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7 Steps to Ace your First Drupal Camp Talk

I've always thought that learning how to be a presenter would be a good skill to learn but in the past, I was intimidated. Even so, I knew I wanted to present on Website Accessibility at this year's NEDCamp, so this was a fear I needed to conquer. I wasn't sure where to begin. Now that the camp is over and the presentation went well, I thought that sharing my own Drupal camp speaking experience might give a first-time presenter the push they need. 


1.Reflect on Other Sessions That Relate to your Topic

I had only presented at a camp one time prior to this but over the past few years, I've attended quite a few sessions on accessibility and have learned a great deal in doing so but many sessions I went to were missing a key piece I was always hungry for: code.

Before I dove into writing my talk, I took a step back to reflect on the “lessons learned” from my first ever presentation at New Hampshire Drupal Camp in 2013. First and foremost, I learned that preparation was key. You need to know the material very well but you don't necessarily have to be an expert.


2. Take a Problem/Solution Approach

I also re-read a team communication that Mediacurrent partner Dave Terry recently sent out about "Pitch Practice." A key takeaway from this email communication was this three step presentation format:

  1. Identifying the problem and your solution to it
  2. Making the problem relatable for your target audience
  3. Backing up your solution to the problem with quantifiable data

The email also mentioned how important it is to practice. Many of us often use our family, friends, and colleagues to "bounce ideas" off of and it really does help to say it out loud. I practiced this presentation at my local Drupal meetup and that really helped me figure out what worked and what needed to be adjusted.

3. Get Inspired

In that same email, there was also a link to Nancy Duarte's TED Talk "The Secret Structure of Great Talks." In that video, Nancy explains the process of this secret structure. I boiled it down to using a story structure in your presentation where you bring the audience on a journey. You'd illustrate the current situation, touching upon the problem area and then identify how your idea solves the issue. All while engaging the audience, generating laughs and claps but also modeling the marvel of your idea to compel them to help you see it through.

4. Make a Personal Connection

I knew I wanted to start my session with a personal story, but I hadn't decided which story I was going to tell until the week of the camp. You see, there was an event that occurred during that very week that made me pause and later reflect on. Basically, the teacher at my youngest son's school had a school desk arrangement that worked great for most first graders. But when we came to the school's open house, this desk arrangement was not wide enough for his big sister's wheelchair to navigate, and therefore he could not share all of his accomplishments with his family in the areas of the room which were inaccessible.

What made me think to share this story was that the teacher did not think of making her room wheelchair accessible. I really wanted to tie this idea that you don't know what you don't know. I didn't want anyone to be able to leave my session NOT thinking about making their website accessible because now they knew.

5. Begin with an Outline

Outlining the ideas I had, I really wanted to frame what changes folks could make. After all, the title was going to be "Making Accessibility Happen." I began to break down what specifics I was going to cover and used the WCAG 2.0 guidelines from the W3C. I've collected quite an extensive list of resources over the past few years on a11y but found the w3c WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference guide to be the most helpful when planning my outline.

My outline started out like this:

  1. Storytime
  2. Principles of WCAG 2.0
    1. Perceivable
    2. Operable
    3. Understandable
    4. Robust
  3. Testing Tools
  4. Resources

But quickly evolved into:

  1. Personal story
    1. "you don't know what you don't know"
      1. find a personal story that folks can identify with
      2. tie final line "you don't know what you don't know" into first line of session slide
      3. underlying tone of empowering listeners to walk out of session ready to make a difference
  2. Principles of WCAG 2.0 - P.O.U.R.
    1. a. Perceivable - definition
      1. Alt text
      2. Meaningful order
      3. Color not used to convey information
    2. Operable - definition
      1. No Flicker
      2. Table Headers
      3. Form Element Labels
    3. Understandable - definition
      1. Input Errors
      2. Language Detection
    4. Robust - definition
      1. Validate HTML
  3. Testing Tools
    2. Contrast Checker
    3. HTML Validator
  4. Resources

6. Represent your company (and personal) brand

How did I create the slides? Originally, I put each of my outline ideas on a note card and wrote what I wanted to say about each thing on the back of the note card. Luckily, Mediacurrent has a slide deck starter kit for this sort of thing. I didn't stray from the starter kit's color scheme, typography or images. I composed my slide deck by arranging my notecards in what seemed like the most logical layout to present my information in. After I had my slides arranged, I added the example screenshots of code to each slide in the deck where applicable. Finally, I worked with Mediacurrent's marketing team to give the slides a final review. Having that second set of eyes can help you find any potential errors or oversights that you may miss when you're so close to the material. 

7. Practice, practice, practice.

Have you ever been to a session where the presenter mentions something about "creating their presentation the night before?" Yeah, don't do that. I mean it's fine to "tweak" it right up until the night before but don't wait until the last minute to put it all together.

I practiced it in front of the mirror to see what I look like when I'm talking. I practiced it in front of our local Drupal meetup. I practiced it to see how long it was.

I didn't do it this time but last time I actually recorded myself and listened to what I sound like. There's a lot to learn from that exercise.

I may not be a seasoned veteran at speaking yet but it's a great skill to have and hone. I hope if you’re reading this, maybe learning about my experience will give you the push you need. Good Luck!

Additional Resources
DC ATL Keynote: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Organization | Video Recording
Planning a DrupalCamp: Lessons from DrupalCon NOLA | Blog Post
DrupalCon Accessibility Session Highlights | Blog Post

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