The random eclecticisms of loonytoons

Starting to speak

I never thought I would write a blog post about this, but last week I gave my first ever talk!

It was a presentation for work about structured data markup as part of our regular frontend forums. As most of the audience were people that I work with on a regular basis I knew that they would be on my side, but I was still terrified of getting up in front of them all and talking for 45 minutes. I don’t like being the centre of attention, it’s not what I do, and due to a lingering case of imposter syndrome, I’m only just accepting the fact that I am actually pretty good at what I do.

So being the focus at the front of the room presenting a talk of my own devising was probably about the last thing that I wanted to be doing.

So why do it?

Conversely I mainly agreed to do this because I knew it was so far outside of my comfort zone. It was a non-technical challenge that would test me in very different ways, and I was intrigued whether I’d actually be able to pull it off or not.

It’s also never a bad thing to put your name out there and improve your visibility within a community or organisation. By nature I am an introvert who is much happier working in the background, and in the short term this isn’t a problem and works pretty well for me. But to move to the next level or to be thought of when a cool opportunity or project comes along, you need to make sure people know who you are and what you do. You need to make some noise even if it goes against the grain. No one else is going to do it for you.

Knowing and sharing are different things

It’s one thing to know what you are talking about. It’s a very different thing to share this knowledge in a concise, instructional and engaging way. I can’t say that I achieved all these things but I tried. It certainly adds to the challenge as well as the fear as you sit there staring at your slide deck, wondering if it’s good enough.

At least the nerves serve a purpose by pushing you to constantly improve your talk as you want to ensure that you’re going to measure up.

Another added bonus is that with all the research and clarification that you do, you end knowing a lot more about the topic than you knew at the start, sometimes more that you actually expected. You may well even gain more knowledge from your audience through their questions and feedback.

How to help yourself

First of all, keep everything in perspective – You are doing this for a reason. You are doing this when others haven’t been brave enough to accept or put themselves forward.

Put yourself in the audience – Think about what you would want to see if you were watching the talk. What questions would you want answered? What areas would you want covered?

Do as much research as you can to make sure you cover all your bases. Preparation is key.

Watch out for scope creep – Recognise when you are trying to cover too much. Don’t be afraid to limit and restructuring your talk if necessary to keep yourself on track.

Breathe and don’t panic – Don’t let your nerves rule you. Always keep your talk outline in mind, then focus on one section at a time and think about whether you’re successfully and simply getting your point across.

Practice, practice, practice! Practice in front of a group of people before the big day. This goes with any form of public performance and is something I actually learned from singing. It allows you to work through the kinks in your talk and you can make changes based of the feedback before taking it a wider audience. You’ll also have taken the first hurdle when it comes to nerves as the next time won’t be “the first time”, you’ll have a better handle on the flow and you’ll have noted any potential stumbling points to be aware of.

Resources

There are many different resources out there that are worth taking a look at.

There are lots of interesting blog posts out there. A really helpful one that I read recently is from Sandi Metz who wrote about dealing with fear for Gorucco.

For the book lovers out there, I’ve heard Confessions of a Public Speaker is a really great read.

This is a very timely post as Day Camp for Developers are holding their fifth online conference tomorrow, all about Public Speaking for Developers. All the speakers are well known on the conference circuit, and if you can’t make the date itself then you can buy a video ticket so that you can watch all the talks later at your convenience. If you’ve ever thought about presenting or speaking, or have already started but want to improve then I would really recommend this.

If you have any other resources that you’ve found useful then let me know and I’ll add them.

So get out there and start sharing your knowledge. Good luck!

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