I like going to seminars and workshops, and I always wonder, what did those speakers have in mind right before they went on stage? Were they nervous? Did they prepare the jokes? What do they have that I don’t have?
Why I didn’t do it before
I simply didn’t have any chance to
Giving a talk was one of my resolutions in 2019. But it’s not every day you’re invited to give a talk, unless you’re famous for something. I wasn’t famous.
Being in the WordPress space, it’s actually easy to give a talk, because we have WordCamps and WordPress meetups where you can just apply as a speaker. Back in 2019, I applied to speak at WordCamp Iloilo in the Philippines, but I submitted the application very last minute, so I never heard from them again.
I thought I didn’t have anything to share
The second reason is that I didn’t feel I was prepared enough. I thought I was too young, I thought I didn’t have enough knowledge to be shared.
But after looking back to what I’ve been doing for the last 2 years out of college (and seeing young, talented people out there who ware much younger than me), I knew I had something to share. I read a lot, I can write, so I should be able to speak, too.
I thought I couldn’t speak
The last reason, I think, is I have too much self-doubt. Speaking is not exactly my thing. I write better than I speak. I have all these labels of myself in my head, and like everyone else (I hope!), I have labels of what I’m good at and what I’m not. Speaking is not what I’m good at, at least that’s what I used to believe in since I was a kid.
I was worried that these labels that have been stopping me were just reasons I came up with to avoid challenging myself.
How I prepared things
One day, I accepted the offer from Mbak (Mbak translates to older sister in Indonesian) Devin to be a speaker in the Jakarta WordPress’s first meetup in 2020. My talk was about onboarding emails, and I had about a month to prepare.
It all starts in the mind.
Like I’ve said before, I had this deep-seated belief that I wasn’t good at public speaking. I hate being spontaneous. What if people get bored? What if I get questions I don’t know the answer to? What if they know the topic better than me?
So I decided to confront myself, to present myself with the facts. The fact that I believe in the growth mindset. That I have done things that I didn’t think I’d be able to in the past. Things like writing my thoughts in the form of a full article in English (I once thought it was impossible for me to form an English article interesting enough for people to read). Or that I now have the courage to come up to people at conferences and introduce myself and talk to them.
I’ve done things that are unthinkable and unimaginable for my younger self.
And right now, for my current self, it’s speaking.
I noticed that speaking — in a lot of ways — is similar to writing. Both are methods to communicate your thoughts and ideas, preferably in a structured way. So thinking that I’m getting good at one (writing) and can + will get good on the other one (speaking) is really helpful.
I also wrote this in my journal the day before I gave the talk:
“Remember, my task is only to help one person in the room. To explain what onboarding email is to one person in the room, and then nothing else. If that person’s business is changed by my talk, then my job is done.”
That really helps lift the pressure to be impressive.
I bought a nice blouse for myself and for this event :p
Initially, I wanted to practice A LOT. Like a lot. 3-5 times a day. For 12 days or more.
But, as the talk itself was 25 minutes long, I realized it’s not realistic.
I ended up practicing 20+ times in total (I think), with one recorded session.
It all paid off
“When I perform, it’s just like, I just think about…nothing, except exactly what I’m about to do. If you think about anything else, it will really throw you off.Billie Eilish in this interview
If you think ahead or you think back, you’ll literally go insane. ”
Like all things, the preparation must come to an end.
I just let go, took the mic, and started speaking.
How was it?
Of course, I missed some things, but I think I got my point across. People were curious, asking questions. Some even came up to me after the event, said that the presentation was great, and they wanted to know more.
I stayed in the room for one more hour, talking to people and solving their problems.
And that was more than enough for me. I’ve accomplished my goal to influence one person in the room.
If you want to give a talk too (and you should), here’s my tips:
- Ask yourself, why do you want to do this? What’s your goal? For me, making this about other people, rather than about me, made things easier.
- Talk about things you know well.