I have been talking to a lot of people recently about, erm… talking.
As with anything in life, the first step is always the hardest. There is an aura of mysticism about doing something for the first time. It is also much harder than subsequent times as we don’t know what to do, where to start and especially if we are good enough to even try. I know it all too well, I’ve been there.
Back in 2013 I had an amazing opportunity to attend CAST. It was on my bucket list for a long time to attend it. When the time came I was super excited. Just before boarding the plane I was having a chat to my mentor and friend Anne-Marie Charrett about how thrilled I was and she mentioned that CAST had a great program for new speakers to experiment being on stage by doing a lightning talk – a 5 minute talk on any topic, no slides required. Anne-Marie knew I had done a short talk the year before at the Girl Geek Meetup in Sydney and was trying to convince me to do it again at CAST. I had other ideas.
I was terrified to present at a testing conference. It is one thing to talk about testing to a group of developers and another all together to talk about testing to testers. Especially at a conference renowned for its speaker’s caliber and fierce open-season discussions. There was no way I was good enough for that. So I told Anne-Marie I was going to think about it. To me that meant ‘she’ll forget all about it and I’ll go my merry way’ and to Anne-Marie that meant ‘great, she’s in’.
So I arrived at CAST and as soon as I see Anne-Marie she asks me if I wanted to run through the presentation with her, as the lightening talks were going to be the next day. I panicked. I tried my best to convince her that I had no business speaking at a testing conference. I used my arsenal of reasons: I am not an expert, I’ve never spoke at a conference before, my talk was not good enough, etc, etc. But she didn’t want to hear about it. Anne-Marie said something to me that I still remember to this day: ‘if you are going to wait until you feel like you are an expert, you are never going to do it’. That made sense to me.
As a last desperate act, I went to speak to the person who was organizing the lighting talks to see if I could reason with her instead, to explain that I couldn’t possibly speak there. That person was Dawn Hanes. Dawn, just like Anne-Marie had a million reasons why I SHOULD speak and was so supportive and helpful I just couldn’t say no. So I put my name down. And then the stress began. I was absolutely petrified. I had two full days of conference before my 5 min talk and I was struggling to enjoy any of it.
The day of, I woke up at the crack of dawn and rehearsed those 5 minutes at least 200 times. I presented it to Anne-Marie to get feedback, and got reassured that I was going to be fine.
Finally came the time to present. I was so nervous I could barely speak. The room was full of people I admired for a long time, and here I was presenting in front of them. In all honesty I do not remember much of what I said, or how I went. But to my horror I had a video of it to remind me. What I DO remember is the feeling of accomplishment when it was over. It was awesome.
That was 2013, and since then I have done 5 full track talks at conferences all around the world. You can read my report of how my first presentation went here which includes some takeaways. I still get nervous, every time. However it gets easier, slightly easier anyway. One thing I know for sure, I would not have done that first 5 minute lightning talk at CAST weren’t for the support of some amazing people. I still rely on the support of my mentors Anne-Marie and Dawn when I put together a new talk.
These days, I am the one trying to get others to talk at conferences. I am the one trying to convince them that you don’t have to be feel like an expert to speak, that we all have valuable experiences to share, and we are the experts on our own experiences. The more voices we have out there, and the more diverse they are, the better. There’s nothing worse than listening to the same thing over and over again, right?
So, if you are thinking about presenting, but like the 2013 me you are thinking you couldn’t possibly do so, do yourself (and our industry) a favor: register here to find a mentor and embark on a journey of a life time!
If you are still in doubt and want to know more, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m always happy to share my experiences and would love to cheer you on your journey!