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Virtual POWERUp 2020

Dawn May shares insights on presenting at COMMON conferences.

The annual COMMON conference, POWERUp2020 is live this week as a virtual event. It’s sad that COMMON’s 60th anniversary cannot be celebrated in person, but the virtual conference is still a great opportunity for the best IBM i education in the industry. If you’re attending this event, you can network with speakers, partners, and other attendees.  The presentation recordings will be available to attendees for a couple of weeks after the conference ends, which gives you the opportunity to listen to sessions you couldn’t attend while the conference was live. 
The conferences are valuable, but COMMON also hosts an extensive online learning catalog. Some of this material is free to everyone, but a COMMON membership allows access to the entire library. This online education content is a delivered via recorded presentations across a large variety of topics. 
COMMON has been invaluable to my professional career. Between educational opportunities, networking and speaking, it has helped me expand my knowledge and improve my skills.  So how did I become involved with COMMON?  
The first conference I attended was a S/38 technical conference (not a COMMON event), very early in my career. I attended simply for educational purposes, and I came away very impressed by the speakers.  I greatly respected their ability to speak so well on technical topics.  I secretly harbored a goal of someday being “one of them” regarding knowledge, expertise, and poise. My first few attempts at speaking were meager. In the late 1990s, I had worked on some enhancements to the operating system and was given the opportunity to speak about them at a few COMMON conferences. I was extremely nervous, and my voice cracked and quivered. I had trouble remembering what to say without notes.  I displayed my charts on (gasp!) transparencies that we called foils. After one of my sessions, someone from the audience told me I shouldn’t be so nervous, that my material was excellent, and I just needed to be more comfortable in front of an audience. After 1998, I didn’t speak at COMMON again for 10 years.
In 2008, when the Navigator performance tasks were initially introduced, I started speaking at COMMON again. Between 1998 and 2008, I had a lot of good experience speaking in front of people as part of my job with IBM. As such, my speaking skills started to get better, but there was much room for improvement. However, I still had that goal of being “one of them.” With continued practice, my presentation materials got better, and my speaking skills improved. My attitude also changed: This wasn’t about speaking, this was about teaching, and that fundamental shift made a big difference.  Soon, I started receiving session awards for my COMMON presentations. 
This year, I am the proud recipient of 2 gold sessions and 2 silver sessions from the 2019 COMMON POWERUp event. I also received best new session for a presentation on IBM i Prestart Server Jobs, which I built from the content I posted to this iCan blog.  
My point of this particular blog is to encourage: If you have a goal, it can be hard work to achieve that goal. Persistence is necessary, as well as taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone.  During the first few years of regular speaking, I would always ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” before I had a presentation.  But once I got started, it felt good to share my knowledge and help others learn. I know the idea of speaking to an audience scares many people, but, like many things, the more you practice, the better you get.

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