Mihai Balan

Answering the call

The European Testing Conference was definitely one of the best conferences I have attended and one of the highlights of 2016 for me. It left me energized, with a strong desire to (better) share my knowledge and maybe, someday, even present at a conference – testing or otherwise – myself. Fast-forward a little less than two years, and those experiences are still fresh on my mind, as well as my blogging about it.

So, after missing this years edition as a participant due to budget constraints and submitting to various other testing conferences as a wannabe speaker and not hearing back, I somehow stumbled upon the fact that the Call for Collaboration for EuroTesting Conf was still open. I had recently talked at Tabăra de Testare București about Mocking the real world for fun and profit and I thought it matched well EuroTesting Conf’s call for talks with ideas with real-world applicability. As the Call for Collaboration touted email feedback for submissions not taken into consideration and a face-to-face, post-submission “interview” for submissions in the final cut, I was pretty sure this would be a useful learning experience regardless of the final outcome.

I have submitted the abstract and required bits of personal bio as I started my vacation at the sea-side and, in-between trips to the beach, I kept checking my email for any kind of feedback. Thankfully, I got an email rather quickly with a link to schedule the face-to-face Skype interview. I nervously checked and double-checked my work calendar, personal calendar and my wife’s calendar and booked – obviously – a bad slot. After a short moment of panic and an awkward email, I managed to book the right calendar slot and promptly forgot about it.

However, as the day of the “interview” approached, I grew increasingly nervous – well past what I would have expected. I guess I should have tried preparing some possible pivot directions for the talk, or some extra content, but being fresh off from the holiday didn’t help much.

The call was “officially” with Maaret and Franzi on behalf of the EuroTesting Conf organizers, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere offscreen, Llewellyn was lurking as well. During the call I got to expand a little bit on my idea for the talk and how it came to be, based on the slides that I had previously used at Tabăra de Testare. We discussed possible changes in focus and approach, but I’m pretty sure I could have done a lot better than basically just «Yeah, it could be done; I actually have thought about it and might even have an example or two».

As the scheduled 15 minutes ended, Llewellyn Falco offered to spend a little more time with me on my submission idea and I gladly accepted his offer. Since there was no time-limit declared upfront we started diving a little deeper in my presentation – both in terms of content and delivery. My initial presentation consisted of 3 stories and even though I got the feedback that it felt rushed, I still somehow believed I could fit it in a 30 or 40 minutes slot. Telling just one of the stories over Skype however, took me close to the 30 minutes mark, so this was the first and most obvious conclusion – less stories, but better story-telling, especially if all the stories try to drive home the same take-away points.

Speaking of main take-away points, Llewellyn raised a very interesting point: What are the main take-away points that I wanted for my audience versus what actually are the take-away points that the audience derived from my story. In my case it was obvious that what I wanted to stick to my audience had little to no support at all in the way I told my story.

One other thing that I was unaware of – but might have been mitigated by a proper intro to the presentation – was the fact that for the better part of my story I used the term mock with a (slightly) different meaning that most of the people in the audience would have been familiar with. The biggest danger is that the audience spends more time trying to make sense of the words you are using than trying to listen and understand the rest of the story you are telling. My main takeaway here was to clearly or properly define new terms (or new meanings for existing terms), or at least properly warn of common words used with un-common meanings. This applies to full-fledged presentations, as well as to informal, impromptu talks.

The call ended rather abruptly as I shuffled around the open space trying to find a less populated area where I could Skype in peace without disturbing anyone.

Now, I’m not sure if my talk will be selected for Amsterdam, but answering this call for collaboration was a big learning experience for me. As I keep an eye on TestingConferences.org for conferences with open call for papers, the general feedback from Maaret and the finer, more detalied points raised by Llewellyn will definitely help me improve my submissions and, hopefully, my talk(s).