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Quick Tips to Become an IBM i Expert

IBM i expert Charles Guarino gives quick tips to break into the IBM i speaking circuit.

Charles Guarino

Q: How do I become an IBM i expert?

Maybe you’ve attended a webinar, a local user group meeting or even a multiday conference. In all cases, a common thread is prevalent: At least one expert speaker is featured. Seeing the IBM i community from the front of the room looks quite different than from an attendee’s seat. You might be thinking, “That looks really cool. How can I be a speaker?” If you’ve ever felt that way, here is a roadmap to help get you there.

1. Develop Your Specialty

A common mantra in the speaking profession is to “pick a lane.” This wisdom easily applies to our industry as well. In a nutshell, it suggests focusing on a particular area of expertise. What’s your specialty? This answer should be fairly obvious. It’s what you think about day and night. For me, that’s application development. Whether yours is the same as mine is irrelevant. Whatever your passion, spread the word.

Your specialty may be broad and deciding on a topic can be daunting. And chances are that several recognized speakers are already presenting sessions on these topics. Don’t be deterred. Your own personal take on a topic can offer a new approach. In today’s world of speaking, content is king.

2. Plan Your Content

The IBM i ecosystem is constantly evolving. Use this to your advantage. To be an expert speaker is to provide strong value on relevant topics. An excellent source of inspiration is the IBM i Technology Refresh (ibm.co/2VjGT90). Learn what features are new and relevant to your scope of work and then build a case study or story around them. One tip is to pretend you are presenting your ideas to a 5-year-old. This forces you to slow down, ensuring you have enough content that flows properly.

Most local user groups and conferences require a session length of 60 to 75 minutes, although I’ve seen some as short as 45 minutes and others at 90 minutes. If you don’t have enough content to fill that time, reach out to someone who might be able to co-present with you. COMMON offers a directory of local IBM i user groups worldwide (bit.ly/2VhHOGU) and many groups list their most recent meeting topics on their websites. Pitch a session to the ones that have not offered your topic in a while.

A well-written blog or an article in a leading industry periodical will boost your name recognition, helping to position you as an expert. When the time comes to speak with a meeting planner, use your articles to reinforce your strengths. In addition, by having an article or two written, you have the seeds of a live presentation. Ask for help and mentorship. I don’t know a single IBM i speaker, regardless of topic, who isn't willing to share tips on presenting knowledge.

3. Start Speaking

Do you have a fear of public speaking? So does most of the population. A simple way to conquer this is to know your information backwards and forwards. Become bulletproof.

Our community loves new speakers and especially new ideas. They’re on your side. I’ve learned that developers love live demonstrations. If you can incorporate these into your presentations, attendees will be more focused and engaged.

Public speaking is a critical business and life skill, one that extends well beyond your technical area. The rewards are enormous. You’ll have more confidence to see projects through. Your planning and time management skills will increase, as will your people skills. And finally, you’ll have the immense satisfaction of being part of a group that’s smart and passionate, sharing expertise all over the globe.

Charles Guarino is the president of Central Park Data Systems.

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