The notion of conference speaking both excites & scares me.
I just gave my first 2 android conference talks
When I finally worked up the courage to submit conference talk proposals, I did so with the intention of documenting the speaking process if I were selected.
I hoped that by openly sharing my experiences that I could perhaps connect with others that are considering taking the same leap. And that, by seeing my excitement/fears/anxiety/joy, they may recognize that there is nothing special required to add your voice to the public forum.
So, over the last couple of months I’ve been documenting my preparation process.
Now that I’m several weeks removed from the experience, I wanted to take the time now to look back and share some thoughts with you on the my experiences as a whole.
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Because I know my experiences won’t resonate with everyone, I want to say one more thing up front in hopes of encouraging others to share.
You have a voice.
If you’ve struggled to share, whether in writing, speaking, video, etc, because you don’t think you have anything worth sharing; I sincerely encourage you to remember this:
“You have a lifetime of experience that is uinquely your own, and therfore you having thoughts, opinions, experiences, perspectives that can’t be found anywhere else in quite the same way.”
Your specific perspective on a topic could be exactly what someone out there needs to hear.
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The Good 😀
So with that, I want to start with some of the best takeaways from my speaking experience so far 🙂
“We are rooting for you”
For a long time, I’ve worried that if I were to ever speak at a conference I would have to be perfect; that my content and delivery needed to A+ the whole time or the audience would be obviously frustrated with me and I would never get to speak at another event.
Maybe this resonates with you?
Maybe this sounds a bit unrealistic (it does to me now), but for a long time this was part of my self-talk around speaking at a conference.
In reality, my experience has been the exact opposite of this.
When people attend a conference, or watch a recording, or read a blog post they want to learn from you. They are seeking answers and therefore are hoping you can provide them. They are in your corner.
I can go back, analyze both of my recent talks, and criticize myself over all the little details, but you know what? Not a single person from the audience for either of those talks had a negative thing to say.
Maybe they thought them… I don’t know. But, when I looked out in to the audience I saw many friendly, smiling, nodding faces. And after each talk, there were those who came and said “hi” and shared kind words about the talk.
My fears that the audience would turn on me if I gave anything less than an A+ performance turned out to be completely unfounded. In fact, engaging with the audience before hand, looking out onto their supportive faces during, and speaking with them after the talk turned out to be one of the most positive aspects of this whole experience.
In general, I think people are looking for reasons to enjoy your talk, to learn from and connect with what you’re saying. Not, in fact, the opposite as I once feared.
“You might learn more than you share”
I knew I would learn while preparing my talks, but I didn’t realize just how much.
Part of my motivation for speaking/writing is that I find it a great way for me to learn. I anticipated that I would learn a few things here and there while preparing my talks, but I assumed that the sum of what I shared would be greater than what I learned directly from prepping the talks.
I really don’t think that was the case. The more I dug into my topics, the more I discovered I had to learn & share.
I may have started out concerned I wouldn’t have enough content to fill each time slot, but by the time each talk arrived I was much more occupied by cutting out information. So much so, that I think I could easily come up with several followup talks on the same topics.
This was an awesome suprise 🙂. If you’re stopping yourself from speaking because you aren’t sure if you can come up with enough content I say just go for it! You might just find that as you start researching you’ll have more than enough info.
Also, you don’t have to fill your entire time slot. If you’re schedule for a 45 minute talk and you only end up using 30 minutes no one is going to get mad at you. Don’t put that extra pressure on yourself by thinking you must fill every single second.
“It’s kind of addictive… but in a good way”
Now that I’ve given 2 conference talks, I only want to do more.
Quite simply, after going through this process and finding it not nearly as scary as I once thought, I can’t wait to do it again. 😀
“speak at all the conferences!!”
The positive aspects of the experience far outweigh the negative. In my limited experience to date, I’ve found speaking to be a terrific way to learn, make new connections, and give back to the developer community.
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The Honest 😐
I’d love to say that everything was smooth, easy, and comfortable but for me that wasn’t the case. And since I promised myself to be honest about the process, here are some of the less-than-awesome takeaways from my first 2 conference talks.
“It can be nerve-racking”
Vulnerability; public speaking; leading a technical discussion; the unknown; not exactly how a lot of people might describe their next exciting endeavor.
The hardest part of this whole process was dealing with my self-doubt.
- Imposter Syndrome
- Perceived expectations
These all worked together to make me ask questions of myself such as:
- “Who is even going to find this interesting?”
- “What if nobody agrees with me?”
- “What if it’s not an amazing talk?”
“side of self-doubt anyone?”
It can be a scary thing to step out of our comfort zone. Stepping on to a stage, and letting yourself and your ideas be known requires a level of vulnerability that is often uncomfortable. It certainly was for me.
Reminding the logical part of my brain that sometimes the greatest growth requires discomfort did nothing to make the feelings of unease go away.
I wish I could point you to an easy solution to make the anxiety, nerves, and self-doubt go way, but sadly I cannot. (If you find one, please let me know 😉)
Like I shared in my vlog leading up to the events, those feelings were present pretty much throughout the process.
I can suggest a few things to help manage those feelings and improve your self-talk if needed.
- Think about who your target audience is, then focus on them every time you start to question whether you have anything useful to share. For my talk in Boston, my audience was “those starting out with Kotlin.” With a more narrow view of exactly who your talk is for, it’s easier to see how you bring value to them even if the delivery isn’t perfect or you miss a few details.
- Recognize that it’s perfectly okay to be excited, scared, anxious, whatever. Any and all of those emotions are perfectly reasonable. Some people might not feel nervous before a talk, and others do. Whether starting out, or a veteran all of those thoughts & emotions are perfectly valid. Accepting the discomfort helped me manage it because I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to seem like I had it all figured out. (Which is thankfully not required to help others 🙂)
- Remind yourself that others are rooting for you. The audience, the other speakers, the event organizers; they are all overwhelmingly going to be in your corner. For me, that thought helped give the courage to put myself onto the stage and share.
“It’s a lot of work”
I have newfound respect for every talk I’ve ever seen.
The amount of work that goes into a talk is not insignificant. From creating a proposal, to research, creating slides & demos, practice, travel and the talk itself; it’s a large time/effort commitment on behalf of the speaker.
It certainly isn’t time wasted. Like I already stated, it’s rewarding. But, it does require you to find & make a lot of time.
If making that time is a challenge, I encourage you to find opportunities to build time into your work schedule (especially if it’s relevant to your job). Perhaps start by preparing/giving the talk to your colleagues.
Once you have a talk prepared, reuse it. Just because you give it at one event doesn’t mean others at another event wont still find it useful.
“The biggest challenges might not be what you expected”
I went into this expecting the challenge to be researching and organizing content to fill each talk.
I did not expect to find myself so directly exploring my own doubts & fears. I didn’t expect to grow personally as well as professionally. I wasn’t expecting to dive so deep into what many would call “soft skills” but I’m now coming to recognize as being every bit as important as any technical skill I’ve developed.
I was surprised to discover just how much impact ‘courage’ and ‘community’ have on me personally to grow/learn to my fullest extent and to build a career, and really life, that is fulfilling.
I can’t tell you what your biggest challenge might be if you were to take on the challenge of giving your first talk, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not what you have in mind. Like me, you might find that you grow in unexpected, but exciting ways.
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Should You Share? 🤔
I struggle to find the words to encourage you enough to share your thoughts & experience with those around you. Especially if you’re from an under represented group.
Your voices, in particular, are needed and unique. They have such ability to resonate with others who may not see themselves as easily in the voices already easily found in the public forum.
I love this quote from Brené Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection”
“You have to be brave with your life so others can be brave with theirs”
In the context of deciding whether or not to share your experiences at a technical conference, your voice could be exactly what is needed to inspire others to share, or to pursue their passions, or to solve a critical problem.
If you’ve been on the fence, I hope that maybe some of what I’ve experienced and shared here will connect with you and possibly convince you to take that step towards speaking.
I look forward to learning from you 🙂
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Resources To Help You Start 📚
Sharing your experience has risks and can make you feel vulnerable but can also be empowering and inspire others.
If you are submitting to a conference and are unsure because someone told you the topic isn’t unique, remember – your EXPERIENCES are. No one can duplicate your feelings, your work, your problem solving process… YOU are unique, and don’t let someone negate your experiences.
No matter where you are in your technical skills journey, you have something valuable to share & teach. Get rid of the imposter syndrome that you have to be an “expert”, and find the spaces where it adds value to help others on their trail.
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