Relations

Developer Relations revelations: social media can be pretty anti-social

This is part of a series of posts about the life as a DevRel person and how not all is unicorns and roses. You can read the introduction and the other parts of the series here.

Loose tweets sink fleets

So, today, let’s talk about social media.

Social media is one of the most powerful things for a DevRel person. It is also a tricky one to navigate. As a DevRel person you skate on thin ice. You need to remain a person and a face people can remember and feel comfortable contacting. But you also represent a company.

People on social media are much more likely to follow and listen to a personal voice than a company account. In my personal experience, you also have more longevity. A corporate account promoting a product can cause a massive spike in traffic. A personal account causes traffic for a few days. People are reading your updates at different paces.

So, as a DevRel person, you have the challenge of having to be yourself and to represent a company. And that comes with a lot of baggage.

You need to be careful not to mix your personal views (or ones that people think you have) with company updates. And there is no such thing as “sins of the past”. What you posted and how you acted can be dug up years later and used against you. Many celebrities right now have the same experience. DevRel people – for better or worse – are minor celebrities (in most cases we don’t want to but it happens). So, the glib post you put out in a party mood five years ago can and will be used against you.

I am trying to mitigate this risk by having a detailed Twitter manifesto where I explain my usage of the channel in detail. I am pretty sure that this will not mean much when push comes to shove but I had good feedback on it.

My rule of thumb is that social media is an entry point. An entry point to get people to communicate with you one on one. An entry point to get people to use official channels to voice their ideas and concerns. I avoid having long conversations and communication threads on social media. The reason is that they always end up messy, because social media isn’t social any longer – it is a business.

Social media is a numbers game

People game social media – big time. By now it feels spammy and annoying. “Growth hackers” and “Social Media Experts” spoil it for everyone. It feels like back when Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) messed with the web. Our carefully crafted and educational posts drowned in a mess of “7 things you should know about…” and “45 essential jQuery plugins” bullshit articles, crafted to optimise eyeballs and clicks. Social media is a similar race at the moment. You can buy followers and likes and many a bot upvotes others. Adding your voice to a thread – no matter how wrong – gives you eyeballs. Almost every longer conversation sooner or later ends up with baiting and leading people to say something controversial that can be taken out of context. You somehow need to stand out of this quagmire. I got to be very careful over the years, and actively avoid getting roped into discussions.

Separation of products and people is a must

Social media is full of terrible people and bots you don’t want to get associated with – even by accident. Who you retweet and share also reflects on you. So be aware what and who you endorse. Make it perfectly clear that an endorsement of a product doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with the creators.

Context on social media is a joke

Whatever you put on social media will be taken out of context. Make sure your updates are clear and precise. Don’t allow people to quote you to support something you don’t want to be associated with. This is especially dangerous when you talk about your competition. Negative remarks about them are completely out as this is a headline in the making you don’t want to defend yourself against. Positive remarks about your competition can easily turn into a messy conversation with your own company (more on that in the final part of this series). But here’s the issue – to be successful on social media as a DevRel person, you have to talk about other products than your own. And that includes your competition.

You are always one remark away from being a shill

OK, we all know that you are paid to represent your company, its products and get people to try them out. You are also there to get feedback and bring that back to the company. All this is dependent on your reputation and the trust people have in you as an expert in the field. That’s why it is imperative that you have your ear on the ground and talk about exciting things on social media. You need to be a go-to expert for people to find out about exciting new things and to get feedback on their own ideas and products. The perfect scenario is when your products are making a lot of sense to you. Then you can promote them by showing what you build with them. But, the more successful you become, the more your company will also ask you to promote their other products. And this is where it gets annoying to be on social media. When you promote a product people know you don’t use you will get a lot of backlash. Often it makes most sense to point to other social media accounts to do that promotion. Or to coach the other department of the company to create some post or demo that you can point to without looking like a sales rep.

What your company does is all your fault

On the flipside, whatever your company does will always be your fault. It doesn’t matter if you are one of thousands of people in the company. It doesn’t matter that you are far removed from the product or the happening that annoyed people. You are publicly visible, available and you have a history of being responsive. So there you are.

This gets tougher, the bigger your company is, and the more the press loves to report about it. Talking to colleagues at Google, Samsung and other big players, we all have the same experiences. It is pretty unfair to have your life decisions questioned every time something controversial happens to your employer. It is even worse when people ask you about a quick statement. Often because what your company allegedly did is at odds with what you are about. The very important solution to covering your arse here is to have a good relationship with the PR department of your company. Don’t fall for the bait, don’t make public statements. By all means, though, report in the company what you heard – that’s where changes can happen.

You’re seen as the magic way-in

On a less stressful topic, people will always assume that you wield a magic wand to get things done in your company. That bug report a random department of your company hasn’t answered in months? Sure you can simply talk to them and it will get fixed immediately? That just announced new product or service? Surely you have a free one lying around? And you can get one of your thousands of online friends free, unlimited access. You also have the magic powers to get anyone hired without any of the normal procedures, right?

All this is flattering, but also dangerous. Communication channels in your company are there for a reason. You can sometimes accelerate them, but it is important to do a cursory introduction and then pull out. You don’t want to constantly play a game of telephone being a mediator as that takes up far too much of your time.

Alas, it makes a lot of sense to be active on social media

Social media is a great way to get information out, and to keep up to date with what other people are doing. As a DevRel person, it is much more agile and simple than cold-call emailing people. The main task though is find a good balance of staying true to yourself but not fall into any of the dozens of traps social media has these days. You are under a massive spotlight, better watch your moves and count to ten before you answer and publish something that can never be undone.

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Developer Relations revelations: travel is hard work

This is part of a series of posts about the life as a DevRel person and how not all is unicorns and roses. You can read the introduction and the other parts of the series here.

So, today, let’s talk about traveling.

Sleeping on a plane

When I worked for the Red Cross with elderly people one thing became pretty obvious to me. People who traveled in their lives were not only more interesting, but also aged much better. They had more energy, showed more excitement about new things and generally felt more alive.

Traveling as a DevRel person isn’t like that. It can easily be the exact opposite.

Coming from a low-end working class family traveling around the world always was a dream for me. Each holiday was cramming the family in a car and driving 14 hours to Italy to go camping. To the same place every year. And yet, I made the best of it. I loved going to highway stops seeing cars and trucks from all kind of countries. I deliberately chose to work on the web as it meant I can connect to people from all over. Getting to know them, finding out our differences and maybe – if I every get really lucky – visit them in real life.

From this point of view my job right now seems a dream come true. It seems that I get paid to travel the world. I have Gold status with one airline affiliate group for three years running. I have Silver and Gold status with a few hotel chains. My travel history is pretty impressive:

My travel statistics, 965369 miles traveled, 1931 hours in the air, 27 countries and 48 destinations

My Android location history
My Android location history See yours here

Here’s the thing though: travel for work is not at all like being on a holiday. It is taxing. It takes a toll on your health, it takes a heavy toll on your relationships and it is very easy to overdo it. You need to be happy with being on your own and being the only person to rely on. You also need to ensure that all your creature comforts get covered. This is often at odds with the budget of conferences or your company’s expense policies.

Faux Jet-Set

There is a strange disconnect in business travel. You are part of the jet set but you almost never have time to enjoy it. On paper it feels great to have travelled to all these cool destinations. In reality all you see is the airport, some means of transport, your hotel room and the event venues. This can be depressing. You constantly have this carrot of world traveler excitement in front of you. To experience it you would need to sacrifice free time. The days before and after an event are crucial for our jobs and it is hard to tack on a few in each direction.

A constant “do I deserve this” feeling

Lonely meals and nondescript rooms are much less fun when you didn’t hang out with people you know. And you don’t want to add yourself to other groups or ask people to dine with you as that would be work. And you need to ensure you have some time off to re-charge. Interestingly enough, the fancier the accommodation is the worse I feel. When I am in a really cool hotel and have no time to use the facilities other than crashing for a few hours I feel weird. I spend other people’s money without reaping the rewards. Trying the hotel out for a holiday later is not as common as they tend to be costly or optimised for business travel.

It is important to be on the road. A two minute face-to-face conversation is often worth weeks of emails, chats or calls. Meeting people where they are can open great opportunities for you and your company. So, here are a few tips that helped me on the way and still make it much easier for me.

Find an airline alliance to collect points and status with.

That means things that don’t sound much but will add a lot to your well-being.

  • You do not have to worry about luggage restrictions.
  • You get priority boarding, which means you can book a cheaper seat and still get on the plane first. You can store your hand luggage above instead of having to keep it at your feet.
  • It is imperative that sooner or later you get lounge access. This turns a layover caused by a missed plane from a nightmare to an opportunity to get some work out of the way. Then you can sleep or relax on the plane.
  • You are also more likely to get upgrades if you have status with an airline. Conferences or your company can book you an economy ticket and yet you travel in comfort.

All hotel loyalty systems are pants

Hotel loyalty systems only give you proper benefits when you book on their web sites or in their apps. With your own, personal credit card. If, like me, you have a corporate card, the most you get is a free bottle of water on check-in (yay?) and late check-outs. There is not much point to be loyal in this case. Something else is much more important when it comes to hotels.

Your hotel matters

Your hotel on a company trip can either be a place to crash at night or your base of operations. I try to make sure I can do the latter. That means the most important part is that it is close to where I need to be. You don’t want to spend a lot of time in transit between hotel and event, carrying a lot of swag and hardware with you. If that means you stay in a cheaper, but closer, hotel, this is a good thing. If it means the conference or your company needs to pay more, so be it. Most trips I do are short which means I will spend most of my time at the event. Having a fancy hotel isn’t useful when you have no time to enjoy it. The most important bits are that the place is clean, has fast connectivity in your room, and is easy to reach.

Stay active – or your health will suffer

If you can, try to find a hotel with a gym – no matter how basic. It is the best thing to fight jetlag and to clear your head. It is also important. When you travel, you sit a lot and you don’t move on a plane. That’s bad for you. You also consume a lot of food and drink on planes and you don’t give your body a challenge to burn it. I found that going to the gym before and after events allowed me to be much more energetic. Look after yourself – nobody else does.

If you’re tired or sick, your work will suffer

Jetlag is a pain and will turn you into a liability. You can not be in a stressful environment when you are not awake and relaxed. You will make mistakes, you will say things you can regret online later and you won’t be able to take in as much as you need. So look after yourself and get sleep when you can. You don’t need to be part of every social activity of an event and should sneak out for a kip whenever you can. Try to get enough time to deal with jetlag and look at what you eat and drink. You can not get sick. And believe me, this is a full-time job. Time differences, over-zealous air conditioning, pressurised aircraft and unknown food all mess with your body. Everyone I know working in DevRel carries a bag of medication. Acid reflux, indigestion, unwanted bowel movements and sore throats and runny noses. All commonplace enough to prepare for them.

Adding to that is that being on the road and constantly having to adapt does things to you. In Pattern Recognition William Gibson describes jetlag as “your soul trying to catch up with you” and that is pretty accurate. Being more emotional without planning to is common on planes. There is a lot of research into Why people cry on planes and I also find myself doing that.

Take care of yourself, please.

Point-to-point annoyances

One thing I am adamant about is that a conference or office makes it as easy as possible for me to get from the airport to where I need to go. I don’t want to deal with pushy unlicensed cabbies. It is also not fun to try to use public transport in a place you don’t know after 30 hours in the air. This may sound whiny and “first world problem”-ish but any minute wasted on the road isn’t doing you any favours. At least demand a good explanation what to do to get there from the people who invited you.

Expenses sound fun, but aren’t

Living on expenses sounds great, right? It is, to a degree, and it would be much harder – and silly – to spend your own money to do your job. But it also means that you need to be diligent about keeping receipts, and note down who you ate with, what and when. You often also have a company card unknown or unsafe to use in a certain place. Then you need to get money out. And you need to explain your company why you didn’t pay by card, suffering twice from the lack of support. It is important to do your expenses on the spot after your trip. Otherwise you end up delayed and get fined. It has become much easier to file expenses digitally now. I remember typing in all receipts, staple them to a piece of paper and mailing them to a different office. Yet, often you wait for weeks for things to get sorted out even now.

Summary: DevRel travel is lost time

When you travel as a DevRel, travel is not a gift any longer. It is a necessary part of your job. Where it is OK to rough it for a holiday, you shouldn’t sell yourself short when it comes to travel for work. It adds to the stress of your job. It takes up a lot of time you could be doing things to diminish the workload you already have. Whilst you can work in a lounge and on a plane I find it not that fruitful. Often I am tired, or euphoric about a certain topic and write a lot of things that sound lucid but are a write-off later on. One exception is going through emails on a plane. Being offline is a great opportunity to take time answering them without distractions. Traveling as a Developer Relations person is a lot of time a matter of good negotiation. Don’t try to be nice by allowing people to put you on a cheap flight and the wrong hotel. You don’t do them any favours as they would get a grumpy, non-effective you rather than the person they invited.

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Developer Relations revelations: workshops are a lot of communication work

This is part of a series of posts about the life as a DevRel person and how not all is unicorns and roses. You can read the introduction and the other parts of the series here.

So, today, let’s talk about giving workshops.

Giving a workshop is very different to presenting and needs a different skillset. Whilst preparing a great talk already takes a lot of time, workshops are a different beast. As a rule of thumb, a good trainer spends eight hours research and preparation for each hour of a workshop.

Workshops are where you can’t fake anything. It is not enough to know the subject matter inside-out. You also need to deal with the attendees. Their requests, different speeds and knowledge levels. You need to lead the group and guide it. And you can’t do that if you don’t feel confident about the material or know much about the group you will teach.

Workshops are much less forgiving than presentations. Only a few people will complain about a bad presenter at a conference. It doesn’t feel like a waste of money to get the conference ticket when there was one dud. Workshops are much more expensive and more personal, that’s why criticism is harsher.

Conference organisers like having workshop days as they are much more profitable. Most of the ticket money of events needs to get into venue, catering, speaker fees and travel. Workshop ticket sales get shared with the teacher with a higher profit margin. Venues are often sponsored by companies. For freelance speakers this is great, as it means more money.

For a DevRel person it is trickier, as you represent a company and you have a different agenda. You need not to get people excited about your knowledge but also about the things you represent. That’s why it is also tougher to sell and fill a workshop as a DevRel person. Your workshops are seen as something that should be free and it is OK to put not as much effort in as an attendee. That doesn’t mean though that they are easier to create and run. At all.

With this increased pressure, it is tough to feel great about your workshops as a DevRel person. Your company will most likely want you to create a generic course. One that shows off the benefits of your products.

This makes sense, as it is an upfront investment of time and money. A lot of the products I worked with benefitted from workshops. You find gaps in the documentation, you see where people get lost, and what technical difficulties come up. All great opportunities to improve your product.

The great thing about generic courses is that they are reusable and measurable. The bad thing about them is that they make for disappointing workshops. You might as well have them online as a course with offline participation instead.

I feel a lot of worry about delivering workshops as they are important. Teaching is a tough job and a bad teacher can utterly mess up a subject. Remember school? All the topics taught by a great teacher are things I still love. All the topics run by a lackluster by-the-book teacher I had to re-learn later in life.

A workshop is much higher stress for you. Your passion, your excitement, your fearlessness to play make the course. It is uncommon to have “bad attendees” as they have a much bigger stake in the workshop than listening to a talk.

Your mistakes, your lack of passion, your sloppiness multiplies with the attendees. That’s why you need to be on your toes for the whole duration of the workshop.

The fun bit about teaching is to find out how people tick and what they need to understand something. It is not about telling them a lot of information and hope things stick. Humans keep information they found out on their own much more than those they had to memorise.

That’s why I want a workshop to be a real workshop. I want to know who will come, what their levels of knowledge are and have them set up their computers in advance. I might as well want X-Ray vision, as the sad fact is that often you need to face the following issues:

  • People who hired you expect you to give a five hour presentation showing a lot of technical demos for people to maybe take part in
  • You have no idea how many people and who will show up to your workshop
  • You face a room full of 50 people – no way you can help them individually or even pair them up to help each other
  • Half the people don’t come back after a break as their boss called them out to do “something important”
  • A large part of the group didn’t bring a computer or didn’t expect having to do anything
  • You end up being helpdesk for faulty computer configurations of the attendees’ computers
  • You end up being offline when most of your materials need a connection or are a download to start with

To run a successful workshop you need to prepare for these. That’s why it is much more important to be clear and demanding in your communication. People who invite you to give a workshop often want a detailed outline of it. Make sure that this also contains detailed information about the needs you have. Setup of the room, the machines of the attendees, detailed timing and attendance demands. It may feel bad to be such a stickler for details, but anything you leave to interpretation will come back to haunt you and cost time. Time you can’t use to help attendees reach the goal of the workshop. Time you need to work with individuals whilst you lose the group.

Don’t be the bad teacher that messed up a subject for you. Workshops have detailed outcomes and you need to measure at the end of them if people learned something. This might be hard to swallow when it didn’t work, but it really helps being excited about your job when it does.

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Developer Relations revelations: presenting at a conference is much more than your talk

This is part of a series of posts about the life as a DevRel person and how not all is unicorns and roses. You can read the introduction and the other parts of the series here.

So, today, let’s talk about giving presentations.

Chris and unicorn in oil
Artistic impression by Anke Mehlert (@larryandanke) what it looks like when I present

As this is a “warts and all” series of posts, I’ll cover the following aspects:

  • Preparing your presentation for various audiences
  • Frustrations and annoyances to prepare for – things that always go wrong
  • Getting ready to be on stage
  • Things to avoid on stage
  • Planning the follow-up
  • The weirdness of making it measurable

Public speaking is tough

Me, presenting

Giving a presentation, or even having to speak in front of a group is the stuff of nightmares for a lot of people. There are so many things that can go wrong and you have nowhere to hide as you are the centre of attention.

It is not easy, and it shouldn’t be. I’ve been presenting at hundreds of meetings and events over the last decade. Every time I go up on stage, I am scared, worried and my tummy imitates the sounds of a dying whale. I also hope against hope that I won’t mess up. This is normal, this is healthy, and it keeps me humble and – hopefully – interesting. Sure, it gets a bit easier, but the voice in your head telling you that it is not normal that people care for what you have to say will never go away. So that’s something to prepare for.

Now, there is a lot of information out there about becoming a great presenter. A lot of it is about the right way to speak, breathe and move. You can even cheat yourself into appearing more confident using Power Poses.

I am coaching people on public speaking. And I found out pretty early that “being a great presenter” is a very personal thing. The techniques needed differ from person to person. There is no silver bullet for you to instantly become a great presenter. It is up to you to find your voice and way of presenting that makes you most confident. Your confidence and excitement is what makes a presentation successful. To a degree this happens in equal measures.

It is great to see presenters admitting not being experts but sharing what got them excited about the topic they cover. Much better than someone faking confidence or repeating tired old truths that can’t be disagreed with.

When you look around on the web for presentation tips there is a lot of thinly veiled advertising for a course, workshop or books. Once you become a known presenter, you don’t even have to look. You get spam mail offering you magical products to give awesome presentations. Others offer you to create materials for your talks and style your slides.

Here’s the thing: none of that is making that much of a difference. Your slides and their form are not that important. They should be wallpaper for your presentation. In the end, you have to carry the message and captivate the audience, not read a deck out to them.

Except, it does make a difference. Not for your talk, but for everyone else involved in it.

Players two, three and four have entered the game

Now, as I already hammered home in the last post, as a DevRel person you are not representing yourself, but also a group or company. That means, that you have a lot more work to prepare a presentation. You need to juggle demands of:

  • Your company and colleagues
  • The conference organisers
  • The audience
  • People who later on will watch the video of the talk
  • Those peering over the social media fence to add their ideas to fragments of information regardless of context

Seperating from your company is tough but needed

Here’s the biggest issue. Technical audiences hate sales pitches. They also hate marketing. They go to a tech event to hear from peers and to listen to people they look up to.

As soon as you represent a company there is already a sense of dread that they’ll find a shill wasting their time. This gets worse the bigger your company is and the older it is. People have a preconception of your company. This could be beneficial “Cool, there is a NASA speaker at that event”. Or it could be a constant struggle for you having to explain that things your company did or other departments do aren’t your fault. It could also be a struggle for you when all you have from your company is marketing messages. Messages that are groan-worthy for technical people but sound great in the press.

Do yourself a favour and be adamant that you own your presentations. You don’t want to get into the stress of presenting a peer-reviewed “reusable slide deck” of your company.

Be proactive in writing and owning your talks. Make sure your company knows what you do and why your talk is a great thing for them. You are on the clock and you are spending their money. That’s why you can’t use presenting only to further your personal brand – something needs to come out of it. That, of course, is tricky to get right, but there are some ways to make it worth while – more on that later.

Helping conference organisers

Conference organisers have a tough job. They don’t only need to wrangle the demands of the audience and locations. They also are responsible for everything that happens on stage. Thus it is understandble that they want to know as much as possible about your talk before it happens. This can get weird.

I often get asked for insipirational, cutting edge talks. In the same sentence I’m asked to deliver the slides months in advance. This is impossible unless you keep the talk very meta. Blue-sky, meta talks don’t help your company or your product. They advocate yourself as a visionary and an important voice in the market, which is good for the company. But tough to explain to the product teams how it affects their work.

In any case, it is a great idea to make the lives of conference organisers easier by having things ready for them. These include:

  • A great title and description of your talk
  • A description of the skill level you expect from the audience
  • An up-to-date bio to add to their materials
  • A few good photos of you
  • Your name, job description, company
  • Ways to connect to you on social media
  • Things you published or resources you maintain

These make it easier for the conference to drum up excitement about your talk and yourself. This can mean the difference between speaking to an empty or full room at the event.

Many events will want slides in advance. I tend to not do that as it limits me and often I get inspiration on the flight there. The only exception is if the event offers translation and especially sign translation. Then I provide slides, extensive notes that I will stick to and a list of special terms and what they mean. It is not fun when you talk about databases and the audience looks confused as the translator talks about kitchen tables.

Making it easier for the audience

I am a firm believer that you should separate yourself from your slides to deliver a great talk. I also realised that this often is wishful thinking.

You will hear a lot of “best practices” about slides and not having much text on them but set the mood instead. That’s true, but there is also a benefit to words on slides. Of course, you shouldn’t read your slides, but having a few keywords to aid your story help. They help you in your presentation flow. They also help an audience that doesn’t speak your language and miss out some of the nuances you add to your talk.

If your slides make at least some sort of sense without your narration you can reach more people. Most conferences will make the slides available. Every single time I present the first question of the audience is if they can get the slides. Most conferences record you and your slides. A sensible deck makes the video recording easier to understand.

When you considered all this, you can go on stage and give the audience what they are looking for. The next thing to tackle is stage technology.

Things that go wrong on stage

Ok, here comes trouble. Stage technology is still our enemy. Expect everything to go wrong.

  • Bring your own power adaptor, remote and connectors but don’t expect there to be a power plug.
  • Don’t expect dongles to work with long cables on stage
  • Don’t expect to be able to use the resolution of your computer
  • Learn about fixing resolution and display issues yourself – often the stage technicians don’t know your OS/device
  • Expect to show a 16:9 presentation in 4:3 and vice versa
  • Expect nothing to look on the projector like it does on your computer
  • Use slide decks and editors/terminals with large fonts and high contrast.
  • Don’t expect videos and audio to play; be prepared to explain them instead
  • Do not expect to be online without having a fallback solution available.
  • Expect your computer to do random annoying things as soon as you go on stage.
  • Reboot your machine before going up there
  • Turn off all notifications and ways for the audiences to hijack your screen
  • Make sure you have a profile only for presenting that has the least amount of apps installed.
  • Expect your microphone to stop working at any time or to fall off your head getting entangled in your hair/earrings/glasses/beard
  • Expect to not see the audience because of bright lights in your eyes
  • Expect to have terrible sound and hearing random things in the background and/or other presentations in adjacent rooms
  • Expect any of your demos to catch fire instead of doing what they are supposed to do
  • Have a lot of stuff on memory sticks – even when your machine dies you still have them. Be sure to format the stick to work across operating systems
  • Expect to not have the time you thought you had for your talk. I normally plan for a 10 minute difference in each direction

I’ve given up on trying high-tech presentations because too much goes wrong. I’ve tried Mac/Keynote, PC/Powerpoint, HTML Slides and PDFs and still things went wrong. I started prefering to have my slides shown on a conference computer instead of mine. At least then I have someone else to blame.

My main trick is that I have my slides as PowerPoint with all the fonts I used on a memory stick. I also have them as a PDF with all animations as single slides if even that will not work out. Be prepaired for everything to fail. And if it does, deal with it swiftly and honestly.

Getting ready to be on stage

Before going on stage there are a few things to do:

  • Announce on social media where and when you are presenting and that it is soon
  • Tell your colleagues/friends at the event where you present and that people may come and talk to them right after
  • Take some time out, go to a place where people don’t pester you and go through your talk in your head
  • Take a bio break, crossing your legs on stage is not a good plan
  • Check that your oufit has no malfunctions, drink some water, make sure your voice is clear (lozenges are a good idea)
  • Take some extra time to get to the room you present. I normally tend to sit in the talk before and use the break in between presentations to set up
  • Stock up on swag/cards and other things to immediately give to people after the talk.
  • Breathe, calm down, you’re ready, you got this

DevRel stage etiquette

Congratulations you made it. You’re on stage and the show must go on. There are a lot of things not to say on stage, and I wrote a whole post on the subject some time ago . In this current context of DevRel there are a few things that apply besides the obvious ones:

  • Don’t over-promise. Your job is to get people excited, but your technical integrity is your biggest asset
  • Don’t bad-mouth the competition. Nothing good comes from that
  • Don’t leave people wondering. Start with where the slides are available and how to contact you. Explain if you will be at the event and where to chat to you
  • Turn off all your notifications on your phone and your computer. You don’t want any sensitive information to show up on screen or some prankster in the audience post something offensive
  • Have a clean setup, people shouldn’t see personal files or weirdly named folders
  • Don’t have any slides that cause controversy without your explanations. It is a very tempting rhetoric device to show something out-of-context and describe the oddity of it. The problem is these days people post a photo of your slide. People without the context but a tendency to cause drama on social media then comment on this. You don’t want to get off stage, open your phone and drown in controversy. Not worth it.
  • Make it obvious who you work for. As mentioned earlier, this can be a problem, but you are there for this reason.
  • Show that you are part of the event by mentioning other, fitting talks on subjects you mention. This is a great way to help the organisers and help other presenters
  • Don’t get distracted when things go wrong. Admit the error, move on swiftly. It is annoying to witness several attempts of a tech demo.
  • If there is a video recording, make sure it makes sense. Don’t react to audience interjections without repeating what the context was. Don’t talk about things people on the video can’t see. When I spoke at TEDx the main message was that you talk more for the recording than the people in the room. And that applies to any multi-track conference.
  • Make sure to advocate the official communication channels of the products and teams you talk about. These are great ways to collect measureable impact information about your talk.

Things that happen after your talk

Once your done, there will be a lot of immediate requests by people. So make sure you have enough energy for that. I’m almost spent right after my talks and wished there were breaks, but you won’t get them.

Other things on your plate:

  • Use social media to thank people who went to your talk and to post a link to your slides using the conference hashtag.
  • Collect immediate social media reactions for your conference report
  • Tell people if and where you will be (probably your booth) for the rest of the conference
  • Find some calm and peace to re-charge. You’ve done good, and you should sit down, have a coffee or water and something to eat. I can’t eat before my talks, so I am famished right after

How do you know you were a success?

From a DevRel point of view it is hard to measure the success of presentations. Sure, you have impressive photos of rooms full of people. You also have some very posititive tweets by attendees and influencers as immediate feedback tends to be polarised. But what did you really achieve? How did your talk help the team and your product?

This is a real problem to answer. I always feel a high when on stage and at the event but a day later I wonder if it mattered to anyone. Sometimes you get lucky. People contact you weeks after telling you how much you inspired them. Sometimes they even show what they did with the information you told them. These are magical moments and they make it all worth while.

Feedback collected by the conference is to be taken with a grain of salt. Often there is a massive polarisation. As an example, I often have to deal with “Not technical enough” and “Too technical” at the same time. Tough to use this feedback.

One trick to make it worth while for your company and measurable is to have short-URLs in your slides. The statistics on those with the date attached can give you an idea that you made a difference.

Fact is that somehow you need to make it measurable. Going to an event and presenting is a large investment. In time, in money and also in emotional efforts. It is a great feeling to be on stage. But also remember how much time and effort you put into it. Time you could have spent on more re-usable and measurable DevRel efforts.

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Developer Relations revelations: Conferences are a lot of work

This is part of a series of posts about the life as a DevRel person and how not all is unicorns and roses. You can read the introduction and the other parts of the series here.

So, today, let’s talk about conferences and attending them as a DevRel person.

Lanyards on my door

As an attendee conferences are amazing. You watch great talks, you can vote with your feet which ones to support. You can network and meet like-minded people. And – at good conferences – you have enough to eat, drink and you even might catch a cool party. It is a great way to get out of the office, be proud of your work or get inspired to do better. It is a welcome distraction from the daily grind and thus you love putting a lot of time into it.

Conferences for DevRel folk aren’t time-out – at all

As a DevRel person, conferences aren’t a distraction. They are part of your job. Whilst other people put extra effort in to enjoy them the fullest, you need to make sure you pace yourself not to burn out. Having a four hour sleep following an after-party is a lot less fun when you have to be on stage next morning or run a booth.

As a DevRel person conferences means 100% work. Of course, you might give a talk or workshop – I will cover that in the next post. You also might have booth duty. And even if that’s not the case, your job is to represent your company and to keep your eyes open for opportunities.

These could be

  • Covering the conference on social media. It is a nice thing to do for the conference organisers and it is a great idea to be part of the buzz
  • Conversations with influencers.
  • Talking to interesting company representatives to get workshop or collaboration opportunites.
  • Watching a talk by a colleague or friend to give them feedback.
  • Checking what the competiton is doing .
  • Eavesdropping on conversations and what currently makes your audience tick.
  • Taking notes and photos and collecting leads to add to your conference report
  • Talking shop with peers and competitors.
  • Shooting videos with interesting people
  • Showing demos on your computer
  • Helping people with problems with your products on their computers
  • Explaining people how to play with your systems
  • Dis-spell myths about your products or your competitors’
  • Give out swag and collect cool swag from others to add to your laptop

This all takes time, and effort, and a lot of concentration. You don’t sit back and enjoy the show – you are reporting on it and are part of it.

Here’s the thing: you get paid to be there. So you need to make it count for the people who sent you and make it measurable.

And that can be exhausting. It is especially exhausting when you don’t want to come across as pushy and on the clock, but be an attendee instead.

Loose lips cause Twitter Drama

Conferences are a chance for attendees to let their hair down and have fun with like-minded peers. Of course, the same can apply to you and it makes sense to be part of the fun crowd. But, whatever you say and how you behave is very much on the record. You’re not at an event – you are in the limelight.

Again: as a DevRel person at an event you are never off the record.

And the record spans much further than the event you are currently at. The bigger and more important your company is, the better headlines any of your mistakes make. We love to throw dirt at successful companies and people – that’s what all gossip magazines are about. And tech magazines beholden to clicks as revenue are not far from those.

A glib remark, a tasteless joke, some banter about your competition – easy to do at an event. And fun to do – everyone does it. But you aren’t everyone and you are not a stand-up comedian who succeeds with witty public outrage.

Fact is, as a person working at the event, you can not be part of indiscretions like that. It probably is even up to you to call these things out – in person, right at the event.

The reason – aside from the obvious – is that as a DevRel person of a hot company or product people repeat what you say. A lot of people are far too enthusiastic to do so. And what happens is that context gets lost. What was good natured fun at an event or a joke on your slides can turn nasty on Twitter for weeks after. You will be misquoted as attacking a competitor. You will come across as badmouthing your company. In a time where tech news outlets get away with quoting tweets quoting you as a source, that can last for years. Every time I am quoted as a “Microsoft engineer on Twitter” I get a small freak-out.

You have to watch how you behave and what you say as how you come across reflects on your company. And context does not protect you.

A classic trick interviewers love to do is an agreement trap. They trying to get you to agree with them when they say something bad or unproven about your competition. You need to be on your toes to not agree. Instead be adamant explaining that you don’t know about this and have nothing to add.

You do represent your company – for better or worse

People also love to bait you to get information that is speculation about your company. They bring up things your company has done in the past or does in departments far away from your influence.

They ask for very simple, true-ish, statements. Statements that make great soundbites. You need to be on your guard to deflect these arguments and not fall into the trap of being recorded as making assumptions. This would mean colleagues of yours will not only have to deal with accusations. They will have to deal with accusations backed up by a company representative. It is very tempting to shut aggressive people up my telling them what they want to hear. But there are consequences. As a DevRel person it is not uncommon that you have to prove the worth of your position to the company every few months. This won’t help.

You need downtime – but it is hard to come by

These things get a lot trickier when you are jetlagged, sleep-deprived, hung over, dehydrated and your head is full of a dozen things you need to cover at the event. Whilst not all these factors should ever be a thing, a mix and match is not uncommon, depending on your outreach strategy.

Be aware that as soon as you are visible, you will have people come to you and ask for your attention. This is a great thing, but it also needs moderation. You need to take breaks to stay lucent and helpful to people’s needs, and you can’t do that for a whole event. You also need a lot of patience as people are prone to asking you the same questions dozens of times at the same event.

Skipping talks

I’d love to see every talk I am also interested in at events, but I am not a conference participant – I am part of it. It also can get weird. Often I sit in a talk I am interested in, but I can’t see it. As people see me as an expert they keep asking me during the talk if I agree with the current points. Often points that are beyond my grasp or I heard for the first time. As a DevRel person you’re a source of confirmation for people. This is not the time to learn. You are better off watching the talk recording later. Unless, of course, the presenter is a someone you want to support or a competitor you need to watch.

I started to use talks as a chance to go back to my hotel room or a quiet room (if the conference offers those – PLEASE DO!). I fall flat on my face, groan a bit and maybe take a 15 minute power nap. I also do other things like answering emails that would otherwise pile up. I change the shirt that is not too comfortable after my talk or shows sweat stains. In any case, I try to do nothing at all and have a quiet room without people for a while to find my Zen again. You need to do this, too. It’s basic work practice and even factory workers have breaks defined by law – take yours.

When you skip some talks and go out you can come back in the breaks to network much more refreshed.

Creature comforts – drinks and food

It is quite tough to feed a herd of humans with things everyone is happy with and can consume. Especially without breaking the budget of your event. Catering is hard and expensive. I applaud every conference organiser that gets it done even half-arsed. I have massive respect for the people serving food and making sure everything stays in order.

That said, if you work on conferences, things get tricky. Lunchbreaks are a great opportunity to start chats and talk to people. Yet, talking whilst eating is tough. If the conference provides access to food before the mad rush, take advantage of that. Have a bit of food beforehand and work the room with a drink later on instead. That way you can talk to people having their break without covering yourself and them in crumbs.

Alcohol, of course, is a tricky subject. Know your limits, or just don’t drink. I learned that a glass of water with ice cubes and a lime works. You can carry it like a cocktail and it gets you in with the drinking crowd without all the ill effects and deflects peer pressure. But hey, up to you, just remember what I wrote earlier about being on the record.

It is in any case a great idea to try to live a tad healthier than people who come to party. I carry nuts and fruit and make sure I use the gym when I can in the evenings and the mornings. It is also a great opportunity to wipe your memory and get into the next day with a fresh start.

The conference end isn’t the end of your work

Once the conference finished, your collation job begins.

  • You collect all unused swag, pack it up and mail it back to the office (or haul it yourself)
  • You write your reports
  • You follow up with leads and type in dozens of emails from business cards
  • You send out information about your talk or workshop to the audience or the attendees.
  • You answer conference demands like your slide deck
  • You collect and sort your receipts for expense reports
  • You answer enthusiastic tweets and emails people sent you – it is not good to keep happy people waiting
  • You remind people you met about your conversations.

All this you need to do this as soon as possible, as the longer you wait, the more you forget. This means you also need to have some energy left for these task.

So, why do it?

Given all this work you may wonder why we bother covering that many events. Well, there are lots of great parts, too. The network you accumulate with peers and conference organisers is worth a lot. Anything to make it easier for you to get invited helps. It also helps your company a lot when they know about lots of different conferences to see which ones make sense to sponsor. And a chance encounter with engineers of a certain company at an event is often a great foot in the door for collaboration. Often I managed to get access to companies that way that sales and marketing people failed to do for years. The peer-to-peer IRL network of engineers and designers is a powerful access point.

In any case, I just wanted to list the needs and demands a dedicated DevRel person has at events. I hope this helps you prepare. I also hope that some people consider this when they tell you – once again – how easy your life is hanging out at events all the time.

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Developer Relations revelations: not all is glamour and fun

I spent this morning at a photoshoot. A photographer dragged me all over Berlin Mitte to take photos of me holding my phone and pretending to communicate. The reason is an essay about “Jobs of the Future” for a German finance magazine. Me, I am a “Developer Relations Person/Developer Evangelist/Developer Advocate” and this is baffling to people with “normal” jobs. I’ve done this for a long time and quite some time ago I wrote the Developer Evangelism handbook.

Don't fall in love, fall in coffee...

It is flattering to see how something that niche gets mainstream attention. It is also frightening to me. The explosion of DevRel opportunities in the last years is amazing. But often I am disappointed. The idea of companies hiring DevRel people in junior positions is odd. People with no company history or product involvement being DevRel is against everything I described.

DevRel is a great opportunity for engineers to move from delivering the product to helping it to become a bigger success. We’re not sales people and we’re not marketing. We’re communicators inside and outside the company and our main task is to make it easy for developers to do their job. That needs in-depth technical knowledge and company experience. That means dealing with the needs of marketing, management and recruiting and translating those to events and team communication. It also means – to a much larger degree – to ensure that the developer’s needs inside and outside the company are communicated in an understandable and actionable manner to the company.

What annoys me a lot more though is that by painting DevRel as a job disconnected from engineering, developers lose respect. And often people don’t get just how much stress, effort and unsatisfactory agreements working in DevRel is.

On the surface, DevRel sounds like a great job. Other people do the work, all you need to do is to present it in social media, at conferences and in blog posts. It also looks incredibly glamorous. You travel all over the world. You stay in hotels all the time. You get paid to go to conferences other people have to beg their managers to get tickets for. You hang out with higher-ups in the company. You always have the coolest new swag and inside information.

Now, I have been doing this job for quite some years now, and it is important to also explain the problems with this job. I don’t want to discourage people from pursuing this idea. But I also want to talk a bit about the things that frustrate, depress and endanger you when you work in DevRel . And I want to explain how some of these things that looks shiny and great can turn exhausting and drain a lot of energy. I’ve encountered burnout and frustration and depression and with every high comes a massive low. So, maybe this will help some of you avoid these.

Over the next few days I will cover a few of the concepts of DevRel and what dark and annoying things you should be prepared for:

  • Attending conferences
  • Presenting/Workshops
  • Traveling
  • Social Media
  • Working with your own company

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Westchester Public Relations Firm Creates New Model for Online PR

Cut-It-Out Communications, Inc., a Westchester public relations agency specializing in the incorporation of online activities in traditional PR programs, today announced it has created a new model to increase client visibility based on the pillars of web site development, search engine marketing and social media. (PRWeb October 31, 2010) Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com …

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