Here is a summery of my experience of speaking at the NLVMUG for the first time.
For someone who always take pride in knowing just that little bit more than the next guy, it is not surprising that a longstanding desire of mine, was to speak at a public event to some kind of unique knowledge. Public conferences, even vendor-specific conferences like VMWare’s VMUG’s and of course VMworld, are very interesting to me precisely because of this. It tends to attract and concentrate some of the most knowledgeable people, and some of the most cutting edge technological knowledge and experiences.
Last year I was invited by @gekort , a great public speaker in his own right, to present a session at the VMware summerschool in Utrecht, at VMwares Dutch main office. Having never previously spoken publicly like that, this was a pretty big deal for me. The sheer fear of being publicly scrutinized on my knowledge of a subject sends me into fits of anxiety 😉
But it was a great experience, and personally for me a great success. It boosted my confidence in my speaking and presentation abilities quite a bit. The feedback that I got was valuable and I took as much of the experience and advice on board as I could. In any case, I knew I wanted to do more of this! But the main advantage I had was that I was speaking to a set of subjects I was quite comfortable and knowledgeable about, in that case Metro-Cluster and HA.
When it was time to submit a paper to the NLVMUG, the largest VMware user conference in the world, besides VMWorld, it was obvious to myself and Alexander, our co-founder, that we should speak about our NSX experiences over the last 3 years. It is currently our biggest asset as an infrastructure partner, as we are currently in a rather unique position with it, and to be blunt, we really cannot advertise it enough. I am not in essence a ‘network guy’, so I was a bit nervous about the material. I made doubly sure I had fact-checked every single thing I wanted to talk about. I probably spent over 40 hours doing just that.
Simultaneously, my colleague Robin van Altena also submitted a talk about vRealize Network Insight.
We submitted the NSX talk and the vRNI talk as a ‘lightning session’, which is only about 20 minutes. (My talk at the Summerschool was an hour). There where many, many of those slots available at the NLVUG. In retrospect, I think we could have equally well have pitched a full break-out session of 50 minutes, with the material we had.
As it turned out, there was already a full break-out session just before mine by one of the NLVUG leaders, Joep Piscaer , on OGD’s experience with NSX over the last 3 years. the NLVMUG leaders reached out to all new speakers to help coach them a bit, and me and Robin gracefully accepted.
This was quite a valuable Skype session, and the key point that was inparted on us, was the non-commercial nature of the talks. We where there to talk about our own, personal experiences. While we could acknowledge our companies, it would be bad form to explicitly pitch our company or product. This is relatively easy for me, as having to engage in ‘sales talk’ causes a fair bit of cognitive dissonance in my brain, even though I can do it quite well when needed :p
Practicing your talk is essential, as is getting feedback early. We occasionally have ‘knowledge sessions’ at Redlogic, where people do little presentations of whatever it is they want to share. This was a perfect opportunity to get early feedback on our sessions.
My talk was pretty dense with NSX information. It took me a few personal practice runs, timing myself on the different parts, to get it all under 20 minutes. And you want a minute or two for questions.
The day itself was awesome. I was quite nervous of course. My talk was at 11:00, and that is a great time slot. Anything after lunch, and you risk the change that people are either falling asleep, or have left. Joep Piscaer’s talk about NSX at OGD was just prior to mine. I knew I would want to refer to his talk in mine, so I made sure to attend it.
His talk was indeed very interesting. There was a lot of overlap with mine, but our talks where also highly complementary for each other, each touching on unique aspects and experiences. He called me and my talk out specifically as a follow up, which was very gracious, and his final slide even referenced me. As I was going to briefly discuss NSX-T, he mentioned that specifically. This made me somewhat nervous as I was only going to spend maybe half a minute on that. I made it a point to give that subject a little more time at the end of my talk, which I did.
If you want to learn more about OGD’s hosted IAAS platform with NSX, check out http://vmwareemeablog.com/nl/ogd-biedt-klanten-maximale-vrijheid-met-eigen-iaas-platform/ and https://ogd.nl/blog/post/2016/08/samen-slimmer-met-ogds-eigen-iaas-platform/ (both in Dutch)
The ‘Dexter’ rooms reserved for the lightning talks are all quite small, only fitting about 40-45 people. As there where a record amount of sessions at the NLVMUG this year, the logistics of the venue had a bit of trouble keeping up. Also, all talks where about 10 minutes behind schedule, so I ended up in line for my own talk 🙂
It is both incredibly encouraging and nerve-racking to see the room filled to capacity, and then another 15 or so people trying to get in. It was standing-room only at the back, and the same was true for Robin’s vRNI talk.
Getting started is always the hardest part, but once I was into the swing of it, I forgot about time and nerves and just went all-in on the knowledge. I didn’t even watch the timer counting down. My talk was pretty dense and I feel I have a pretty intense style of speaking. I try to scan the room and look people in the eye. I hope that keeps peoples attention. One thing I regret is not having some humorous moments in my slide deck. I need to take a page from Joep and include some memes next time :p
I tend to move around a lot, but the size of the room did not allow for much lateral pacing. Probably a good thing. You don’t want to remain hidden behind the lectern, but you don’t want to obscure the beamer either. I will take this into account with my slides next time; leave some space for my ‘shadow’ if needed. I was very happy the venue had provided fresh water behind the lectern. But a bottle would have been more practical than the glasses we had. I will take a bottle with me next time. Your mouth will dry out :p
To my surprise, I seemed to stay inside the time perfectly, but I was not entirely sure. I was expecting (and dreading) questions, but I only got 1, which was customer-related and kinda drew a black for me in the moment. (why did our customer choose NSX). It was not the kind of question I had been expecting, and regretfully I had to admin on the spot that I did not know. I actually did remember later, but my mind was focused on product facts, not customer politics.
I asked the room for more questions.. silence. “Ideas?” .. “did you like it?!” .. and the whole room made enthusiastic and acknowledging noises. That was the best moment of the day 🙂
I heard later, via others, that it had indeed been very well received by people. It also reminded me that is really not enough NSX experience out there right now, and many people are curious.
Also Robin’s talk about vRNI, just after and right next door time mine, was very well attended, with lots of interest. Again a packed and overcrowded room. He managed to cram in slides and material and exposition, and 4 demo-movies, and stayed right inside 20 minutes. Very impressive! And demo’s of a product are always very popular, even if they are recorded. It should be noted he recorded these himself, in our own lab. They where not VMware-provided.
The rest of the day was much like any other conference day.. attending sessions, checking hands, live-tweeting, getting plied by vendors, hunting for food and snacks, and networking. I had been invited to a vExpert lunch with Frank Denneman, but I totally forgot about it. We did have a nice buffet afterwards with the other speakers, and I had some great convos there with folks from ITQ. The day was exhausting but a huge amount of fun, best NLVMUG I have been to, and higher on my list than even VMworld so far. I will certainly want to speak next year again, and perhaps at other places and events, my mind is already churning with what my next talk will be about!
I will be writing some upcoming blog posts about our NSX experiences, based on my presentation.