Testing through Storytelling: An Interview with Isabel Evans


In this interview, independent quality and testing consultant Isabel Evans discusses how to tell our testing stories. She covers how to adapt testing stories to different audiences and how we can change our listening style based on the situation.

Jennifer Bonine: Welcome back to day two of our virtual conference and virtual interviews. All of you probably had the opportunity, hopefully, to watch Isabel's keynote. Isabel, thank you for being here with me.

Isabel Evans: I was going to say it's a pleasure, but I'm actually quite nervous because I'm quite nervous of cameras and things, but I know you'll look after me.

Jennifer Bonine: I will. I promise. Isabel, so lovely to meet you yesterday during the keynote. I think it might be good, I was watching your keynote and watching the comments of some of the folks that are out there listening. Any advice you have for people who may say, "Oh my gosh. She's so brave. She can get up on that stage and be so calm and collected and tell these beautiful stories to all of us"? Any advice for people who may be terrified of speaking or telling their story?

Isabel Evans: I'm going to do this straight to camera, which is, for me, scary. If you are out there and you want to speak, believe me, it's terrifying, but you do it anyway. I'm such a bundle of nerves beforehand. I think that's true of all speakers, isn't it? Do you find the same thing?

Jennifer Bonine: Yes. Actually, no matter how long you've done it, before you go out there it's like these nerves that happen.

Isabel Evans: Some of that adrenaline starts to kick in really early in terms of, "Am I going to get a place to speak?" You don't always. You apply to speak, and maybe you're lucky enough to get a place and maybe you're not, because there are so many brilliant speakers. You're nervous at that point, when you're applying. Then, you start putting it together and getting ideas. It's exciting and you know you've got a story to tell. Suddenly, as it comes up towards the conference, you're going, "Why did I say I was going to do this?" I've done this where, with the lightning key yesterday, five minutes before going on, I was sitting there thinking, "I have no idea what I'm going to say." I don't know what's going to come out.

Even if it's a technical subject, I've stood there before thinking, "I'm not going to talk about test techniques. I can't remember any of them." Then, you get up there and they come out. If you've got a story to tell, give it a go. There's various sorts of mentoring schemes. Look for a mentoring scheme. Look for a mentor. For me it was Dot Graham. She encouraged me. Find somebody who can help you.

Jennifer Bonine: Before you do, just so people understand the preparation that goes into this, some speakers that I know spend months and months refining, honing, changing slides, preparing. Others, it's very much they know the broad gist of what they are going to speak on, and they get up there and they just go and they are able to do that.

What's your way that you get ready to do this? Are you one who does this for months and months and months, refining and preparing, or what's your process?

Isabel Evans: I rehearse, but not necessarily with the slides. I rehearse, so if I'm going for a walk, in my head I'll be running through the types of stories, the type I want to tell and the shape of those stories and the lessons out of them. I also find I get sort of inspirational moments. Something will come out in my head. All of a sudden, I'll think, "Oh, that would fit in there." I don't script it. I find that quite hard to do. I maybe put some bullet points down, particularly if it's a new talk.

When I was first speaking, I used to actually take papers up onto the stage with me and lay them out across the floor. I believed I wasn't going to be able to do it without having something there as a safety net. Then I suddenly realized, I wasn't looking at them so I didn't need to bring them. That was a major leap forward in terms of what it's like to be a speaker.


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