My First Ignite, Speaking and Attending – Done & Dusted – Pt1

This post is going to be all about Microsoft Ignite and my experience as both a 1st time attendee & a 1st time speaker. There’s going to be a lot to read so I highly recommend you go get a brew sorted (tea, coffee, beer, wine etc) before sitting down to read this post which at over  2600 words is quite a read, and this is just part 1 of 2 which focuses on the lead up to Ignite & not Ignite itself which will come in Pt2 of this series.

What is Ignite

Microsoft Ignite is Microsoft’s flagship conference, which hit Orlando, Florida, USA, November 4th to 8th (with an optional Pre Day on the 3rd) and with any big conference it never starts on the first day but for those of us in the wider technical communities and travelling from all over the world to get to attend them it can start as early as the week beforehand.

Microsoft Ignite is big (& then some) at over 30 thousand attendees! Many of the partners, attendees & speakers fly in from every single part of the planet so you can be guaranteed to run into ever increasingly diverse population of attendees, though there’s certainly room for diversity at conferences like Ignite to grow.

With over 1500 sessions (which you can search for on the Session Catalog), mainly about almost all things in the world of Microsoft technologies, for techies there’s something for almost everyone. However there’s also a number of sessions spread out across the week in the Diversity & Inclusion track as well, a track I hope many of those reading will watch sessions from as there were a number of fantastic sessions in this track, details of which I will go into a little later on.

In the Beginning

In my case however, it started all the way back in July when the MVP & RD Call for Content opened on July 9th and whilst I had a vague idea after a few days of umm’ing & arr’ing on what I wanted to submit on, I gave myself time to mull over it before deciding I would submit.

Once I had decided I was going to submit, I firmed up what my not 1, not 2 but 5 different session submissions would be, split across a variety of technical and non-technical sessions & over the coming weeks I polished them off before finally submitting them on the night before the finalised extended closing date for submission on August 6th.

Over the course of the following weeks I moved on with day to day life and waited patiently until acceptance emails started to go out on Tuesday August 20th.

Whilst acceptance emails started to go out around 6 PM UK Time (UTC +1 at the time) & lots of people were already announcing they’d been accepted for Ignite, I received the below stating I’d been accepted for 2 sessions 🎉

So I’d had 2 of those 5 sessions submitted accepted, however, I decided to hold back on announcing that I had been accepted until at least the following day, for a few reasons

  • I had to come to terms that I had been accepted to speak at Ignite, Microsoft’s biggest Technical Conference.
    • Whilst this seems like a given considering I submitted, it still was a huge shock to be accepted, more so on the topics that I had been accepted for.
    • It’s worth pointing out that submitting a topic is not the same as committing to present said topic, you only really can commit once you’ve been accepted & you have come to terms with being accepted and all that comes with presenting a session. Once you’ve done that you can then confirm your acceptance to present that session. Which is why it’s important that organisers don’t just put you on the line up as soon as they send out the acceptance of your session.
    • However I personally would also have liked a bit more time to mull over session acceptance as the acceptance email indicated that we had until Friday 23rd August to pull out. I would seriously recommend that event organisers give at least a full weekend in future for speakers to be able to work out all the logistics around the session, including whether it’s actually feasible or not when they aren’t dealing with their day to day workloads so they can properly relax and think things though (or in my case whiteboard it)
  • I had to be confident in my ability to deliver these sessions.
    • Whilst this again seems like a given, I was very much feeling the onset of Imposter Syndrome, because whilst I think I know a fair amount on the accepted sessions, there’s always this pit of doubt within me about my knowledge, something that I find incredibly difficult to shake off.
  • I had to feel comfortable with the idea of presenting at such a big conference
    • Prior to this I had presented at Techorama & the London leg of Ignite the Tour, which in comparison are what I would classify as medium sized conferences.
    • Both events had drained me a little due to their size & I was worried about how this would transpire to an Ignite sized event.
  • I had to feel comfortable attending such a big conference
    • This in itself was the biggest of the factors for me as over the years I’ve started finding larger crowds less and less comfortable to be a part of, so I had to feel comfortable in myself that just being at Ignite would not over stress and over stretch me, at least not too much.
  • How would agreeing to this, and the stresses of putting together sessions impact me & my mental health in the coming weeks & months
    • Did I feel I could cope with this on top of my day to day workload.
    • Did I feel that in accepting I would adequately stretch myself in a way that I would be overall comfortable with & not over stretch me.
    • At the end of the day my own mental health will always come first & whilst I know my own warning signs, I am not afraid to pull out of sessions because of my own mental health. Something I’ve only ever done once.

Once I had mulled over things, I then had a quick chat with my boss and fellow MVP Rik Hepworth about my concerns, mainly to voice them out loud to someone other than myself & gain some additional feedback on them, particularly as he’s a seasoned pro when it comes to the bigger events and I wanted to hear about the experience from someone close to me that I both know & trust. After that conversation I felt more comfortable and confident & decided that yes I would go forward with my sessions. That’s when I then announced I was going to speak, as you can see below.

I had Anna Chu (Community Lead for Microsoft Ignite) respond (who I was lucky enough to meet and have a good long chat to at Ignite)

and also Shona Bang (ex lead of Diversity & Inclusion, now rebranded #HumansOfIT & lead of the D&I track at this years Ignite) comment – with Shona giving away what one of my sessions was going to be on, (again I was lucky enough to meet Shona and have a good long chat to at Ignite too!)

Looking back at this point I am really glad that only 2 were accepted, you can read more about the sessions that were accepted (inc links direct to the videos) in my prior post Speaking at Microsoft Ignite, but not about tech, as there is a lot of work that goes into a deck & in a future post I will detail just how much work I put into my decks.

However, whilst in the run up to Ignite I had one of the other sessions I had submitted for Ignite, Making Operational Azure Management a Breeze, selected on September 27th for a UK based conference called Evolve, which was happening on Monday October 21st 2019.

Now I had 3 sessions to pull together with only 3 full weeks until Evolve & 5 weeks until Ignite.

Oh well this will be fun, I started to think to myself. #ChallengeAccepted

However I had also come to terms in the prior few weeks my sleep cycle was starting to be more worrisome than it had been previously. So I took myself to the doctors, explained the situation to them in detail (always tell your doctor the full story!) particularly as my sleep hasn’t been fantastic for best part of a decade, thanks to 100+ hour working weeks at McDonalds in my pre-IT career days in early 201x’s (yes only this current decade) & working 2 jobs (days & nights) for into late 2014, and was prescribed some sleep aid medications. I can safely say that having these have helped my sleep no end & whilst I expect my sleep cycle will take some time (& some additional lifestyle changes) to properly kick back into a more regular rhythm, I can already tell there has been some improvement in it, however this could be entirely psychological, something I am currently pondering over in more detail & intend to discuss this with my doctor over the coming months.

Roll forward to the evening of Friday 18th October, after a particularly bad week with sleep (I’d run out of my sleep meds) , I get home after what was reasonably long day and open up my three decks & corresponding Onenote’s to work out how much I had left to do. That’s when panic set in. I realised I had much more than I had thought left to do and had somehow miscalculated how long was left till Evolve, thinking I still had another week left and not just the weekend.

So here comes panic mode, and whilst in panic mode & whilst I know I shouldn’t, I end up telling myself things like

  • I can’t do this
  • I should pull out of doing this
    • I actually started writing emails to pull out of both Evolve and Ignite. Emails I later deleted!
  • I was stupid to agreeing to do this
  • I won’t enjoy myself doing this
  • I wont agree to do this again

However, all that is happening is the side of me that thinks I am destined to fail is coming to surface & this is common when levels of stress are high and end up inducing panic. Luckily, I know what this looks like and more importantly feels like, because I’ve regularly put myself into that kind of situation and over the years have come to realise ways that help me ride out the panic, with activities like walking to the shops, getting a long bath/shower, playing a frame or 5 of snooker (on the table I have at home) & chucking on one of my many calming tracks on Spotify being just a small selection of the things that help be de-escalate the stress of the situation. Heck finding a toilet and locking the door for 2-35 minutes can be the simplest way to let the situation de-escalate when I am out and about.

Once de-stressed, I revert to my more typical growth mindset of

  • I can and will do this
  • I just need to focus on what I need to do now to succeed in doing this
  • I agreed to do this because I know I can do this
  • I have previously enjoyed doing this, so I will do so again
  • Therefore I will agree to do this again
  • I will likely go through this cycle again, but it’s an important cycle to stretch myself to grow as an individual

 

If I had slept well that week, I wouldn’t have had a short (in the grand scheme of things) 2 hour meltdown about it. Thankfully a nice long soak in the bath and a new album on Spotify did wonders and set back onto the more happy path I needed to be to get shit done. This is just a simple example of what bad sleep can do to you (well me), leading to easier levels of less than usual rational thinking.

Rolling on from Friday evening to Sunday morning & the deck for Evolve is now completed, Monday comes along and I deliver the session at Evolve which I think went down well & I was able to crack on with more of my Ignite Decks and get myself back on track to where I wanted to be.

At this point there was just 13 days until Ignite and a fair amount of travel ahead for work in between it all & I still had so much more that I wanted to get into my decks, particularly my Mental Health deck, that I was now looking at my OneNote and moving things from the “must talk about” pile to the “maybe next time” pile so that I could fit it all in.

There’s so much more that I would have liked to talk about but by this point I had already spent many hours in rehearsals, edits, amendments and far too much time in MS Paint too! I couldn’t realistically afford to add in another run of heavy content amendments so started on polishing the session and really getting to know the session flow properly, particularly as this had been the deck I was most concerned about, because whilst I can write and talk about tech, building a deck and talking about a non-technical subject like Mental Health felt 100x harder, perhaps because overall this is a more important topic, so I felt additional stress to “get it right”.

Travel Time

You would think that after a fair amount of travel over the years that I would have my routine down to a tee and be 100% ready, sorted out for my travel & be all prepared, packed the night before with all the alarms set as needed to make the hour long drive to the airport to catch a 10am Sat morning flight. I however crashed on the Friday night when I walked though the door before I had set alarms, I had however been smart earlier on in the week and done extra washes throughout the week, so I was ahead of myself and could easily pack when I woke up at 5am that morning. Rushing around at 5am internally yelling at myself “shit did I pack that”, “shit where is that” and “I’m just going to miss the plane” is certainly one way to wake yourself up in a hurry. Then again so is a can of Red Bull and a cold shower.

Roll on a few hours, it’s past 7am, I have dumped the car off at airport parking, and I’m now sat in Manchester Airport with a pint (of cider) in hand and doing a run through of my Mental Health deck whilst trying to pass the time. I am now at the stage where I am genuinely happy with the deck but need to iron out a few niggles with it, and what better than almost 3 hours to do so at the airport.

But maybe the trusty Surface Book 2 has other ideas

Luckily it has lasted beyond Ignite, but it’s not far off from needing replaced now I don’t think, which is a shame as I really like the keyboard on this device as it’s so easy to type on.

However travelling to Orlando was nice and simple with a direct flight there which I have to call out Virgin Atlantic for such a lovely flight. It certainly was one of the easier and more comfortable of the flights that I have done over the years.

Once I got out at Orlando it was pretty smooth and simple enough getting though and out of Airport Security, registered for Ignite at the Airport and then went about arranging an Uber to my hotel. Once I had dumped bags off I went off in search of the convention centre which was a good 40 minute walk from my hotel and a good way to stretch the legs after the long flight.

Anyway I think that is enough for now and I hope you will join me in part 2 of this post when I will go into a day by day recap of the what the event was like, which I intend to try and get out early next week.

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