When I was around 9 years old, my creative grandfather made me a “microphone stand” out of a couple of wooden scraps and a wooden yarn spindle from his blanket factory, which would become my microphone. I remember standing behind this microphone performing on a guitar, announcing my co-host (my brother, who was, at the time, 4 years old). This was our everyday pastime.
The important thing was that this performance happened for close family. I was extremely shy to do such acts of speaking and performing to those outside my family.
I went through elementary school and high school afraid to stand up in front of crowds. I was sure I had nothing to share. I was sure that there were others that were better, and I didn’t want to look foolish. You remember peer pressure in school, right?
But then something unexpected happened. I was nominated as president of my honors fraternity in college. It was expected that the president host all of the meetings, go to college conferences and talk, and drive the awards ceremonies each year. I found that while I was extremely nervous, this was becoming very appealing to me. And I knew that this would prepare me for things that would shape my speaking world forever.
Over the years, I would be called on to speak for my company, present our team proposals to senior management, and to share the current state of our department to the large IT organization for which I belonged.
Several years ago, I wrote an article for a testing conference magazine. I thought that being selected to be part of the magazine felt like enough. But I was about to realize what this one small article would do for my future. The conference asked me to submit to speak for them. I gathered my thoughts, put together an abstract, and submitted. Not only did I get a response from the conference, but they told me that they felt my proposal was too large for just one track session (which was 75 mins). They asked me if I would consider splitting my presentation into a Part 1 and a Part 2. Obviously, I was thrilled by this opportunity.
The day came for my presentation. As I stood in front of the group, I realized these people had never heard of Mike Lyles. If they came to hear someone speak at this conference, it was some well known name in software testing, but surely not me. I realized that if I wanted to be remembered, I could not just give an average presentation, and I surely could not be a failure at “how” I presented it. I had to build that first impression, and I had to do it well.
What I realized standing there in front of so many people those two and a half hours was that when you are speaking for a special event – like a conference – the people are hungry. They want to be fed. They want to hear something from you that they may or may not be able to get on their own. I also noticed that you could quickly tell if you were making sense, and if you were getting through. It became a natural high for me. When I saw people’s faces light up in reaction to what I was speaking, I was motivated to give them more. I began to relate with them. I realized that other presentations in my past were very stiff and focused on many things (such as project status, proposal for a new project, etc). However, as I stood in front of the conference crowd, I realized we are in this together. We can have a conversation, and I can share with you what my experiences have been, and we can learn together.
Through the years, I have been privileged to speak internationally, to conduct half day workshops, full day workshops, and even keynotes. I remember the first keynote. It was so exciting. The only thing I was not prepared for was the lights on my face. When I had spoken for sessions and workshops, there were no flood lights shining at me. It didn’t take me long during the keynote to adjust to the fact that while I can’t see everyone in the crowd, I still had a job to give them what they came to hear.
Over a year ago, one of the conferences asked me to conduct a session on how to build an abstract, how to get selected, and then, if selected, how to build the slides, and how to present to the group. This was such an awesome session that we did it three conferences in a row. I realized that I had a lot to share with those people who wanted to speak.
So enough about me – why am I becoming a Speak Easy mentor? Because I have been there, I have seen what to do and not to do. And I know that if you have the heart to speak and share your story, I can help you find that voice and use that voice to not only keep people’s attention, but to change the world in some way.
Diversity is important. We need every one to participate, and as many have stated, we see a lack of participation in some areas. My desire is to be part of such an awesome change and that each of us at Speak Easy will look back and remember how wonderful this organization became for so many.
I will share with you my experiences. I will give you honest feedback on the things you want to talk about, the proposals and abstracts that you will create, and I will give you tips, pointers, constructive criticism, and praise for the great presentations that you will eventually conduct.
Thanks to Speak Easy for having faith in me. All great speakers and mentors in the world had someone who had faith in them at one point in their career. I’m here to have faith in you! And I look forward to learning as much from you in this process as you learn from me!