Don’t be afraid of public speaking!
It’s been almost a year since I did my first public speaking (related to programming). During that, many things changed including my personal point of view on that profession. It is nothing new that the first steps are the hardest, so in this post, I’ll describe my first feelings, mistakes, and moves which started my personal journey as a speaker. Since I’m still at the beginning of my way, this post will probably evolve from time to time but even though I hope it’ll be valuable for some of you. One more thing, if you don’t like long posts you can go straight down to the TL;DR section which sums up all the story presented in the previous paragraphs 😉
At the beginning, there was “Get Noticed”
As some of you might know, the reason that I started blogging was programming competition for Polish developers called “Get Noticed” (if you want to know the rules, feel free to read my introduction to this year edition). Luckily, I got to the final 16 of best participants, from which the winner was announced at the final gala organized in the Microsoft office in Warsaw. About two weeks before the event, “Get Noticed” organizer – Maciej Aniserowicz – decided to turn it into full-day conference with I guess 15 talks of participants (each took 20 minutes). When I read that announcement, I immediately signed up, mostly because I treated it like a good point to start my journey as a “professional speaker”. Looking from the today’s perspective that was a great move! Anyway, there was another reason why I decided to try public speaking and I think it’s kind of important to point. I’m an extrovert so, I have no problem with meeting other folks and speak to them without any trouble. So my first thought when I registered my session was “Yea, that’s gonna be super easy! It’s just talking but the audience is way bigger. Pffff!”. Yeah… and that’s where things started to be more complicated.
Preparing for the first talk
Well, I remember the preparations for the talk on mentioned gala. The title was “Aurelia & Materialize CSS: Heaven & Hell” (Dio & Black Sabbath FTW \,,/). My idea was to describe these two technologies since I used them for the first time in my “Get Noticed” project called Aurora. The second part of title perfectly described my feelings about them – totally loved Aurelia and hated Materialize. So, I had a direction of the entire talk – that was easy! All the trouble started when it came to create slides. The very first question which I asked myself was – should I include some facts about me? At that time I thought that the audience might treat it like “just move forward… we came here to listen about…”. And that’s not true! Here some of my opinions. First, you should remember that in most cases (especially if you’re not recognizable), people have absolutely no idea, who the heck are you. So, some kind of introduction can build a connection between you and the audience. Another reason is that folks can note your Twitter/Facebook handler so, it’ll be much easier to ask more question after the talk which may start very interesting conversations. Last but not least, if you have a blog, podcast or some other project that’s worth to mention, putting the address on the “introduction” slide can help you to get new readers/listeners. After… I’d say an hour of creating I did it and I could move forward. Next step was to create some content about Aurelia. Since I had some knowledge about the history behind its creation, included mechanisms and so on, I did pretty quickly. Same story with the Materialize CSS. After 3 hours I was happy and ready to try it out at home. I started talking to myself and soon after I realized that it didn’t work at all. There wasn’t any flow, any connection between each slide and it took me some time to find out why. The answer – I had no “talk plan”, so instead of thinking about my presentation as one beeing, I focused more on each slide. After I cooled down, I decided to start once again but this time with One Note. And that’s what really helped me out!
Having all the story created, it was way easier to prepare proper slides but moreover to present that without breaking the flow. The proposal – do the plan first! Yet another two hours passed on creating process – I was ready to hit the stage.
The day of judgment
Finally, the day of “Get Noticed” gala came. When I woke up, I felt completely scared about that fact that I was going to speak in front of 150 people who will judge my every single word. I started asking myself what will happen if they will not enjoy it at all, are they going to “booo” me if I’ll say something stupid and so on… Frankly, I felt like I’m going to talk to some enemies who came just to enjoy the “slaughter”. But there was no turning back and even though I was scared as hell, I decided not to give up. Mornin’ coffee plus some music relaxed me at some point so I could repeat my talk once again before leaving the flat. During my trip to the Microsoft office, I wanted to inspire myself by watching one of the Scott Hanselman’s talk since personally, I treat him like a “king of public speaking”. The way he describes the problem/solutions, the way he jokes and interacts with the audience is just astonishing. In that moment, I realized that maybe that’s the key to doing public speaking well. Don’t treat folks like enemies who will do their best to make you fool. And that’s totally true! Think about it this way: people give you credit of trust when they come to your talk. They simply decided not to do something else… so they expect you to make it worth. How will they feel hearing words like “well, I don’t give a shit about what will you say” or “please remember I’ve got just 2 years of commercial experience so don’t be mad if I’ll screw something up!”. They will be pissed off since probably there were several other things to do at the same time. So remember that you always should give to people 101% of your energy, and I guarantee that they will appreciate it. Also, keep in mind that people you are going to talk to will come because they wanted, so treat them like friends and be confident.
Believe or not, when I started thinking that way, almost all the fear was gone. Couple hours later I entered the stage…
TL;DR – What should I know about public speaking?
1. Create the talk plan first.
2. Treat the presentation as one beeing. Find connections between each slide.
3. Limit all your “Internet dependencies” by downloading them before the talk and if necessary, have a plan B (like a phone with an access point).
4. Create your presentation as HTML/PDF file so, you’ll be able to run it anywhere.
5. Add introduction slide with all contacts and links.
6. Practice before the talk.
7. Don’t treat folks like enemies – they come to your talks to listen to you!
8. Give 101% of your energy and be confident on the stage.
9. ENJOY YOUR TIME ON THE STAGE!
Why should you try it out?
Finally, we come to the key question – Why should you try it out? Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. The first (and least important) one is self-promotion. As I mentioned before it’s almost certain that some of the people from the audience will follow you on Twitter/Facebook or start reading your blog after the talk will finish. Another thing is that’s a great opportunity to travel all around the country and visit cities that you wouldn’t normally visit. Public speaking is also a great way to meet and talk with awesome folks who might turn into your friends in the future. But the most important one is satisfaction. When you are on the stage and see all these interested faces looking at you – it’s a just wonderful feeling that can’t be described and replaced with something else. For me, the satisfaction that comes from teaching others is the best price that I can get right now. And I’m truly hoping that it will stand for a very long time.
To sum it up, I encourage all of you to try it! No matter how much of commercial experience you have and what topic you’re going to discuss it’s definitely worth to do. The key is to put some value in your words so, the audience will not regret the time spending in the chair for almost an hour. If you are looking for a good point to start your own journey, I would recommend local technical group located in your cities. Contact with the organizers and present your ideas. I guarantee you, that you will not regret that.
So, I wish all of you luck and I hope that I’ll have a pleasure to meet some of you on the stage anytime in the future!