Just before Christmas, I decided to go to TEDx Mountain View at the beginning of January. Therefore, I didn’t have that much time to prepare. I prepared the talk the same way I had prepared every talk so far. In the week before my flight, I thought very actively about what I wanted the audience to take away from my talk, because I think this is the most important thing a speaker needs to answer first. Based on this, I tried to build up a storyline that goes through my talk and that helps me getting my message across. In the end, I came up with some examples to undermine my points. I turned the talk upside down for a few times until I was satisfied with its content. Until that point, I had not made any slides, neither had I written anything down on paper. However, I knew exactly what I wanted to say and how my slides should support that.
I made my slides on my long flight to San Francisco. Because I arrived three days before the TEDx event in Mountain View, I rehearsed the talk every morning before I went out and every evening before I went to sleep. Unfortunately, I missed the TEDx dress rehearsal on the 2nd of January, as I only arrived the evening after that. But fortunately, the TEDx team offered me to come by the Mountain View High School to rehearse my talk the day before the event. It was a good thing that they were happy with my talk and I didn’t have to change anything. I had already reserved this evening to rewrite things and to rehearse the talk from scratch. But now, I could have a good meal in a good restaurant, along with a glass of red wine that helped me relax 🙂
When I arrived at the event venue on the morning of the 5th of January, I quickly felt very nervous. Like every time I give a talk, I asked myself: “Why did I sign up for this? I must have been crazy!!”. I managed to calm myself down and told myself that I rehearsed enough and that I know exactly what I wanted to say. When it was time to go on the stage, the nervousness was replaced by excitement and I was able to focus on my talk.
The talk was recorded and will be posted here once it is edited.
Many people told me that they admire when someone speaks in front of so many people. I personally believe that everybody is able to speak in front of a large audience and I think that everybody should do it at some point. I believe that everybody has ideas, experiences and theories that are worth sharing. Speaking in front of people is not as terrible as many people think. I would like to share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned since I started speaking at conferences.
Nothing is more important than being well prepared. And by prepared I don’t mean learning your whole talk by heart, but knowing exactly where in the talk you are and what you want to communicate. Exactly how the sentence are structured when they come out is not important at all. On the contrary, it feels more natural if you speak freely and naturally.
2. Being nervous is normal
You will be nervous. This is totally normal and it is ok. But it is important that you keep the nervousness under your control. I try to turn it around and try to see it in a way that the nervousness helps me to perform at my very best. Before going on the stage, try to calm yourself and tell yourself that everything will be fine. It also helps to do some exercise that help make you “taller”, like raise your hands in the air and put your shoulders back. When it is time to walk out on the stage, walk with your head held high and with a smile for the audience.
3. Don’t panic
If you lose track of a sentence during your talk, don’t panic! It happens to everybody. Just take a deep breath, maybe take a glimpse at your notes and then carry on. You shouldn’t feel bad about it.
4. The audience is forgiving
When we are nervous before talks, we picture all kinds of terrible scenarios which often have nothing to do with what the audience really thinks: “Am I competent enough?”, “What do they think of me?”, “All the other speakers know much more than I do”. In order to avoid this, it helps me when I remind myself how I think when I am in the audience. When I listen to a talk, I have a lot of respect for the people who do a talk. This person took a lot of time out of her / his schedule in order to tell me something. If the person loses track during the talk, I don’t think bad about her / him. The audience wants you to succeed! They mean well, and they are forgiving.
With all the excitement and the stress of preparation, many people associate a conference talk with suffering. This doesn’t have to be the case! Isn’t it nice that you were invited to speak at this conference? You are privileged to speak in front of interested people and you’ve been given an opportunity to share your ideas and experience. This is definitely something that you should enjoy 🙂
I hope these tips and tricks help some of you to prepare for your first conference talk. I also hope that I could convince some of you that it is definitely worthwhile to apply to your favourite conference to give a talk. Many conferences are still not diverse enough, and it is important that different people with different backgrounds share their ideas with the community. The lack of diversity is not only a problem in the software industry in general, but also in the localization industry in particular. Phrase stands for diversity and supports female software developers to spread the word about diversity. At this point, I want to thank Phrase for the sponsoring that allowed me to cover my travel costs in order to give this TEDx talk.