Open Source Summit Public speaking – reality and dreams

I had an opportunity to speak at the NASA/Veteran Affairs/State Department’s Open Source Summit earlier this week. I got to be part of a lineup of speakers sharing with attendees on the topic of ‘Building and Managing Community’.   The topic’s near and dear to my heart, as it’s a lot of what I spend my time on at work for the program that I and my company support. It’s also one of the differentiators, I think, in terms of why we’ve been successful so far in this grand experiment on behalf of our customer. Enabling people to understand what we’re building for them, to participate in that and advance it further, even when it’s in directions that we either hadn’t considered or frankly aren’t as interested in pursuing – that takes a lot of time to do well. Until we get better at it, we’re in a mode where we’re investing person by person, responding to emails and evaluating patches folks have submitted. Our private email group so far has > 250 messages on it this month, all of which are moderated to make sure the person sending it didn’t accidentally leak something they shouldn’t, and most of which are responded to. (OK, the 250 counts my team’s responses – I’d rather spend time giving good responses than getting perfect metrics – our responses are moderated, too, so technically an accurate metric there.) One of my goals over the next few months is to figure out ways to provide better community engagement outside of the email pattern, as some things coming down the pike for this year will cause our 1500+ community to grow significantly. I was impressed to hear that Eclipse, across its many many projects and millions of lines of code, only has 15 folks on payroll. That was inspiring, and will cause me to go looking for patterns and ideas I can use in community building to assist with those sorts of approaches. (Suddenly debating attending the Community Leadership Forum in Portland in July this year – was a very useful thing to attend two years ago as we were standing up our program. I may need a refresher, methinks.)

The room wasn’t large, compared to some other rooms I’ve spoken in of late, and the audience was interested in our topic. The forum of the presentations was that each speaker had 6 minutes to talk on their topic, and then we’d later break out into separate rooms to let folks engage directly. I wish it had worked out slightly differently, as that meant the speakers didn’t get to engage across each other and all of the attendees in the room ended up in different rooms: one of my lessons learned throughout this whole community-building effort for our program has been that I/we don’t know it all, and there’s nearly always someone who has a nugget or more that would be useful to hear and consider. Didn’t really have much of that opportunity. I didn’t get to attend Deborah Bryant’s talk, as I got pulled in with someone who wanted to chat after my talk.  (Did catch the tail end of Mike O’Neill’s breakout session on OSEHRA – very interesting to hear other government projects treading similar paths as ours.  Wandering across the OSEHRA site this morning, seeing lots of great community tools / patterns I’d like our project to emulate.)  My own breakout drew the slot before lunch as my time, which was also the slot at the same time as the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation and an Apache Foundation guy (separate rooms), so, uh, I and one attendee had a great conversation. Well worth it, though, as this guy was working to do some of the same kinds of things for his customer, and we were able to share notes and I could steer him towards some resources built out to help with that path.

Did realize it’s a long time since I’ve been in Toastmasters. 6 minutes is a short time to try to pack in a few key points. Since I work on behalf of an agency that has certain review requirements before you can speak publicly, I couldn’t develop new materials for this briefing. The slide deck I pulled from was one which had originally been built out for a 30 minute talk. Before this week’s talk, I removed a number of slides, and took out a few bullets that didn’t lend to my point for this week, but it still ended up as a talk delivered at race-pace. Clear ideas in my head, some of which came out well, I believe, but I’m still waiting to see the video to do my own critique of what came out and how well it came across. And possibly ship myself back to Toastmaster’s sessions….

So, the talk was Thursday, and I guess my brain just got around to processing everything last night while I was sleeping. Woke up from a dream this morning just as I was at a conference, being called up as one of the first speakers, patting myself on the back for being well prepared and ready to provide useful information. The conference organizer (thankfully only in my dream) tells us as we’re moving up from our seats that we’re going to kick off the conference by having the first presenters sing the Star Spangled Banner together. Woke up at that point, kind of giggling at myself. Uh, I sing in church and I’ll sing in worship gatherings, where the point is to worship and make a glorious noise unto the Lord. I don’t sing otherwise, because I don’t sing well. Glad that even in my dream I didn’t have to witness the outcome… No idea what the dream “means”, in terms of what my brain is processing back there, but now I’m not only mentally running through whether I got my points across well in my actual speech, but whether I can remember the words of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and which points were going to be painful for listeners versus radically painful for listeners. Hee hee….

(Technical note: for those of you who look up the agenda, I don’t work for DISA, the agency they have listed.  We cleared that up slightly at the conference, just to convey that the agency my company and I work for has requirements as to what you can share about who you work for, and so I wouldn’t be sharing that information quite so directly there…)

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