I hate public speaking. So why do I keep doing it?

Talking at 9punto5
Talking at 9punto5

Last year, in September, Axiom Zen sent me to speak at 9punto5 in my hometown of Valdivia. After my talk, I was chatting with a friend by one of the conference’s rooms and he asked me, “Why do you give talks?” and I couldn’t really answer.

I mean, I said things like, “giving back to the community”, “sharing my knowledge”, and stuff like that, but it all felt like buzzwords.

I have a panic disorder

This is the first time I’ve written this publicly. Every now and then I have small panic attacks, and they get worse when I’m around a big crowd, or in a closed space (like in the movies, at the theater, or in conference rooms) or when I’m under pressure. You can imagine, a tech conference is not a comfortable place for me.

Last year during AltConf I had to leave the AMC Metreon and go back to my hotel room in the middle of the day because I had spent too much time around too many people. It’s that annoying and tiring.

Preparing for my talk
Preparing for my talk

Before my 9punto5 talk, I was having a small panic attack. I went out for lunch and couldn’t eat anything. To combat this I started rehearsing my talk while walking back and forth by the auditorium. The girl who was supposed to give me the mic later that day told me she was going to ask me if I was ready, but she noticed I was since I was so focused rehearsing my talk! Fuck that! I was about to fall on the floor and start screaming!

Why good Lord? Why?

So why in heaven’s name do I give talks if it’s this terrifying for me?

That’s actually the reason.

The moment I walk up on stage all of that goes away, all my anxiety just blasts in the air, and at the end, that feeling of accomplishing something gives me greater respect for myself, because I’ve conquered my fears. I put my own voice out there, my personal vision about a topic. And maybe, what the heck, somebody was listening?

The road to get to that feeling makes me question myself a thousand times. What am I doing here? Why did I accept this? Is there something really interesting that I’m going to share? I’m sure everybody already knows this!

Nobody said it was gonna be easy, but with every talk I give, with every blog post I share, doing it again is a bit easier for me. I’m the co-organizer of the only iOS meetup in Chile, iOS Love. I host every single meetup. I introduce the speakers and greet all the attendees and talk to them. The first couple of events I did were horrible. I was nervous and didn’t talk to anyone about it, which made it worse.

Now I’m comfortable at those meetups; it feels like my space. I know what to say and how to say it. I know I’m no Don Francisco ok? But I get the work done, and while doing it, I happen to create a good community for people who share my interests.

My primitive instinct when met with anything new is to run away in fear. But I’ve found that when I actually take the steps to try something, there’s always an inclusive community to hear you out and help. And when I meet the people who are doing it, they’re just like you and me. They went through the same thing once.

This happens with everything in life. It happened when I first went solo traveling, when I learn a new programming language, or when I meet people for the first time. In my head, my hand is always reaching for the PANIC button. But when I shut off my brain for a bit and just go for it, it’s always more pleasant than I thought.

Why do I give talks?

I want to conquer my fears, and I know somebody else out there is struggling with the same kinds of problems.

Maybe if I start talking about it they can relate and I can help them a bit. Maybe somebody will think “oh man, I’ve been there”.