The Expert's Dilemma

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I remember reading a story about the successful founder of a startup who often got asked to talk about how he did it. He was happy to share his experience but soon ended up talking more about how to run a startup than actually running one.

Can you still be considered an expert on something if you are no longer doing it?

I forgot where I got this story from (hints welcome; I tend to think it was either something Dan Pink wrote or tweeted about, but I may be wrong) but I always keep it in the back of my mind. Especially now that I've decided to try and earn a living as a presentation coach, I keep thinking that I should continue giving "real" presentations, not just presentations about how to do presentations.

One problem with that is that I am no longer an expert in other things that are worth talking about. I used to be a software developer, concerned about software quality, deeply involved in an open source project, and so on. All of which provided me with topics to talk about. Being interested in how to do better presentations started out as a hobby. I guess now that it is my main field of work, I need a new hobby. Preferably one worth talking about.

"Practice what you preach" is another way of phrasing it. Sure, when talking about presenting, my presentation itself is supposed to be a good example. But such a presentation is so far removed from the concrete problems that you face when working on a presentation about a very technical topic, possibly under time pressure and while in the middle of actually solving problems. I'm concerned about losing touch with that harsh reality and, eventually, being so far removed from it that I am no longer credible.

There are a couple of conferences and events that I enjoyed attending as a "techie", a person interested in technology, that I still plan on attending even though I'm no longer in the core target audience. Furthermore, I intend to try and find topics to talk about at these conferences. That may include the occasional talk about presenting, but I was mainly thinking of talks relevant to those events and their target audience.

I often get asked for my opinion on a presentation and I found that people listen to what I'm saying not so much because I'm considered an "expert" but because I'm a fellow techie and geek. I'm one of them, someone who happens to also know a bit about presenting, and that combination gives me credibility. While I do want to (and have to, to make a living) expand my target audience I do not want to lose contact with my roots. So expect to see me at the usual events. Please come over and say Hi :)

(Photo: Yours truly at EnjoyWorkCamp Stuttgart 2014, photo by Thilo Hensel, CC BY-SA)

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