Behind the scenes at TechEd EMEA – Things I learned about presenting at large conferences

I'm back from TechEd in Barcelona, and it was one of the most fun, scary and humbling roller coaster rides I have ever been on.

I am a bit of a glutton for punishment becuase I signed up to do two sessions and before I knew it I was scheduled to do one in the auditorium (on the largest stage I have ever seen, 760 sq ft).  Not only that, but when I got to Barcelona they had scheduled me to do a repeat of the interactive session.

I really do appreciate all the people that showed up at my sessions and I hope that I got at least some of you to take the red pill🙂 

Lesson #1, don't talk to the Speakers coach 2 hours before your first presentation 

Everyone that hadn't spoken before at TechEd got to spend an hour with a professional speakers coach, and if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to make sure that your session with the coach is not scheduled for 2 HOURS BEFORE your first auditorium session:)  As you might guess, mine was:)  So two hours before we went through some of the talk. I know I may only be picking out the negatives here but with my brain really really wired all the feedback that I could process was "My voice is too low, my accent is to grave, and I am speaking way too fast for my own good"...  yeah, that will go real well in the auditorium:)   He gave me some really good pointers, but again, my brain was way too wired to process any of it.

Lesson #2, If a demo doesn't work right before the presentation, chances are it won't work at the presentation (I'm happy I had a backup plan)

I got to the auditorium about an hour in advance, just in time to see an awesome presentation about what is new in c#.  I wish I could remember the presenters name but at that point I was in pre-presentation coma.  




I had prepared and gone through my presentation a million times, and this is stuff that I do every day (debugging that is, not presenting:)) so even though I was really confident with the presentation there was this one demo that had been taunting me.  I knew that if I didn't stop a stress test (in the demo right before it) it would fail miserably... 

Well, it's not all that hard to figure out what happened:)  of course I didn't remember to stop the stress test:)  but... luckily enough I had a backup plan and was able to show the results of the test anyways.  




Lesson #3, I am not Scott Hanselman or Roy Osherove, I shoud have asked for a smaller room

If I would have done the whole thing over I wish it would have been in a smaller room.  I like to think of my self as a pretty animated person.  I love presenting.  Don't get me wrong, I am not Scott Hanselman (my favorite presenter btw), but in a smaller room I can make more of a connection with the audience. 

Just look at the pic and compare my size to the size of the screen:) 

In the auditorium it is hard to even make out a single person so it's kinda like talking for 75 minutes to yourself:) and unless you are extremely good or find yourself really funny, that drains your energy pretty fast...    

I looked at the pictures and about 2 minutes of the video (all I coud muster:)) and yeah, hmm, maybe not as animated as I pictured it in my head:)    Next time I need to think more Don Box, presenting from a bathtub

Doug promised me that he would join me next time to do a scottish dance on stage for the intermission:) (he'll probably kill me over this comment) but feel free to jump in and tell him on his blog that he should:)

Lesson #4, Pairing up to do an interactive session is a stroke of genius

After the break-out session we had country drinks, I had a great time, and 130 swedish developers showed up at the Swedish country drinks.  YAY!!!  

Chatting to some of my colleagues from work that were there I came up with the idea of having one of our architecture specialists join me for the interactive sessions and it was probably one of the best decisions I've made.  Mikael Deurell did an awesome job and we had soo much fun delivering the session...



First we had a 5 minute "what do you want to know?" where Mikael wrote down all the topics that came up on the white board. 

We wen't through them point by point and they just magically interweawed with eachother prompting new questions.  Mike also took notes on the whiteboard of all the commands that I ran in the debugger which worked out excellent since there was no "mumbling with your face to the whiteboard, back to the audience"

Some questions came up around performance counters and Mike went through his spiel about how you can set up counter sets and alerts to make sure that you have your ducks in a row and have a baselines from test that you can use when monitoring in production.

I learned a lot, both from him and from the experiences that the audience shared.


The other cool thing about pairing up to do a session, except for that it leaves you free to roam around the room instead of being chained to the whiteboard, is that at least to me it did make it more interactive since we could bounce stuff off eachother.  Not only that, but we had two people keeping track of the time instead of one, and it was nice to have someone to give you instant feedback on stage by saying things like "let's move on to the next topic" etc.    Loads of fun.

Lesson #5, Interactive sessions are fun, especially if they are really interactive.

Our grand scheme for the session was really simple.  We ask people what they want to know about and talk about that.   For some reason I was under a misconception that european audiences would be really hard to flirt with but man was I wrong. 

Both interactive sessions ended up completely full (to the point where they set up the session closed signs on the door) and from the time we started and throughout the 75 minutes there were constant questions and comments from the audience.  I wouldn't have believed it if someone told me that you could have an active conversation with 80 people at once but that is exactly what it felt like.  THE AUDIENCE WAS PURELY EXTRAORDINARY!!!  

I came out of the interactive sessions so full of adrenaline that I just couldn't stop smiling.  If you were there I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Lesson #6, The best part of a conference is not the sessions, it's the time between sessions



I was sitting in the speakers lounge prepping for one of my sessions and this guy shows up and says "oh, you're tess?" and it turns out to be mr. Jon Flanders himself, the biztalk/WF guru.  Where else can you meet people like that?  Really enjoyed the conversation...

In the architect ask the expert booth I made friends with Björn (excellent blog btw) and Hasse who turned out to work in the same team as my husband, man the world is small...

I got to do some shopping at Desigual and ate some great food at the sea front restaurants at point olympic.  Just have to say, I do admire their attempts in making the menu varied.  There was pud thai, meze, chinese food, pasta, tapas, turkish kebab, sushi just to name a few entries on the menu:)   I would love to see the chefs at that restaurant:)




I'm off doing some workshops at the moment, but as soon as I get back I'll post the ppts for the sessions and hopefully I'll find a place where I can put the video too if anyone want's to see it.

Have fun,

Comments (17)

  1. Steven Cheng says:

    Thanks for sharing. Interesting Experience

  2. That’s really interesting. Even though I speak to much smaller audiences, it’s still very helpful.

  3. Hi Tess,

    I am one of the tiny ppl that was in the audience in the auditorium. I think the presentation went very well, and the problem with the loadtest still running was hardly noticed :).

    Although, because i follow your Blog, the presentation was pretty known to me. I wish i had time to come to one of the interactive sessions, but i missed those. Still nice to see you in reall life.

    Greetings from Holland.


  4. Thanks for all this Tess!

    I’m getting ready to do my first conference gig at DevTeach Montreal, doing 3 sessions, and although I’ve had experience being in front of a LOT of people, in any really large situation, it also involved standing behind a guitar.

    While I think I could entertain 3 large groups at DevTeach with a guitar, I seriously doubt that’s what they’re expecting, so reading your tips and comments was definitely appropriate and timely!


  5. Tess says:

    Thanks much for comming Martinj, would have been nice to meet in person…

    Dave, good luck at your conference, i think you should bring out the guitar:)  

  6. I was on your second "interactive session" and I was really impressed of your deep knowledge!

    Thanks for this really great session!

  7. Tess says:

    Glad you liked it Jochen, and thanks much for comming.  

    I just loved the way everyone from the audience pitched in on the interactive sessions 🙂

  8. MisterFantastic says:


    Presenting in front of such a great crowd needs a great skill and bravery . You did that .Cheers 🙂

    Thanks ,


  9. Simone says:

    Hi Tess,

    congratulation on you speak!!

    I had the chance to work with you 5 years ago, when we had a nasty problem with a hi-traffic website (due to a bug in Win2003 web-edition), probably you don’t remember of me.

    I glad you climbed to this level.

  10. Tess says:

    Hi Simone,    

    You would be surprised at the things I remember:)  

    I may not be able to recall every detail but I am probably one of the lucky ones to find my job very interesting so I pretty much remember at least about 90% of the issues I’ve worked on:)

  11. Koen says:

    Hi Tess,

    I was at your second interactive session and I just loved it. Great session!

    It was the first time I saw windbg and although it is not the most easy to use tool I was really impressed.

    Today we had a problem on a production server with a service that uses WF. I couldn’t run the service locally on my machine so I gave it a try, and I took the red pill, created a dump and started up windbg cause I knew “the truth is out there”.

    A new world opened for me and first it took me some time to find out what was wrong but eventually I did find the memory leak and the root object. The solution however was not that easy but I found that also.

    Without your blog I probably would not have found it or at least it would take (a lot) more time.

    PS: We had a small talk afterwards  at “meet the experts”. We also talked about a book covering debugging .NET application with widbg but I forgot ho wrote it..sorry.

    Can you recall what book we talked about?

    Btw, never thought of writing a book yourself?



  12. Tess says:

    Very cool,  glad you were able to find the problem.

    The book I was talking about was John Robbins "Debugging Microsoft .net 2.0 Applications"

  13. Igor A. says:

    Hi Tess,

    I’ve been at 2 of your sessions: the Auditorium one and the Interactive one!

    It’d been very interesting following you with your passion for the work coming out…

    I had a question to you also at the ATE…even though I didn’t have the problem mentioned yet.



  14. Jag har vid ett antal tillfällen fått hjälp av en talarcoach på Microsoft, hon är

  15. Today I read a really bad announcement regarding WinDbg. It seems that the CLR-team has decided, that WinDbg must not support .NET in any public release.

    This is a really shock! I come from the "unmanaged" world, and I am really missing the source-feature with managed code. So it is really bad, that this feature (which was in will noe be removed for ever…

    Good for your, that the internal MS-build has this feature.

    What do you think about this?

  16. Tess says:

    I am sorry to hear that that is the case, but I do understand the reasoning behind it (mentioned in Pats newsgroup posting), documenting the APIs used would be a very daunting task and you always have to weigh benefits of doing something like that vs. benefits of implementing new features or improving current freatures in the CLR.

    I rarely use it in the internal versions since I don’t often have the source code for the applications I am debugging so it doesn’t affect me as much as it probably would others, but yes, I am a bit sad that this could not be included because they did a really good job with it.  

  17. Hi Tess

    I attended your interactive session at TechEd Barcelona and I was impressed about your knowledge and passion! Thanks a lot for your input and your blog.

    Many greetings from Switzerland


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