In a previous post, I described in painful detail why, exactly, I was scared of giving my presentation at the Evernote Trunk Conference a couple of weeks ago. This post will resemble what project management professionals would refer to as a “post-mortem”; that is, a look back at how things went and how founded or unfounded my fears turned out to be.
Let me begin by saying that I did practice my talk several times before giving it. Both in front of various people (friends, coworkers) and alone in my hotel room during the evenings leading up to the event. This was easily the most common piece of advice I was given when I asked my seasoned speaker friends. I eschewed a fully scripted presentation in favor of a somewhat lengthy list of small prompts that I would review while speaking in order to keep myself on track, but giving me enough room to “be myself” while speaking.
I won’t lie — as I was practicing, I felt pretty damn good about how this was going to go. I spoke slowly (which, as I said, is a bit of a challenge for me) and, near as I could tell, I sounded confident and communicated my ideas clearly. Things went a little differently when I stepped onto the stage.
[Sidebar] Lots of very nice people complimented me on my presentation afterward and, of course, I’m going to be my own worst critic here. As the amount of time since the event has grown longer, my memory of my performance has become less pleasant. Anyway, the point is that I fully understand that what I’m writing and what you’re about to read will seem a rather harsh criticism.
For the ten or so minutes before it was time for me to speak, I stood nervously at a nearby table reviewing my notes distractedly, watching the throngs of people milling around and such. The bar was unfortunately set to open at the same time as my presentation was going to begin, so I wouldn’t be able to procure a glass of “liquid courage” like I’d hoped (and, yes, I asked the kid behind the bar to make an exception, which he didn’t). The few minutes before I went onstage was agonizing; I felt good about what I was going to do, but I wanted to get it over with and have a freaking burrito because, frankly, I like burritos more than I like speaking in public.
My name was called and I walked up to the podium carrying my iPad (which displayed an Evernote note containing the prompts I mentioned before). I shit you not — the second I looked up and stared into the bright lights and saw the room full of people looking at me, I froze. It felt like a full minute of me just standing there, unable to find my voice. All of my confidence had slid out through my ears during first nanosecond I was up there.
I stuttered, trying desperately to find a way to just start talking.
After a few seconds, a very nice man named Michael Hyatt (who was to present immediately after me) called out from the audience,
“You’re among friends, Brett.”
I don’t think he fully realizes how much that helped.
So, I started talking. I had previously planned on telling some kind of self-deprecating joke that would both lighten my mood and subtly inform the audience that this wasn’t exactly my forte. I summarily skipped over that and started talking.
I won’t belabor each and every little tiny disaster that I remember, but suffice it to say that there was lots of me forgetting to advance my slides, issuing nervous apologies and more than a little disjointedness to the whole thing.
Truth is, it wasn’t nearly the disaster I’m making it out to be. Hell, from what I understand, the talk was videotaped and will appear on the Internet at some point, so you can judge for yourself when that happens.
My biggest takeaway’s from the whole experience:
- I was absolutely right to be afraid; many of the specific things I was afraid would happen, did.
- I did it. It wasn’t sexy and it took me a good long time to relax when it was over, but I did it.
As I said in that earlier post, I’m not so naïve as to think that I could prance on up to the microphone and completely nail it on the first try. But, I really do want to get better at this stuff, so I’m going to keep accepting invitations to do it (infrequent as they may be).
Thanks for reading. And to everybody who said such kind and encouraging things to me when it was over, you’re the reason I’m going to do it again.
Photo by jessi.bryan