On twitter a question was asked by Casey West if people had “Speaker Fail” stories and I replied to it with my story. I have told this story to some folks but never shared it on my blog, so I figured I would share it. I already wrote an article about speaking at your local VMUG and what to do and not to do, but these are things I found out the hard way…
Dear tech speaker friends,
A co-worker recently got really nervous about some talks they're giving. We all try to have the perfet talks but those of us with experience know it rarely goes that way. Can we share our #speakerfail stories?
We're all just hoping for the best! 🙂
— Casey West (@caseywest) March 8, 2018
So what is the back story? Well, many many years ago I just started working for VMware. I was already doing some blogging and had posted a bunch of articles about vSphere HA. As a result I knew some of the developers and one of them asked me to work with him on the deck. I was terrified of public speaking, actually I rejected other public speaking, but I figured that helping him out develop the deck couldn’t hurt. So I worked with him on the deck and after a while he asked if I wanted to help presenting the deck.
I thought about it for a while and my brain said: SAY NO. I gave it some more thought, and although I was terrified I wanted to go outside of my comfort zone, I didn’t realize though when I said yes that I would go in to the panic zone straight away instead of in to the “learning zone”. I was nervous, extremely nervous. But luckily the developer told me that it would only be a session in front of 100 people.
A couple of weeks go by and I receive an email. The developer told me that due to various escalations/bugs had to fix for an upcoming release he could not fly to the event. I was by myself. You can imagine that my level or nervousness went up with about 10x. I would be on my own in front of 100 people, what now? The VMworld team transferred the session on to my name, and then I logged in to the backend to see the details of my session. This includes the registrations. Hold on, it was supposed to say 100 people, but it says 450. WHAT? 450 people in a single room? And then a day they changed rooms for the sessions, as it was overbooked, quickly after that the registrations filled up to 700 something. I was nervous just thinking about presenting in front of 100 people with a co-presenter, now I was going up on stage by myself in front of 700+.
I rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed. I wanted to make sure I knew every slide inside out before I went up on stage. And I did, I was nervous as hell but I knew my slides by the letter. Unfortunately I was so nervous that I went in to this “hyper sensitive state” and I could hear everything that was going on in the room. After 3 or 4 slides I was explaining a complex diagram and someone’s phone went off, he picked it up and walked out. I lost my train of thought and had to start over again with the slide. Which in its turn made me over more nervous. It took me roughly 5 minutes just to recover from that, but it felt like days. I finished my session and decided I would never ever present again. I am writing this while presenting at a VMUG, no need to tell you that I didn’t give up.
For those who have been in this situation, or are hesitant to present because of these reasons, please read the post Confessions of a VMUG speaker, which was written before this post. I hope it helps realizing people that many people face the same fears, but by practicing your session and doing it over and over again at various events you will become better and it will make it easier. Heck, you may even start to enjoy it after a while!
Doug Baer says
Thanks for sharing your story Duncan! 700+ people on your own is scary, especially when that wasn’t the original plan. It’s even better when they tell you while you’re getting the mic that they’ll be recording it, too! 😀
I tell my kids that you might not look forward to it, but you’ve just got to do it. Public speaking is a great skill to have and practice is the only way to get better.
I love the Panic/Comfort/Learning diagram and I’m totally stealing that to use on them.
Thanks for the information.
Thanks for the link – I’ve been looking for it for a while:)