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This blog originally appeared on Chloe’s medium channel.
This is my second time returning to AWS re:invent. Last year I was fortunate enough to receive the All Builders Welcome grant to attend, which was provided by the AWS DE&I team aimed at individuals within their first 5 years of their careers. This year I got the pleasure of returning with my new employer Hamilton Robson and was afforded the opportunity to give a Dev Chat about the awesome work we are doing.
I felt like this was such a personal journey for me and I loved every minute of it. When I attended as a grant recipient, I didn’t think I would ever be returning, let alone getting to speak at a conference of this scale and size — it was an absolute dream!
That’s why I wanted to write this blog to share some of my experiences of the speaker process from submitting the talk right through to the event itself!
Public speaking has always been something that terrified me, but over the past few years I have been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone to try new experiences and take opportunities.
So, I guess it all starts with a Call-For-Papers, but you may be wondering where I got access to this? And the answer is the AWS Community Builder Program.
I have been an AWS Community Builder since its initial beta in 2020. If you are unfamiliar with the program, it is a space for AWS enthusiasts to connect and collaborate, it provides webinars on new services, on architecture and even on career enhancement. This is such an incredible community, it has allowed me to connect with so many people working globally with similar technologies to me and facing similar issues. The community has a lot of benefits associated with it, such as AWS promotional credits, vouchers for certifications and direct access to AWS product teams for questions and support.
A lot of upcoming events, like webinars and conferences, are shared with the group. This is where the re:Invent Call For Papers was shared.
When I saw the CFP, I knew I wanted to try and submit something, even if it was a shot in the dark for getting selected.
I have done a few local conference talks before, and I’ve started to follow a bit of a process when it comes to creating a submission. I start with the questions — What is interesting? What can I share? What am I comfortable talking about?
I typically start with brainstorming, so sitting down and trying to write one line about some of the cool things I am working on. This can take on a range of things from cool passion projects, to new features i’m working on in work, to new frameworks i’ve tried right through to some of the most annoying programming issues I faced this year.
Once I have an initial list of ideas, I then try to narrow it down to my top 3 favourite ideas. I then work on fleshing these out into talk descriptions and try to list the main audience takeaways I wanted from each possible talk. Sometimes there is a clear winner when I get to this point — but if there isn’t, I would typically reach out to colleagues or friends to ask which they would be the most interested in seeing and get their advice.
I couldn’t believe it when my Dev Chat got accepted and was super excited to get stuck in and start building out my slides.
For the presentations AWS provided branded re:Invent slides with all different layouts and formats — on the deck they had all of their accessibility guidelines for font sizes and colour ratios, which was so beneficial to have.
When it came to creating the content for my talk it definitely took multiple iterations. I started with trying to do an overall story outline, so I just added titles onto each of my slides of what I wanted to cover on them to try and see what content flowed together. This allows me to re-organise slides and really start to build my story arc. At this point there were definitely a lot more slides that I wouldn’t have time to go through, but I wanted to keep everything in and only start deleting content closer to the end of my process.
The next phase is building out the slides — I typically start with my script and write in the notes section of each slide what I want to say on it. I personally find it easier to add the visualisations after I have the script written for each section.
I tend to do a few run throughs of the presentation with people in my team at the office. Even when it isn’t visual and it is just titles and the script, it’s good to get a feel for how the content fits together and if the order needs to be adjusted or if some areas aren’t really landing, or if there are sections that are interesting and I should go into more detail with.
After a few iterations the slides really start to take shape, images and diagrams start to naturally fit with the content and key areas to remove or sections bulk out start to become obvious.
For re:Invent, the slides were due to be submitted five weeks prior to the conference. AWS hosted a webinar with their head Speaking Coach to help prepare everyone. This session was great — here are some of the main takeaways I took from it:
With the slides submitted, they then had to go through a review process with AWS ahead of the event. The review was pretty thorough, and ultimately really beneficial. The review team left very helpful comments on my deck on some accessibility issues I hadn’t noticed and a few minor typos. They also updated my references to be clearer on the slide decks of where any statistics where taken from. This experience has taught me a lot about building a presentation from the detailed feedback they gave me.
At re:Invent there are ‘Speaker Ready Rooms’ (SRRs), each speaker needs to check in at one of these rooms before their session. These rooms are really cool and have a number of different things you can do in them: firstly, you can have a copy edit session, where you can go through the feedback your reviewer gave you and make any changes. Also, you can also book in for a tech check which allows you to test the exact setup that will be in the room you are presenting in, so you can get familiar with where your notes will be, the clicker and the mic you will be using. The last type of appointment you can book is 1:1 speaker coaching to help prepare for your session. Overall, these rooms are really cool and really help support speakers.
My Dev Chat wasn’t actually the only session I was part of this re:Invent. Being an ABW grant recipient last year and since I was going to be back in Las Vegas for the conference this year, I was invited to talk on a “Journeys to a Career in the Cloud” panel hosted in the All Builders Welcome Lounge alongside Bhuvaneswari Subramani and Ivonne Roberts, which moderated by Jen Looper.
Since it was a panel and not a talk, there were no slides that needed to be reviewed for me, so my only preparation was to get to the lounge early to meet the other panellists before the session started.
I loved being part of this panel and getting to share stories about my entry into working with cloud technologies — it was also great to hear Bhuvaneswari’s and Ivonne’s stories around their career journeys and the advice that they had to share.
I felt like the panel was positive and the conversation flowed really well between us all, Jen asked questions about our careers, from our entry into tech, to headwinds we have faced, finishing with each of us sharing tips/advice to the attendees. There was also time for questions at the end and it was great to see so many people taking the mic to ask us questions.
When it came to the day of my Dev Chat, a mixture of nerves and excitement was starting to kick in. This is one of the biggest events I have ever been part of and I was so excited to share what I’ve been working on at Hamilton Robson over the past year.
I arrived to talk an hour early just to make sure everything was ok, so checked my slides were loaded up, verified what type of mic I was going to be using and tested the clicker to make sure my slides were advancing as expected.
My talk was on the event driven architecture we have implemented in Hamilton Robson for handling document verification at scale. It covered verification and how it has changed over time and a number of the services we are using to aid in building this platform.
After the talk a number of the audience came up to me with some really amazing questions. It was great to see how engaged they were with the content and I loved getting to dive into my project a bit deeper to answer some of the queries they had. Some attendees even had really cool feature and tool suggestions for me for the future, which was incredible!
Overall, I had a really amazing time at re:Invent this year, since a lot of my interactions with my fellow Community Builders is virtual, it was amazing to catch up with a number of them in person at the conference. I also learnt so much through this speaker process around presentation preparation, so hopefully this blog will help you if you are considering submitting a conference talk!
If you are interested in any of my other learnings from the event, check out my summary blog here.
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