As an IT professional who has attended many conferences and trainings, I have always had a small desire to be a presenter. Although it is a daunting task to do, I felt I may have the ability to do a decent job at it. This, of course, goes against the fact that I am pretty introverted by most accounts. I am not big on socializing. I do not need it as much as most people. So to stand in front of a bunch of people and talk for a half hour straight isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. I generally do not like that amount of attention. With all of that said, I still wanted the experience of doing it. If nothing else, to conquer that fear.
So as fate had it, a few months ago I received an email for a call to speakers at an annual event in my state, for a consortium that my employer is a part of. I thought it may be a good place to do my first public speaking engagement, so I applied with my topic along with my qualifications and was selected to speak, which just took place this past week.
The topic I proposed was on automating Chocolatey, which is one of my favorite solutions I use, and one that I am very familiar with. Looking back, it was a very smart idea to choose something I am passionate about. It makes going through the process of creating, practicing and performing the presentation much easier and rewarding.
Creating and practicing the presentation
While I was selected as a presenter in September, I did not really do anything until December, when I decided to create my PowerPoint. I was required to submit my slides a month before my presentation. Needless to say, that was not even close to the final presentation I showed up with. In addition to being an introvert, I am a world-class procrastinator, capable of taking any task, and delaying it severely. A week before my presentation is when I decided to actually really work on it and practice.
I shortened it by about 8 slides, shortened my bullet points, added and removed certain slides. Re-ordered them so they made more sense in the story I was telling.
Then it came time for practicing it on my wife, one-year-old daughter, robot droid (BB-8), and myself. I went through it about 6-7 times. Each time realizing I needed to change content on the slides. My initial joke I was going to open up with was telling the audience “this is my first public presentation, and I completely expect it to be a disaster“. My wife urged me to cut that joke, which I did. I replaced it with a joke that I will get into later, which I still screwed up during the actual presentation.
So come the day of the presentation, I actually was not nervous at all. I got up that morning in the dark, left my sleeping family, and headed out on a 45 minute drive north. I arrived about an hour and a half before I was scheduled to speak. This was a good idea, because it gave me time to get the final version of my PowerPoint on the computer I was using, and allowed me to get technically ready.
So, as 8 am rolled around, there was a keynote in the exhibit hall. Welp, for whatever reason, the audio feed was coming into my room, which was down the hall from the hall. I first checked another room to confirm that was not supposed to be happening, which it was not. I got a hold of the tech, and they fixed it promptly. Crisis averted.
My room was small, only 36 chairs, which to me was fine because it was more intimate to say have 200 people listening to you, which would be pretty daunting for a first presentation. A few people started to stroll into my room about 20 minutes away from the start time. I made some small talk with them, which I can’t stand, but felt obligated to do. Some of my colleagues came to listen as well, which I was really grateful for. Made the experience much less stressful seeing familiar faces.
So came 9:15, and it was show time. I had only about 10-12 people show up in my audience, which was still perfectly fine for me. After all, if this was a disaster, news would not spread quickly at least. Another speaker introduced me, and I was off…
As I began to speak, I could hear my voice cracking. That nervous cracking that literally ONLY doing public speaking can do to someone. I held it together, and it subsided. Then, I got into my joke. My joke was about how I always mention to my wife that “only one of us gets to walk in Einstein’s footsteps“. Only I screwed up the joke, just as I did in this post, not first mentioning that Einstein was faculty where I work, so to anyone not knowledgable of my work, they would have no idea what the hell I was talking about. So the joke was totally botched. Great. I realized that after I said it and nobody laughed, but still held it together.
The rest of my presentation went fairly well. I took questions at the end, and I felt my answers were pretty comprehensive. It is funny, but when you the one presenting content, it goes REALLY quickly. Thirty minutes felt like five to me and just like that it was over. I thanked everyone for coming, and it was over.
I am really proud of myself for overcoming this fear of public speaking, especially when you have peers that can judge you on what you know and how you present it. I was told by colleagues I did well, whether that is the truth or not, I will never know, but I will take it. I do plan on presenting again in the future, perhaps even at this very conference next year if I feel I have a good topic.