Last week I traveled up to Whistler, BC to speak at SmashingConf, giving my very first conference talk. It was a great experience, I learned a great deal, I met so many wonderful people, and I think my talk was a success.
I have to admit, I was quite anxious as I traveled up to Whistler. Traveling by tiny plane (aka prop plane) with weather in December in the Pacific Northwest can be dicey, meaning tiny planes can be bumpy. But the whole speaking thing made the nervousness go to a whole new level.
Because I was so nervous, I practiced my talk a lot, when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. The week before I practiced almost every day, doing the whole talk for myself in my office to make sure I felt comfortable.
In addition to practicing, I got feedback on my talk outline several months ago when I was first asked to speak. I put an outline together, added it to a private repo on Github and asked friends who speak often to take a look. That helped me feel confident that I was going down a good road with the main points of the talk. I can’t recommend enough getting eyes on things from people you trust, it greatly helps ease the nerves.
In addition, I read everything I could find as far as speaking advice and listened to all the Ladies in Tech podcasts. For reading, I found Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, really helpful. I laughed my way through much of it, but the advice was just fantastic. I packed a bag for speaking as Ethan advised. The day before the conference, I got comfortable, standing on the stage at the venue and checking my slides, thanks to the advice of Dan Mall.
A few things I learned about myself: I don’t really use speaker’s notes, I use the slides and the words on them for my cues as to what I want to say. So having a confidence monitor that I could see reflecting the slides back at me was really helpful. In addition, I did get better at pausing, slowing down, and speaking clearly. It is definitely true that you should feel like you are talking slow in your head. Designing slides scares me, so simple and straightforward worked (at least I think it did). But I know that everyone is different, therefore what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.
I am so grateful that I took this risk and pushed myself. I ended up enjoying it once I was a few minutes into the talk. It was fun to share ideas and thoughts that I’m really excited about with other people. Also, if anyone wants me to do a talk on style guides, I have a pretty good one ready to go, let me know.