The other side of the room

December 8, 2020

In 1910, a little over a year after his presidency ended, Theodore Roosevelt was visiting the Sorbonne in Paris, and he said this:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt – 1910

The whole speech that this is part of is remarkable, but this well-quoted paragraph is very significant. I’ve quoted it for many years as part of my encouragement to those who are considering presenting. I’ve quoted it in presentations when rallying people to step up to bigger things.

The fact is that there putting yourself into the arena turns you into a different type of person. And for people involved in a community that includes events, that arena includes being a volunteer, organiser, or presenter. It means you’re on the other side of the room. No longer just in the audience, but through that “fourth wall” and in view of everyone. You’re in the arena.

It puts you into a category where you are no longer just an audience member, happy to watch what’s going on but not stepping up. Happy to give feedback on what could be changed, but not putting yourself in the firing line.

And it really is a firing line, because of evals. Critics hurt – especially anonymous ones who feel they can say whatever they like. I’ve had some really harsh feedback over the years, and I’ve probably deserved all of it. I’ve also had excellent feedback, often in the same talks, but the harsh ones are the ones I notice.

And this brings me to the topic of this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, hosted by Lisa Bohm (@lisagb_sql). She asks us about what technical things we’ve learned while presenting.

I want to say that the main things I’ve learned from presenting are non-technical. That I’ve learned that Roosevelt’s arena is worth being in. That I’ve learned that critics will be harsh and that it will hurt and that I should learn to pay attention to feedback from the people who are in the arena with me. And that if that’s the feedback that I want to look for, that I should look to give that kind of feedback to the people whose presentations I attend. Because I can do it without being anonymous. I can be in the arena with them, fighting with them to help them improve. I can make sure they know I care and that I’m an ally. And that even if the things I say seem harsh, it’s because I believe in them.

I want to say all that, but none of it’s a technical thing. And that’s what Lisa’s asking for.

So… from presenting I discovered that there’s a shortcut key that creates a new virtual desktop in Windows 10. It’s Ctrl+Win+D, and it basically makes everything disappear. When you’re in the middle of demoing something and you accidentally do this… well, try it some time. Then use Win+Tab to see how to get back to your real desktop and get rid of the virtual one.

Edit: A friend of mine has pointed out to me that these areas of volunteering, organising, or presenting, are not always accessible to everyone. I understand that, and would prefer that those places be entirely accessible to everyone who wants to be there. If you’re not able to step up, please know that it doesn’t make you worth any less. But also please ask about ways that you can get involved, because I think you could enjoy it. And if you’re excluded somehow, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

Leave a Reply

LobsterPot Blogs

Blog posts by Rob Farley and other LobsterPot Solutions team members.


Related Blogs