My community college had a public speaking class as part of their curriculum and, to be honest, this class scared the heck out of me. Standing in front of a group of fellow students caused a deep feeling of dread until I gave my first speech. We were able to present on a topic of our choosing and I chose to talk about the stock market. I was a bit of a finance nerd at the time, so this was in my wheelhouse. I gave the talk and it went as well as it could. I didn't fall flat on my face, nor did I pass out. “Heck,” I thought to myself, “maybe I'll survive this class.” After that first talk, I gave a few more presentations and what I found is that if I spoke on a topic that I had some expertise in, the talks generally went well.

After finishing this class, it would be around five years before I'd speak in public again. This time, the stakes would be higher as I was about to be a professional speaker/trainer.

My last W2 job was in the early 90s at a company called Pinnacle Publishing. The company ended up having some hard times and I was laid off. Luckily for me, I'd made some great contacts/friends at Pinnacle and was able to use my network to find a few opportunities. One of them was to become a FoxPro for Windows instructor.

It was going to be sink or swim on the whole training gig. I prepared for this job two ways. The first was by attending a class given by one of the top-rated instructors, David Anderson. I loved his style of presenting and adopted it as my own (great artists steal, am I right?). The second step was to get in front of a crowd and speak. I did this by asking the leader of the local FoxPro user group if I might be able to speak. “Yessir, you can speak at the next group meeting,” was his response. I gave a talk on something called DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange). I'd become a bit of an expert in this area so I was comfortable speaking on it. The user group went well and I was off to the races.

That was Hartford, Connecticut, which would be the location my first training class, and luckily for me, it went well. My beginner class had - drum roll please - two whole attendees. The intermediate and advanced class added five more people for a grand total of seven people. I consider myself fortunate that it was a low number, as larger classes have their own unique challenges.

Long story short, my first class went well and I signed up for more. I did 11 weeks of training in the first year. I probably gave another 60+ weeks of training over the next five or so years. I'd caught the speaking bug, which has, over the years, afforded me the opportunity to speak to literally thousands of people.

My public speaking wasn't limited to teaching. I continued my love of speaking at user groups and was also lucky enough to speak at numerous technology conferences. These conferences ranged from small regional conferences to epic conferences hosted by companies like Microsoft. These conferences have taken me to many cities in North America and Europe. I feel I've lived a charmed life and am lucky to have been afforded these opportunities.

What I found, though, is that after doing this for 20 years non-stop, it was no longer fun and was starting to wear on me. I felt like it may be time to retire from public speaking.

I'll tell you why that happened. I became isolated when going to conferences. I'd show up, do my talk, and retreat to my hotel room. It's easy to do this, as there was always the excuse, “I need to work.” This was the first sign that I needed a break. I'd become jaded and didn't really like interacting with attendees and other speakers. And, to be honest, it's the interactions that are 100% of the value of these shows.

The second thing is that I found myself “phoning it in.” I'd create a talk and become bored with it after three, four, or five deliveries. Finally, I was using conference speaking as a score card to keep my MVP status with Microsoft. I was on a hamster wheel. So, what happened? I gave up my MVP and stopped speaking entirely. I was done and, to be honest, it felt good to be done.

It was a tweet that brought me out of “retirement.” My long-time friend D'arcy Lussier runs a conference called Prairie Dev Con and had just opened the call for speakers. This tweet stirred something in me and, after careful consideration, I decided to submit a talk or two. The bug returned! I had a desire to speak again and thought I had some fresh ideas to contribute. I submitted topics on SQL Server stored procedures and Elasticsearch, two technologies I was familiar with and thought I had new ideas to share. I was selected to speak and haven't turned back since. I gave talks in 2018 and 2019 and was on schedule to speak in 2020. As a matter of fact, I planned to give my first keynote(s).


In my last column, I gave a short preview of my keynote for the Regina and Winnipeg legs of PDC in 2022, and I can tell you that I had a real blast delivering the keynote at both shows. But let me tell you what I really learned this year.

I really missed speaking at developer conferences and I especially missed interacting with attendees and speakers. This was an unforeseen set of rewards. I was able to reconnect with old friends as well as make a number of new ones. I hadn't felt this way since my early days on the speaking circuit.

What led to this change of heart? I believe it can be attributed to the old parable: “separation makes the heart grow fonder.” I attribute these new feelings to the fact that I needed these connections more than I knew, and that the time off unexpectedly brought that back these feelings.

Sometimes taking a break is a good thing; just what you need to refresh and rejuvenate.