PyCon SE was held online this year. I do not think I am the only one missing the buzz and energy of a physical conference, but a two-day online event gives plenty of inspiration too! The organisers have kindly shared their experiences in a blog post, for those of you who are planning to host a similar event. Being an online conference, PyCon SE 2020 was a truly international experience, which was fun.
The organisers had arranged keynote speakers early on, but us mere mortals could submit proposals until mid-September. Although this was their first time organising an online event, you could tell by the submission form that they have plenty of experience in arranging conferences. Apart from the abstract, they wanted a disposition with timings as well as information on any previous public speaking experience. As it turned out, the disposition was a great help when I wrote the script.
Once my proposal was accepted, it was time to start working on the script. The talk would be a fleshed-out version of the lightning talk I held at Agila Sverige earlier this year. I had to lengthen it from 10 to 25 minutes. There was still plenty of material left and I also added some new material on our tech stack and why Python can be central in an agile and lean organisation. This is PyCon after all! I also added some tips on literature, for the audience to take with them, as I appreciate things like that when listening to speeches myself. Life feels pretty grim at the moment, so I prepared cheerful slides with pictures of children and dogs at agility contests. I wanted to bring some positive energy to the audience.
Volunteering as a moderator
On top of that, I also volunteered to moderate speeches. As my speech was on Friday the 13th., I said that I would only help out on Thursday. The organisers held meetings with us to help us get familiar with the tool StreamYard that we were going to use during the conference. StreamYard was easy to use, although it was easy to confuse the internal chat with posting into the public YouTube stream.
As a moderator, it was my job to introduce the speaker and to get his pre-recorded video up and running. Unfortunately, I made a mistake - there was no sound - so the recording had to be restarted. Luckily, the speaker was experienced and calm, and the little mishap was soon forgotten. The workshop, A Modern Python Developers Toolkit, was pre-recorded and the presenter was available for questions on Slack throughout the workshop. It was a very successful format, and so worth remembering. Moderating was challenging and fun. You had to stay focused as nothing was rehearsed.
My talk, Our customers don’t care that we are agile, was held on Friday afternoon. I had rehearsed several times and it was just over 24 minutes long. Perfect! All those preparations did not help stage fright though, and having the kids at home with a cold forced me to rethink the setup. The moderator was calm and reassuring and once I got going, the nerves dropped. I was standing up during the speech. It gave me so much energy and made me feel more powerful and competent. Looking at the timings, I realised I was speaking a bit too fast and was calm enough to slow down a bit. The moderator had some interesting questions and even though I did not do a full 24 minutes, everything went smoothly. The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to the remaining speeches.
Relax and reflect
I had a hard time focusing on the talks before I was done with my speeches. I would probably have learned more from the talks if I had only been attending as a listener. Perhaps a more experienced moderator/speaker would be able to switch focus better. Still, I got some inspiration and thanks to the workshop I moderated, now have two new tools that will come in handy in the daily work.
Speaking was fun, but moderating was more rewarding. Life can feel a bit gloomy at the moment, with the pandemic and a constant stream of bad news in the media. Volunteering and doing something for the community helped fight alienation and lifted my spirit. Onboarding volunteers was probably a lot of work for the organisers, so timewise I doubt they gained much from my efforts. Perhaps my most significant contribution was raising morale by trying to help. Moderating meant speaking in public without a script as well as being responsible for pressing buttons in the right order. I was pretty nervous about it, but contributing to the community in this way was still a big impact - low effort task. It was very rewarding, and hopefully a small help for the organisers of PyCon SE 2020. I will do it again and encourage you to do the same!