What I’ve learned about my first speaking event
About a month ago, I had one of the biggest challenges of my career so far: I had to speak about accessibility for 10 minutes, alone, in front of more than 400 people with expertise in the subject, at the UX Conf BR 2018.
Even though I had experience as a teacher at my former university and on my UX and development courses, this was my first speaking event, and I was freaking out about it. Thankfully, everything went as I expected, and now I’m looking forward to new possibilities in the speaking universe.
As this was my first experience in this kind of events, I was full of prejudices and wrong thoughts that, one by one, started to fell apart as the conference took place. In this post, I want to share with you some of these learnings I had from this unique experience. Here are some of them:
Whether you are a newbie or an experienced speaker, you might be nervous before jumping on stage.
And it’s okay to feel that way. No matter how hard you have practiced in front of the mirror, or how many times you have read the script, that feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing” it’s gonna be there.
We’ve all been in a similar situation before while preparing for weeks or maybe months an exam, a job interview, and when the time comes, we feel like we’re not going remember anything, and all that effort and time spent is going to be worthless.
There are several techniques that can help you minimize the impact of that feeling, and there are people who can certainly deal with it better than others, but one thing is for sure: you need to work over it in order to defeat it.
The first thing you have to do to beat that imposter syndrome is to accept it: if you try to deny it, and pretend like nothing is happening, it’s going to grow and it will become harder to control.
Instead, if you embrace that feeling, naturalize it, make it part of the process itself, you’ll be able to reduce its impact on your confidence. Even the most experienced speakers have been newbies once, have felt that way, and have learned to deal with it. And so will you, if you work for it.
We all have awesome stuff to share. What we need to have is our eyes open to find it.
Another thing that was freaking me out was the topic on my talk: Accessibility. I was afraid that the way that I’d decided to approach it wasn’t as technical, specific, or in-depth as the subject or the audience expected.
One of the key points on my talk (you can read the full transcript here) was that capabilities or limitations could be temporary. To prove that point, I showed the audience a picture of a man with a cast, and asked them how do you think this person will interact with the tools he uses every day to work, like Slack, Trello or Gmail?.
I was concerned that this quality of examples weren’t as good as the audience expected, when a man from the crowd approached to me after my talk to tell me that he felt especially interested in my lecture, because a couple of years ago he broke his arm, and had to deliver a writing project regardless of his injury. That thought me that sometimes, the better examples are the ones that reach the public somehow, no matter how dumb they seem to be.
Images prevail over words.
This might sound obvious to all of us, but one of the most common pitfalls I’ve spotted on other speakers was not relying on images.
I’m from Argentina, I speak Spanish and English, but the conference took place in Brazil, and I don’t speak a word of Portuguese. I was worried because my talk was in Spanish, without simultaneous translations, and I thought that no one was going to understand anything about it.
Turns out that everyone understood the key points of it, or at least, they’ve laughed when I was telling a joke. On the other hand, I was able to understand many of the core concepts of some of the other speaker’s lectures, even though I didn’t speak their native language. And that was possible because we were able to tell our stories visually rather than verbally. Test it your own! Here’s the link to the slides on my talk, and here’s the Medium post with the English transcription. Go to the slides first, and try to get the main idea behind them. After that, take a quick read to the Medium post to see if you were right!
And now, time for one of the “not-so-good” ones…
There will be egocentric people at this events.
Conferences and meetings will for sure attract people willing to brag about themselves, their achievements and experience, for over sharing their knowledge with the public. And they’re often encouraged to do that.
I was really scared when I arrived at the conference and listened to other speaker’s achievements: I felt that I was light years away from them. And I probably am, but that’s not the point.
My advice on this kind of situations is: try not to put your attention there. Otherwise, you’re going to feel that you’re behind these people, when that’s not true at all: you’ve been selected the same way as the other speakers: because of your skills, because you’ve something valuable to say to the audience, not because of what you tell to the others about you.
Don’t miss after hours, dinners, parties, or any social event during the conference.
Before taking a step forward and decided to talk, I was used (and I still do) to attend both development and design conferences as public. And we designers/developers use to be shy people. But if you act like that on this kind of events, you’re missing the main advantage of them: interacting with colleagues, possible clients, coworkers, and so on.
If you’re shy, I encourage you to practice some small talk at home as you’ll probably do with your lecture. If you’re extremely shy, I suggest you grab a beer to release some stress but don’t walk away from the event wasting the possibility to exchange valuable information, work tips or business opportunities with the attendees. After all, everyone there shares similar interests, jobs or hobbies, and they’re all there to talk and listen to people about that. If you’ve lost the chance to congratulate someone about his/her talk, try sending him/her a friendly email, because chances are you will found that person again in a next event, and it will be easier to start a conversation.
This is all what I learned from my first speaking event.
After a couple of weeks thinking about all of this, I’ve realized that I was who got the most out of this experience, not the people who’ve listened to my talk: I’ve learned so much about people, their behaviors, about the discipline, other cultures, I’ve managed to beat my own ghosts, and to understand that I’m not the only one having imposter syndrome.
I’m looking forward to speaking in another event soon, to see what else can I add to this list! If you want me to speak at your next event, drop me a line and let’s make wonders together!