So You Want to Get Into Speaking…

Over the past decade and change of speaking at various events, it’s finally now becoming less intimidating and a ton more fun.   I’ve had people ask me various questions about getting into speaking, and so I wanted to take a few moments to share some of my key notes.

Find topics you’re interested in and excited about.

This makes it even easier to talk about the topic.  If it’s something you’re excited about, your audience will pick up on your excitement and has a better chance of staying engaged.  If you have the passion for something, your passion will help get others curious about your interests.  And if you start to lose that passion, have no fear – it’s possible to reignite your passions.

Find other speakers to learn from or even co-present with.

My first talk was one of the few where I had a co-presenter.  My friend Kevin Otte saw my potential as a speaker – he saw my enthusiasm and energy and knew I could do it.  He talked me into presenting at the local Linux user group on the Samba web administration tool.  Kevin was my co-presenter, and for me, I felt much better working with him, as we had been friends for awhile and he was a Linux guy, someone the audience could easily relate to, whereas I was the token girl there.  To me, he had early credibility, which I think helped our talk.

My second talk was part of a team presentation at a major conference, and I did miserably, as stage fright and some other internal noises got to me.  Thankfully, my teammates were able to pick up the pieces and fill in the gaps.  And after we were done, they reassured me that things would be fine.  And a month later, I would be back to presenting at the user group, this time on my own, and I was psyched.

You can find a lot of speakers over in the Speak.NET and INETA communities.  Many of those speakers are approachable and may offer more words advice on how to get into the community and into speaking.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Especially when you’re just starting out… practice, practice, and practice.  Practice giving your talk to yourself in mirror.  Give the talk to your pets.  Give the talk to the people in the cars around you in rush hour.  Give the talk to your significant others or friends.  Give the talk to the open air around you.  Give your talk to as many people as will listen before the big day so that you become comfortable with what you have to say.  And ask others for feedback – you’d be surprised what people can pick up in a presentation, not just from verbal cues.

If you’re doing demos, make sure to run through them and verify that everything is working.  Back up your demos and presentations to the cloud, just in case your hardware fails. (Trust me – I’ve had hardware failure on the day of and it wasn’t a pretty day for recovering the talk.)  If you’re that worried, capture your talk on video as a backup.

Start small and work into the bigger groups.

When you’re just getting into speaking, it’s easier to start with smaller groups and get your message out that way.  The smaller the group, the easier it is to sort through feedback and then hone your presentation for the future.  This, to me, is probably the most logical from smallest to largest:

  • Company presentation for your team
  • Presentation at a local user group
  • Presentation at a local event (SQL Saturday, Day of .NET, PowerShell Saturday, etc.)
  • Presentation at a regional conference (CodeMash, StirTrek, That Conference, devLink, etc.)
  • Presentation at a national or even international conference (PyCon, VSLive, TechEd, deConnections, SQL PASS Summit, etc.)

Don’t picture the audience naked. Just don’t.

Some things can’t be unseen.   Seriously, did you really want to see that? Probably not.

Now if you are giggling, okay, giggle the nervousness away.  But seriously… WORST. ADVICE. EVER. is to picture your audience naked.

Remember that they’re trying to get something out of your talk.  Whether it’s someone who wants to learn more for their own gain or for their employer’s gain or maybe even someone scouting you for another conference, you never know who’s there or why, so bring your A game and just be the best you can be.

Learn to channel your nervousness into excitement.

As an introvert, this was one of the toughest things for me to deal with.  However, I finally hit a point where my nervousness for the most part flips right into excitement because I convinced myself – people come to my talks either to be there for me or the topic I’m speaking on.  Keeping that in mind, the more people walk in, the more excited I get.  I found this to be very true at Strangeloop.  I was terrified at the thought of speaking in front of hundreds of people in a theater in an opera house.  Introverted me was like “Lights! Camera! Die!”, but I had to keep ignoring that.  As I sat in the theater that day, with my voice fighting to stay since I was losing it due to sickness, I was nervous about losing my voice, but I was getting more excited as people filtered in for my talk.  I can remember texting one of my more outgoing friends about how the excitement was finally there and the nervousness not-so-much.  Words can’t explain how much easier it is when you present with excitement rather than with nervousness.

Quit second guessing yourself and just do it!

When I was younger, I had a project that challenged myself, and I ended up calling it Project Nike, because Nike’s slogan is “Just do it!”  After giving it that name, any internal roadblock I tried to create would crumble because I let the words “Just do it” carry me through.

Don’t worry yourself to pieces over the little things.  Find a topic you’re excited about, a group to present to, and just jump in and do it!  Take feedback as constructive criticism, and improve for the future.

I hope to see more new speakers in the community and would love to shepherd more into speaking!

By sadukie

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