there were plenty of breaks in the day and events(samba dancing included) in the evening to encourage people to mingle. The Lean Coffee each morning was also a great way to meet others so thanks to Lisa and Janet for organising.

On the virtual conferring platform Twitter was going crazy, as usual! I’ve just started using Tweet Deck and found that really awesome for keeping track of different tweets. Highly recommend it if you haven’t got it. It still surprises me how popular Twitter is now within the testing community, its great to see so many people interacting and sharing their thoughts. I also saw various tweets from people watching from the sidelines who seemed to get a lot from the tweets.

2. A Test Management Carol: The Ghosts of Test Management Past, Present and Future – Ben Williams and Tom Roden

Rather than put this one into words. Just watch this, you’ll soon know why this was a highlight:

Their workshop at BDD Exchange also made my top 5 so well done boys.

3. The struggles of my identity and how i got my developers to start testing – Kristoffer Nordstrom

On Day 1 Kristoffer talked about struggling with finding an identity as a tester. I think many people can connect with this as teams move to more “generalising specialists” in cross functional teams.

In his talks Kristoffer referenced three interesting topics. Firstly he brought our attention to the “Impostor Syndrome”:

“A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.” Wikipedia

Also in the talk he referenced “Social Identity” theory which refers to our need as humans to feel like we belong. This has an impact on the relationships we form in teams as we don’t want to upset people and as testers it can be difficult to give certain information.

The final reference i’d like to mention was “The Presentation of Self in Everyday life” by Eric Goffman:

“According to Goffman, the social actor has the ability to choose his stage and props as well as the costume he would wear in front of a specific audience. The actor’s main goal is to keep coherent and adjust to the different settings offered him.” Wikipedia

I appreciate Kristoffer for sharing his personal stories with us all.

4. “Don’t put me in a box!” – Antony Maracano

Day 3 kicked off with a very motivational talk from Antony Maracano “Don’t put me in a box!”. The talk touched on how as individuals we use job titles to identify ourselves, for example when we meet others at a conference and we get asked the question “What do you do?” the answer usually pulls reference on your job title. Antony challenged us to break free from these titles and to not be constrained by our job title. It was great to see someone challenging something that we accept all too often. I’m a big believer of moving away from titles and referring to one’s self and the skills i can bring rather than specific title.

Leaving the talk one thing that was going through my mind;

“What influence does the recruitment industry have on our obsession with titles?”

How many job adverts have you seen without a Job Title, what would that look like? Maybe something to think over for a blog in the future.

In the opening Keynote Janet and Lisa talked about the future of testing and i certainly think, working out our identity as a team member is something which testers, or people who do testing, may have a challenge with over the coming years.

Having spoken to several different people after many agreed it was a great motivational talk and i’m sure many people have been inspired to “break free from their box!”

5. Dan Ashby Lateral and Critical thinking

I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Dan(#Legend) at the conference so i knew his talk was probably going to be great! He introduced us to:

Critical Thinking – “the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion” Dictionary

Lateral Thinking“The solving of problems by an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing theproblem in a new and unusual light.” Dictionary

(He also tried introducing me to Whisky one evening, but that wasn’t as enjoyable as this talk)

What i found really awesome in the talk was how Dan uses Puzzles to practice these skills. In fact we did two of these  awesome puzzles on Tuesday night. I hadn’t thought about doing that before but i can already tell I’m hooked, its just a shame i missed the Big Agile Games night on Wednesday.

Beyond the obvious benefits of improving your thinking skills i think these games are a great way to engage with the team, even those outside of testing. I’m actually thinking of putting puzzles into my email signature of work so that these ideas can spread within my organisation, if anything, hoping that it sparks a conversation with someone who i wouldn’t normally have spoken to.

My advice, if you are at a conference, find Dan and ask for a puzzle!

In fact here is one of his puzzles now:

8910 = 4

1480 = 3

8371 = 2

3472 = 0

8461 = ?

Tweet me with your answer 🙂

Closing thoughts……

So as you can probably tell from all the superlatives in my blog the conference was really awesome. If you get chance to go in the future i highly recommend it. Now there is one other highlight from the conference, my awesome talk, but i’ll debrief that in another blog post once my mind has had time to rest and recover.

Until next year ATD!

Agile Testing and BDD Exchange Conference Review


On Thursday 6th and Friday 7th November 2014 i attended the “Agile Testing and BDD Exchange” run by Skills Matter in London.

Here are my 5 highlights:

1. Capturing Requirements or Solving problems – @JeffPatton (Key Note)

The conference got off to a great start! Jeff introduced us to a new model for approaching problems and “changing the world” because as he puts it, thats our job as software professionals to change the world with the software we build.

Jeff talked a lot about “Design Thinking” which was a new concept to me:

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

A key part of Design Thinking is Empathy with users and Jeff challenged us to “Go to where the people work. Get out of the building, way out of the building!” As a tester this really resonated for me as often i don’t spend enough working with my teams user base to understand their problems and what value they want from our products(Quality). Understanding more clearly our users can help inform and guide our testing. This is something i’ll be taking back to my team for sure.

2. Improving the Value of BDD – @DavidEvans66

David talked us through some great experiences he’s had with applying BDD. What i really liked in this talk was the concept of “Yak Shaving

Yak shaving is what you are doing when you’re doing some stupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to what you’re supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causal relations links what you’re doing to the original meta-task.”


He related this back to BDD and how often a lot of the time in BDD all we are doing is Yak shaving. I’ve seen this in many BDD Scenarios where it’s impossible to see the intent of the scenario as it’s blurred with useless information. It’s also prevalent when people apply the techniques of BDD blindly even to things that fall into the simple domain such as user login.

3. Delivery Mapping – @tastapod and @PapaChrisMatts

With “the band back together” as they phrased it, Dan North and Chris Matts presented their ideas around Delivery Mapping, something they’ve just started to share amongst the community. They talked through a model that brings together Impact Mapping, Skills Mapping and Delivery Mapping.

What really stood out for me was the Skills mapping ideas. Dan and Chris talked through how to use a skills matrix to understand Organisation and Individual needs. The model maps what the needs are of the business are, what skills are currently available and what skills are needed. The ideal is the centre of the model, the gold point. The place you probably don’t want to be is where there is a business need that cannot be met but current skills or desired skills of the workforce. If you ever have the opportunity of meeting Dan North, you can ask him about “The Tiger in the tree”


Another great learning was the concept of “Skills Liquidity

4. Q & A – Dan North and Lee Nicholls

This was a nice change. Instead of a presentation Dan North did a Q&A with Lee Nicholls, who has managed the Agile Transformation at a “Large American Bank”. This was really interesting for me because i work at “A larger American Bank” so the context of the discussions were directly relatable. Lee’s usage of measurement during their teams Agile Transformation was awesome in particular how they had used lead Time and Cycle Time. He also talked about “Marginal Gains” something which Dave Brailsford introduced to the UK Cycling Team. Using the measurements Lee’s teams can work on frequent marginal gains to improve and track their progress. Some of the concepts raised in “Beyond Budgeting” were also discussed. In particular making information transparent and Lee referenced an example from the book where a company needed to make reductions to their expenses cost. Instead of reducing hotel, mileage, travel allowance etc. they introduced a policy that all staff had to put their expense claims on a big visible board in the office. Everyone soon took ownership of keeping their expenses down for the success of the whole team.

5. Experiments with Flow – @13enWilliams, @Jon_Whitaker and @TommRoden

In this highly interactive session we ran through a game to demonstrate Kanban concepts of Flow, Cycle Time and experiments. Ben, Jon and Tom introduced us to the importance of Limiting Work in Progress and the effect that too much work or too little can have on our cycle times. We broke into groups of 10 and were tasked with the following exercise:


After each iteration we had a quick retrospective as a team and reviewed our Cumulative Flow diagram and cycle time measurements. We were then encouraged to try some small experiments to see their effect. We tried a few different experiments such as changing the shape of the group, moving responsibilities amongst the team and using a pull based system instead of push. It was amazing the effect some simple changes could have and seeing the results in black and white really helped to review the impact of the experiments. I will definitely be looking to run this game back with my team.


Agile Testing and BDD Exchange is really a conference for the Whole team. There were many times during the conference i thought, “Our product Owner could find this useful, our developer, our testers, our BA….” I’ve taken away so many learnings that i can share with the whole team. I’m excited to return to the office Monday with all these ideas!

Thanks to everyone who helped make the conference a success!