I flipped to the next slide. “You can think of MapReduce like a chicken… ” I couldn’t think of the verb. “Like…” I looked out at the audience and tried to concentrate. What was the verb for what a chicken did to create eggs? It felt like my brain was at a standstill, all that was coming was “poop.” I went with it. “Like a chicken pooping eggs.” It went over big. As though it were planned, I smoothly continued describing MapReduce in terms of chickens pooping eggs.
After my talk, I fled to Starbucks, got a very froofy Frappuccino, and checked my Twitter reviews. It had been a popular talk (programmers love poop jokes), but I was shaky and exhausted.
The night before I had been up almost all night, physically sick with nerves, going over my talk it again and again, then trying not to think about it, then going over it again. MongoSF 2010 was 10gen’s first major conference. I was giving the first talk of the morning in the biggest room and, worst of all, my coworkers would be watching. I had given a hundred talks before, but never ones my coworkers were at. (And it definitely made an impression: when I left 10gen earlier this year, one of the goodbye emails I got mentioned the chickens pooping eggs.)
P.S. 10gen hired a guy to teach employees how to give better tech talks. He said that before a talk, your body surges with adrenaline and people who like roller coasters, bungee jumping, and other heart-pounding activities tend to like public speaking. This made a ton of sense to me, as I’ve always loathed that shaky fight-or-flight feeling.