For all the web conferences and talk of the same old faces and same old talks being rehashed, when you consider just how big the design industry is even in your own town or city the percentage of people willing to stand up in front of a room of friends and/or strangers and talk from a position of authority on a subject is pretty low.
I’ve never done it, I’ve always been happy enough in meetings with clients at any level and talking about ideas or discussing design solutions but standing there, in front of people who are wanting to learn something or take away some inspiration from my time at the front of the room – frankly until now, I’d rather have swum with sharks sans cage or taken a risk on a parachute jump.
With that said, it’s something I’ve known I’d needed to get over and it makes not one bit of difference that people tell you that being on the stage gives you the position of power, of authority and that for the most part people haven’t come to see you stumble over your words or flail around like a fish out of water even on a topic you know well.
I knew all that and so yesterday I spoke for 10 minutes to a room of only 9 final year Computer Science students as part of a 2 hour class/workshop with @peteduncanson at Huddersfield University and did a very basic intro to Responsive Web Design.
It’s hardly headlining a TED Conference but we’ve all got to start somewhere right?
How did it go?
As pretty much every blog of someone who’s been a public speaker will start out with immortal words “I’m still here”. I wasn’t great, I didn’t expect to be.
I didn’t have much time to prepare slides due to a massive amount of client work and I didn’t know much about the audience and what level of skill or knowledge they had. When I write this blog, I write what’s on my mind and with the assumption that most of my readers (hello there!) know roughly what I’m talking about or are at least in a position where they might go off and do some more reading.
Talking to the students yesterday it became painfully clear after about 2 minutes they had no idea what responsive design was and even though I’d tried to pitch the intro as simply as possible, it was still too advanced as most of them it appeared were doing no work in HTML/CSS and certainly not design.
Once you start losing the attention of people it’s easy to get thrown and with more prep time and experience I’d be confident of changing the tone and pitch of what I was saying in the same way as Pete skilfully did (he does come from a teaching and speaking background though). I’ve got a great mentor in Pete and I hope plenty of opportunities to talk at local meetups and events in the coming months.
The main reason for me agreeing to do this was to improve my confidence. I know the material, I write about a lot of things and some folks read it. Talking about it to me seems much harder though.
Practice and know your material
Obvious of course but without much prep time at the first sign of losing the students interest (literally 3 slides in) the mind starts going blank and the mouth dry and I found myself skipping a few points to move on. I’m putting this one down to a combination of first time nerves and a lack of prep work.
I can do something about the second and I never have to worry about the first. The first time is done.
Research your audience
Like I said above, when I blog here, I do so assuming a minimum level of knowledge and experience from my readers but in this case, my assumption was well off. Not sure what more I could have done there.
Robert Mills wrote a lovely post recently about his feelings before getting into talking and he raised what I’m sure many people, myself included, feel when considering a talk and that’s the irrational fear that you are somehow not knowledgeable enough to be in front of people talking. I felt the same to a degree despite having nearly a decade of experience on the web but I’m sure with experience and time that will pass.
The main reason for me taking this first tentative step into speaking is that recently I was asked if I’d like to speak at a web conference later in the year. Something I’d never considered doing but I liked the idea and style of the conference and the people behind it so I said yes.
They’re showing a massive amount of faith in my ability to transform some of the topics I cover in my writing into a talk that would inspire and hopefully entertain their paying customers.
The least I can do to repay such a kind show of faith is spend as much time this year as possible practising and practising and that started yesterday with a stuttering, dry mouthed “performance” in front of only 9 people but to be honest, I feel like I’ve already crossed one of the biggest barriers and that’s being there.