2015. My Year as a Speaker

IMG_20150705_130437610We’re almost through January, and I’m still mulling over 2015, figuring out how I can move on and do better. This gets me thinking about my speaking endeavors. I’m much better at writing than presenting. I don’t even like it when people listen to me when I’m talking on the phone. So I decided to push my boundaries and become a speaker in 2015. I blame Kathryn Presner 🙂 She gave a very inspiring workshop on becoming a speaker while we were at the Toronto WordCamp in late 2014. To be honest, I’m kind of hoping that there will be an “After” post someday, with this acting as a “Before.”

I am a big believer in learning how to swim by jumping into the deep end, and this is reflected by the fact that I applied to speak at WordCamp Montréal. I have to admit, the auditorium was a bit intimidating.

Already shaking like jelly on top of an unbalanced washing machine, I learned a very valuable lesson five minutes prior to my speaking: When your computer decides to update, your presentation will freeze. Ack!!! Fortunately, a hard shut off can fix the issue, and I have prevented this from happening since then by shutting off my Wi-Fi an hour before I talk anywhere.

My friends and coworkers came to listen to me in Montréal. I wasn’t sure if that would be a good thing or not. Part of me just wanted to pretend I wasn’t really doing it. However, I found their support to be an incredible bonus. Everywhere I looked there were friendly, encouraging faces. Not only did I feel as if I would have full support and reassurance if I completely screwed up, but I also knew that the people who came to hear about my topic would benefit in the QA time thanks to the font of info. my Automattic buddies brought to the table.

After Montréal, I spoke in Toronto. The 2015 WordCamp was a completely different story from the year prior. This time I knew what WordCamps were about, and I felt very comfortable. I worked at the Happiness Bar until the very last second then headed to the room where I was to speak. It was relatively small, and I felt extremely comfortable. My content was good, I had good images (thanks to the fact that I hired my son’s girlfriend to make my slides pretty — Lauren, you are awesome), I had friends there supporting me, and I felt connected to the people that audience. It was a very positive scenario, and I could see myself becoming a speaker on a very regular basis.

Then flash talks at the Grand Meetup, our company gathering, hit. I completely lost it. I was shaky and far from confident. I ran out of time, I muddled what I wanted to say, and I left the room feeling completely insecure about presenting on a whole. I attended Luca Sartoni’s fantastic talk on speaking, and it was encouraging. Most likely I failed that one due to a lack of practice. Knowing the cause of my downfall was a bit comforting, but I wasn’t feeling overly confident.

When I hit the stage in New York, I knew that I should have felt completely comfortable because it was the same topic that I felt strong about in Toronto. I knew I had practiced, I had quality content offer, I had worked the Jetpack table and the Happiness Bar so I was comfortable with the people I met, but it ended up being the worst talk that I had done to date. The screen was positioned straight next to me, a few inches in front of what I could see. I couldn’t point anything without getting off the stage, and I got completely discombobulated. I forgot to say a good chunk of what I had planned to stay, and I did not portray confidence. It was very disheartening, and as I drove home, I was determined never to speak again.

This was unfortunate since I was supposed to speak at another WordCamp a couple weeks later. It went alright, but not fantastically. I started the talk by accidentally winging my clicker across the room, and I still couldn’t prevent my voice from shaking. The topic presented was for real beginners, and the “beginners” in this camp were much more technologically savvy than other camps I attended. They already had customers they built sites for. It was the wrong crowd for the talk.

Here’s the thing, though. When you are pushing your boundaries by speaking, then there is no better audience than a WordCamp. People are so kind and friendly and supportive. I love helping people, and I know what information I can offer to help other people. I believe in the efficiency of speaking to an entire room so one can educate 40 or 50 people in the same amount of time it would take to educate one. The concept is exciting, I just need to work a bit more on making it more natural.

Lessons learned?

  • Turn off the Wi-Fi an hour before presenting.
  • Don’t panic! Like I did in my two trickiest situations. In Montreal I was so focused on the fact that my presentation froze that I forgot I had a backup of it on a flash drive. In NY, when I couldn’t see my screen and my presenter notes were covering my images on my computer, I totally could have used the copy on my iPad to see what others were seeing.
  • Keep a tight grip on your clicker.
  • As a co-worker says: If your voice has a tendency to shake, grab a mug of beer before you go on:-) Jk – I don’t really recommend that. Wine is much better in that situation. 😉
  • Figure out your style. Some people do better with larger rooms, others do better with smaller ones. In retrospect, I think I am best with smaller rooms, and I think I would feel more comfortable walking people through steps in a process or telling an inspirational tale rather than doing a “Top 10” sort of presentation.
  • Recognize limitations. I am not great at slide creation. I can provide the content, but I have no concept of how to make it pretty. Hiring an artist to do my slides was a great investment. I felt more confident in my presentations when I knew the slides were nice.

Speaking in my future:

No, I’m not giving up on it. I definitely see the value of sharing information with many people at one time. I just need to put some time and effort into making myself better at it. Perhaps I will try it for one more year, and if I am still uncomfortable at the end of that year, then I can accept the reality that I was not made for it. For now, I still think it’s worth experimenting with styles and tweaking my content to find my best fit.

12 responses to “2015. My Year as a Speaker”

  1. Public speaking is a skill that you have to work on it isn’t automatic. I’ve had to work on it through college courses and former jobs. It’s never without nerves but it becomes more manageable each time. Also being my toughest critic is a double edged sword. Yes you are critical but sometimes too much so that it causes paralysis. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and keep breathing!

  2. 😉 It all comes with practice; lots and lots of practice! Keep practicing! (I could give you some practice this summer if you would like. 😉 )
    You gave some great tips here. I never thought about shutting off the WiFi early to be sure that you do not have to deal with updates. (That can be very frustrating!) I will definitely be sure to hold onto that clicker too. 😉

    Keep up the amazing work that you do!

    • haha on the summer practice gig 🙂 Thanks for always being there, Tonia.

  3. I’ll bet you would have looked and sounded good to me, because I would have wanted the information you were sharing. You are an amazing person to keep working at something that doesn’t come naturally to you because you want to succeed. I’m proud of you.

  4. I thought traffic means on the streets. So wrong of me. I have to read the whole thing to know. Thanks!~

    • Aww, thanks Simon. Co-speaking with Chris helped a lot, and your friendly support and tips helped, too 🙂 That was a great WordCamp! Hope to be there next year.

  5. I’m honoured to have played a little part in launching you on your public-speaking journey and admire your persistence and ability to analyze what you did well and what you still want to improve. You know I’m always here to help however I can so don’t hesitate to ping anytime 🙂

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