What a Journey! From Conference Participant to Keynote Speaker

What a Journey! From Conference Participant to Keynote Speaker

“Hi, my name is Lisi, and I’m a tester.” This is how I start all of my conference sessions these days. My sessions? My very own talks and workshops? It still feels strange to think of myself as a public speaker. After all, this had always been one of my greatest fears! And yet this is what I became in the last years.

Incredible Impact

The very first conference I ever attended was Agile Testing Days in 2015. I did not have the opportunity to go to any conference before that. Well, I probably could have fought for it if I had known that this was worth fighting for. Back then I read a lot about this conference on Twitter and realized I really wanted to go to learn more (and, truth be told, to see Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory for the first time). This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: attending a conference changed my life. Here’s how.

  • I’ve attended my very first conference and experienced the value of stepping out of my comfort zone. Masses of people are normally not to my liking as an introvert, yet here I made great connections also for years later.

  • I’ve spoken with Lisa for the first time in real life! She was the one that welcomed me in the testing community in the first place, and she was a massive supporter ever since.

  • I’ve started my own blog, something I’ve always considered, yet never dared to do; until other conference attendees gave me the encouragement I needed.

  • I’ve found my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee! The impact of this moment cannot be overrated. Meeting him was the beginning of my public speaking journey which opened the door to many more conferences, learning opportunities and in general personal growth.

  • I’ve done three public challenges, along with the constant support of Toyer; the first one being exactly this public speaking challenge.

  • I’ve attended meetups for the first time, connecting with the local community.

  • I’ve done my first webinar and my first video course!

  • I’ve attended all of the following Agile Testing Days in a row. Neither my personal nor my company’s budget would have allowed that, yet my public speaking journey did.

  • I’ve given 20 sessions at 13 different conferences in 9 different countries since 2017, with 2 more conferences already scheduled this year.

  • I’ve given two keynotes, with the third one coming at Agile Testing Days 2019 - together with Toyer.

The biggest impact, however, was the community. All of the above was only feasible for me through the constant encouragement and support that I’ve received from our wonderful community from the beginning. I realized I could never pay that back, so I was eager to pay it forward at least! Besides my own learning, this was the major reason for me to share my knowledge via blogging and speaking. I am really glad I could already give back in multiple ways, even by advising on how to become a conference speaker - something I’ve never imagined before.

From Back Then Till Today

Now, how did it all begin? The very first spark was ignited back at Agile Testing Days 2015 when Lisa said something along these lines to me: “Why don’t you give a talk, maybe a lightning talk? You know, you have a story to share, too!” I was super impressed when she told me that she was at the conference for her own learning - and speaking was her entry ticket. Yet back then I was not ready for that. The mere thought of speaking frightened me.

Enter 2016. Again I had the chance to attend Agile Testing Days, and with it came the opening keynote of Abby Fichtner: “Pushing the Edge on What's Possible”. This super inspiring talk set the atmosphere for the conference and was the lunch talk topic of the next day. This lunch conversation marked a milestone in my life, being the moment of my first pact with Toyer. We had met the day before in a workshop. The next day over lunch we shared our fears and discovered we had the same one. You guessed it, public speaking! Inspired by the moment, we made a deal: we agreed to come back to Agile Testing Days as speakers. Something I had never thought I would agree on. Oh my, what had I gotten myself into?!

Long story short: what was so intimidating back then, became real the following year. We indeed managed to get selected as speakers for the 2017 edition of Agile Testing Days. Effort, learning and a portion of luck led us there. We spent the whole year finding out how to become a conference speaker. How to submit, what to take care of when writing an abstract, getting feedback, revising and iterating over it again. Then - getting accepted! So we really had to do it now. The learning continued: How to tell our story? How to do an intriguing presentation? How to design the slides? Not to forget lots of administration and organizational details: getting remote presenters and cable adapters, figuring out how to physically and mentally prepare ourselves for our session, all the communication with the conference organizers we haven’t been aware of before, promoting the conference and our session, and much more.

The important thing: We made it. From participant to speaker. What next? We definitely wanted to share this story of ours so we submitted it for European Testing Conference - and they accepted it! This happened to be Toyer’s and my first paired talk. So we had to learn a lot again. How to pair present in an engaging way? How to present our story as the closely entangled one it is? We could never have done it alone. After this amazing experience, we were eager to share our story also at Agile Testing Days where everything began. We hoped to inspire others to make a pact themselves and help each other out of their comfort zones. Toyer and I dared to submit this as a workshop for Agile Testing Days 2018. If not there, where else would this get accepted? The magic happened and our dream became real! We got a three-hour workshop and helped spark inspiration in a few others to become learning partners. One pair is even giving a session at Agile Testing Days 2019 together: Viktorija Manevska and Eddy Bruin with “You have fears and doubts, too”. How awesome is that?

Now, what else? You can imagine the overwhelming joy when Toyer and I learned that we got invited to return to Agile Testing Days 2019 - this time even as keynote speakers! We got the stunning honor to close the conference this year with our story. I’m still speechless. And honestly, frightened again. But at the same time I know I’m ready. I’m not alone. We both know now we can do this! We have each other’s backs, we only need to prepare. So, back to the learning bench again! How to do an engaging and inspiring closing keynote as a pair? We will find out and hope to see you there! ;-)

In Futurespect

Our public speaking journey is still not over. What’s missing? Well, haven’t given a full-day tutorial yet at a conference. So let’s see what comes!

Overall, this whole endeavor hugely impacted Toyer’s and my life. We will speak at further conferences, meet more intriguing people, learn with them, share what we learned on our way so far. The best thing, however, is that our learning partnership is not limited to public speaking. It was the reason to get started, yet we took it way beyond to master further personal challenges. We will build on that in the future as well.

All this has been part of my journey so far. I couldn’t have done it alone. So let me ask you now: what’s your story? You know, you have one to share, too!

P.S.: Wanna read a different angle on this journey? Then go ahead and check out my Story of a First-time Conference Speaker!

About Elisabeth Hocke


Having graduated in sinology, Lisi fell into agile and testing in 2009 and has been infected with the agile bug ever since. She’s especially passionate about the whole-team approach to testing and quality as well as the continuous learning mindset behind it. Building great products which deliver value together with great people is what motivates her and keeps her going. She received a lot from the community; now she’s giving back by sharing her stories and experience. She tweets as @lisihocke and blogs at www.lisihocke.com. In her free time, you can either find her in the gym running after a volleyball, having a good time with her friends or delving into games and stories of any kind.