Being Here

Matthew Oliphant
Dec 13, 2018 · 4 min read
“keep banging on” my first finished painting. ever.

I spoke at eight events in 2018¹. My hope is to double that for 2019. I’d love your help with that goal. If you know of (or run) a group, company, or conference, I’d love to come share my perspective with you.

I told someone recently about this plan and they asked how I deal with the anxiety of speaking. The thing is, I don’t mind being in front of an audience. I do get a little nervous during the lead-up to the event, but I am comfortable being the focus of attention once the event starts.

I think the presenter should be the focus of attention during an event. But when I go to small events or large conferences, I see a significant portion of the audience on their phones, or laptops, or whispering² to their neighbor.

That’s why, at every event this year, I started my talk with a 1-minute meditation. My hope was that it helped everyone “be here” and get more out of the event.

Each time I did it, I was pleasantly surprised to see a room full of people willingly go along with me on the idea.³

Interesting things happened because of it:

  • I feel like it creates a shared moment that shows how I respect my audience and that I am taking their attention seriously.
  • I feel like I get better questions from the audience.
  • It slows me down as a speaker, because I am purposefully speaking slowly at the start of things. Really, it makes me talk a bit more naturally instead of rushing.
  • At one event, 6 people showed up 15 minutes late. They missed the meditation. They spent the entire talk on their phone or whispering to each other. Everyone else was paying attention.
  • The downside (for my ego) is that because no one is using their phone, there is nothing on Twitter afterward to give you a sense of what people thought. But, I’d much rather people be in the room with me than on Twitter.

The following is what I say to the audience at the start of the event.

I will continue to do this for all my talks in 2019. I took the time to make the talk or workshop, you took the time to show up. Let’s spend our time together well.

For now though, I’m off to put a light glossy varnish on that paining above. Just to see what happens. Because I paint now. Yet another thing to continue into 2019.

¹ My thanks to UX Hong Kong, Startup Week PDX, User Research London, Startup Therapy, Product Tank PDX, pdxUX, and Design Research PDX for letting me have the mic for a bit..
² Look … mate … you’re not bloody whispering. We can all hear you and you’re being quite disruptive. Please consider the Three Questions.
³ I recognize this isn’t innovative, but I’ve not seen anyone else do something like this for an event. The closest I’ve seen is Luke Wroblewski’s Thriller dancing at An Event Apart. But he does usually have the immediately-after-lunch-food-coma-ensues speaking spot.

Hi, I’m Matthew. I run Studio VO.

Studio VO. People are weird. We figure out why. We help you focus your time and money on doing the right work well. Ask yourself, “What’s the cost of focusing on the wrong work?” We identify the root cause of what’s keeping your product or service from reaching its full potential; for you and your customers.

This article was originally posted on my personal site.

Matthew Oliphant

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Matthew has been getting people from WTF to FTW since 1999. Find him at