Last week I had the honor to speak to an audience. And when I say honor — I really mean it. It will probably sound cliche but I thought I will hardly ever speak to an audience as a designer for my craft. But hey, everything is possible so let’s keep it going.
I spoke at the 2nd Sketch & Design meetup in Athens, Greece. My talk was all about the relationship between designers and engineers. After it all ended, on the way home I took my time to reflect on that new experience. It was an exciting one — and pretty challenging too until I hit the stage. So, I analyzed my personal view on the whole “public speaking as a designer” topic.
Your mindset is everything
Like with most things in life, perspective really counts. Before I even accept the invitation, I immediately thought that this is a new thing for me. I made it clear to myself that presenting something in front of ±10 people in a meeting room, and speaking in front of 100+ total strangers are two completely different things. They may look similar — especially if you put a lot of passion into both. But the reality, at least for me, is that they’re not.
I understood that the second case, is a seperate skill. And as every skill, you need time to develop it. You need time to understand it, practice it and see how you feel comfortable doing it.
Your topic counts, too
As long as you’re really passionate about the topic you’ve picked, you’ll hopefully make people resonate with you. And your topic. A possible topic could be anything: from personal experience, to showcasing a project(s), to even not having a topic at all. For instance, my topic was the relationship designers <> engineers, but I chose that because of the big forum of people. If we were less people, I’d prefer to have a conversation with the audience and skip the usual slide-showing part. (side note: I tried to keep the slide count as little as possible in order to focus on words and not images).
I was really inspired earlier this year by Dann Petty’s talk on Awwwards LA 2017. Long story short, he replaced a speaker who couldn’t make it — and he was the closing talk. So, he freestyled a bit the topic: the top 10 things he has learned in his 10 year design career. From his Twitter feed as a foundation. How cool, right? I wasn’t there, and I can only imagine how great it was. Judging by the feedback of the people who were there — it was awesome.
You are talking to people
A calming thought I had and it helped me from the very beginning, was this fact: I was going to talk to people. Like, real people. Who (and I made some safe assumptions here) already had some wins, some losses, some feelings… I mean they’ve probably mispronounced a word and fixed it the next moment too sometime in their life. It’s human, it’s okay. I didn’t want to set myself to this “formal” make-no-mistakes context. I really wanted to connect, be real and talk as a human being — not as a robot.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you don’t make your first talk your most special talk. It will take time to master this craft, and as usual practice makes perfect. So, you have to practice. And if you want to practice, you have to start doing it. I don’t think I did the best I could do, too. I already thought better ways of talking to public audiences. But what counts at the end of the day, is that when I spoke with friends and new friends (the previous total strangers) at the afterparty, they told me I gave them useful insights and they’ve enjoyed listening to me.