How I prepared for moderating my first panel discussion.

I’m currently doing a ground speed of 866km/h with another 6 hours 51 minutes to my destination.

That destination is API Strategy and Practice Conference in Austin, Texas. I’m off to chair my first session – the microservices session. I’ve just penned my introduction after 3 glasses of wine after watching the Love & Mercy film about Brian Wilson (excellent film by the way).

I thought I’d write a post about how I feel pre-first-panel-discussion-session-organiser-event. I keep worrying about the level of detail I should go into in the 5-minute introduction. Do I lead with a statement of fact about microservices and APIs running the world?  “What would Mike Amundsen say?” – something more profound no doubt. I had a dream last night that it was all chaotic and nobody listened and it was the worst session of the event.

I plan on a basic introduction of who I am and what’s about to happen. Unlike Mike Amundsen I am not an industry expert but I do have some expertise in being involved in a very difficult (ongoing) migration from a monolithic application to microservices architecture. This is one of the reasons I got asked to do this session.

The format of this session is about 1-hour 20 minutes. There will be 3 speakers doing a presentation of 15-20 minutes each followed by a panel discussion with all the speakers plus some additional experts in the field to have a ‘chat’ about microservices.

Thing is that as the session organiser (with help obviously from the API Strategy Team) it feels anything but a ‘chat’. I feel immense pressure to deliver an excellent session especially given how popular microservices are. I really want the attendees to walk out of the session and be able to do one positive thing in the office the next day.

However, I’m starting to think maybe the entire audience have been doing it longer than us? Maybe they all think it’s a fad and will go nowhere? How do I pick the questions that I should ask? What if I fall off stage? What if… ?

If you are reading this and you are preparing to chair your first panel discussion then here is how I’ve prepared:

  • Read about how to run a panel discussion.
    • I like talking (understatement of the century) but I’m the one person who should be doing the least amount of talking. Understand what is expected of you from a discussion. You may feel the crowd is relaxed enough so you may be able to let go of some etiquette.
  • Do your research.
    • I bought a copy of Sam Newman’s book on Building Microservices. Why? Internal concepts do not translate to external conferences. Find the common languages so you can speak generally.
  • Research your panel and reach out
    • Reach out to the speakers and ask how they would like to be introduced. Usually, they have some bio that they like to share about their achievements. It’s also important to give them some notice of how you are planning to run the session. It’s difficult enough to be on stage with a microphone, camera and lights in your eyes so let them know what you are going to ask. Even better – get them to suggest the content that they are comfortable with.
  • Reach out to your team
    • I emailed all the devs on my team and asked them ‘what would they ask an expert panel about microservices? ’ This will give you a good basis of what you should be asking.
  • Be prepared for feedback.
    • In fact, I would say go and seek it. If you want to improve then you need to accept feedback.
  • Accept that you will not please everyone
    • Its hard at conferences right – you have the noobs and the experts and it’s really difficult to please everybody. Just accept it.
  • Enjoy it
    • I remember the first time I was given a microphone and I was like ‘What the heck do I do with that? How do I hold it?” Embrace the new experience. You’ll love it.

OK only 6 hours and 7 minutes to go until I land. I wonder how much of that advice will make sense in a few days time after the session. I’ll report back.







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About Joyce-Stack - Developer Outreach

Joyce Stack completed a BSc. (Hons) Computer Science from The Open University while working in a startup in Co. Cork, Ireland. She moved to London in 2005 to join one of the City’s leading exponents of agile techniques at that time to work as a Java Developer. She is now working in the Developer Outreach role in Mendeley where her responsibilities are to meet and educate developers about the Mendeley API, attend conferences, meetups and hackathons and basically be the face of the API. She is passionate about providing an excellent developer experience and APIs. She likes biking, swimming and yoga but she hates potatoes despite being Irish.