The first web talk I ever gave took place in a little basement at a BarCamp in front of six or seven people. We chose the rooms we spoke in, so after waiting for all the other rooms to be taken, I volunteered myself for the smallest room.
After all, I thought my talk was the least important, the least relevant, and the least interesting. In fact, I initially hoped someone else would take that slot so I wouldn’t have to speak. But I said I’d give a talk, and I never go back on my promises.
The talk went well. Weeks later, people were still talking on Twitter about the points I’d made. However, the small turnout — despite being a consequence of my choosing the tiniest room — had disheartened me. I felt like I had put a lot of effort into creating a good talk and then wasted it.
Getting my confidence back
Now fast-forward a year. I had volunteered to give a lightning talk on a mini-stage during one of the breaks. I’d spent hours preparing and recording an audition for that stage. And at least twice as many hours again preparing slides for that five-minute talk. I had something I really wanted to share.
The organizer of the conference approached me during a break and asked, “When are you doing your talk?”
I responded, “Oh, there are loads of people wanting to do lightning talks. They’ve got more important things to say. I’ll go on later if there’s time left.”
Just like that, I had dismissed hours and hours of work, and a real desire to share my thoughts on icon design. I’d completely discounted my voice, too.
Why had I done this?
Until adulthood, being onstage didn’t scare me. When I was a child, I took lead roles in school plays and danced in ridiculous costumes in ballet shows every year.
Yet when I started working in the web industry, I felt anxiety about public speaking because I cared so much about what my community thought of me.
Sharing my muddled thoughts and big opinions scared me more than drama and dance because I loved my work, and I didn’t want to be told that I’m no good at it.
Fortunately, that conference organizer was going to help me gain some confidence.
Right before the final break of the conference, he announced to the room, “Next up on the mini-stage, Laura Kalbag will be talking about icons.”
Busted! My poor excuses during our hallway interaction had revealed my insecurities; he had picked up on my reluctance and given me a much-needed kick in the backside.
He knew I really wanted to give that talk, and by making that announcement, he showed me that he wanted me to give it.
I gave my lightning talk to a packed room
It seemed like half of the conference attendees had come on the organizer’s recommendation. It was a spectacular feeling.
Since then, I’ve found that every time I’ve admitted my insecurities or just asked for help outright, I’ve been encouraged and egged-on by others.
I’ve practiced my talks in front of individuals and small groups who gave me constructive criticism. I’ve had lengthy emails with incredibly smart people who gave me time to bounce my ideas off them.
And since that conference 18 months ago — when I let people know that I *wanted* to share my ideas — I’ve given twelve more talks. People knew I was happy to give these talks, and they have given me the opportunities to do so.
Many times, my pride has gotten in the way of my asking for help. But I’ve been astounded at the huge amount of support I’ve received just by admitting I’m new at this. Indeed, I’d always thought that being on a stage by myself meant that I was alone.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.