Petrified of Podiums → Passionate about Presenting

Something strange has happened to me this year. I have seemingly converted from being the MOST reluctant public speaker to finding my arm thrust in the air waving wildly whenever calls for speakers are mentioned.
While I scratch my head and ponder where this change came from, I thought I would try and track my about-turn, to hopefully inspire those of you who are currently more like Louise 2015 than Louise 2016.
So let me reflect on how I made the (speedy) trip from the wallflower of yesteryear to the girl you see before you, keeping everything crossed that she is chosen to speak at Dreamforce!

Hopefully my transformation can inspire those of you not yet convinced that you should take the leap onto the podium.
On reflection, there were indicators that I wasn’t the shy and retiring woman I thought I was. I had paved the way for the new me towards the end of last year by talking at a couple of users groups, not on my own, and nothing too formal but in front of a crowd nevertheless.

  • Tip 1 - choose a small, friendly, and informal environment for your first few attempts at public speaking
One such event was captured on Periscope and so I (narcissistically) watched it back as soon as I got home. At the time I thought I was out of shot and so didn’t worry too much about the filming. I was wrong, I was in shot a lot of the time and the ‘scope quickly told me that I didn’t come across as shy at all (the word gobshite came to mind).
These events allowed me to dip my toe into the water, nothing was scripted, no real prep was required, and I didn’t feel any kind of pressure. They were a start but I needed to step up, I needed to take to the stage (literally). The end of 2015 arrived and I set myself goals for the year to come, the first one on the list being to present at an official event.
  • Tip 2 - if someone shows faith in you, listen to them and accept the nudge
It therefore seemed like fate (or a prompt test of my newly formed resolutions) when, in the first week of January, I was asked to talk at the inaugural London’s Calling. I was already super excited to attend the event but could I take the stage and present, and more importantly, do the organisers justice? They thought so and they are people whose opinion I trust implicitly and so I took the leap and said yes.
  • Tip 3 - choose a subject about which you are both passionate and knowledgeable
I was to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a solo admin, offering fellow admins guidance as they struggle to manage with minimal resource and how to work towards building a support network and, eventually, a CoE. This was perfect as I could make this a personal tale since the story of my last two years would pretty much fit the bill. This was absolutely key as it meant that I knew my subject and could talk about it until the cows came home. I may not have been confident on the stage, but I was confident in my subject matter.

  • Tip 4 - take care and spend serious time on your slides - they will be your only companion on stage

But I couldn’t just stand on the stage and talk the audience through my painful past (!) - I had to turn my experiences into a meaningful and educational 25 minute presentation. The slide deck was an important part of shaping my presentation, and creating my slides forced me to give my subject matter form and structure. Getting your slides right is really important. They serve multiple purposes and I find them a bit of a lifeline whilst on stage. They are also crucial for your audience. A lot of us are very visual beings and I for one would rather my audience were looking at my beautiful slides and not staring at me the whole time! Make sure they are not too wordy, ideally use a funny illustration or two, and something of interest to the audience.

  • Tip 5 - memorise the opening section but do NOT attempt to learn your entire talk

Memorise your introduction - if you know this by heart then you will start with confidence. But do not attempt to commit your entire talk to memory. If you do this, and are successful, it will be obvious to the room and you are in danger of appearing robot-like. If you do this, and are unsuccessful, then you will be completely derailed. Instead know what you want to say, highlighting key points and phrases, print off your slides and look at each one as you practice delivering the relevant section of your talk. This should cement a link between your words and your slide. It should also help these key phrases to come back to you when you glance at the slide whilst on stage.

  • Tip 6 - be prepared - rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

I muttered like a madwoman in the week before my sessions, speaking the words under my breath when I couldn’t practice out loud. I strongly advise this: deliver your talk in the shower, on your commote to work, into the mirror, and if brave enough, to anyone who will listen.  I didn’t accept the offer of a dry run as I was certain that I would be more nervous delivering it to an audience of one as opposed to the relative anonymity of a crowd, but if you think it will help you then do it.  Don’t forget to time yourself, as keeping to your time slot will be very important to the event organisers and if you know your talk is the right length it will be one less thing to worry about.

  • Tip 7 - take every effort to be as comfortable as possible

When the time of your session arrives make sure you are as comfortable and confident as possible. This may mean putting on your favourite outfit and making sure your hair and makeup is at its best, or it may mean making sure you have an empty bladder and a bottle of water to hand! Do whatever you need to do to make sure you have as little to worry about whilst on stage as possible. Having a technician trying to attach a mic to you whilst a video camera and a room full of people peer in your direction is sure to add all the discomfort you can handle!

  • Tip 8 - find a friendly face in the audience

Suddenly it is kick off time and there is no turning back so start you must, ready or not. I actually found that at that moment a calm descended over me, it was almost sink or swim and I have always enjoyed a good swim! Someone told me to find a friendly face in the audience and return to them whenever I felt shaky. I did this, and it worked.  

  • Tip 9 - breathe and take it slowly

People always say it but “don’t forget to breathe” is a jolly good reminder. If you take a deep breath and try to deliver your whole talk before your next intake of breath then you may keel over, but there is also every chance that the audience will not be able to follow you, you will finish up way too early, and rather red in the face. Pace yourself, talk clearly and pause to give yourself time to think, and your audience time to digest your words.

  • Tip 10 - give in to the adrenalin rush and admit that you are now hooked!

I can’t quite express how nervous I was before my London’s Calling session, yet I survived. As I said to people on the day, I didn’t fall over, swear and run from the room crying so it went brilliantly in my book. Soon after I was agreeing to speak on a WiT panel at Salesforce Tower in front of 100 people and pouncing on an Admin session slot of the London World Tour.  

The nerves were still there for subsequent sessions but nowhere near as bad the first time. In fact, it gets easier every time. I may well never be a complete natural or feel absolutely at home on stage but I now know I will keep volunteering to speak. The discomfort on the day and the preparation time is worth it when people approach you afterwards to say that you helped them, that what you covered resonated with them, and that they enjoyed your session.

Next stop for me is Surf Force in August and then (fingers crossed) Dreamforce in October.

Giving back is worth the butterflies and deadlines.
Go on, you know you want to.
BOTH of my Dreamforce sessions submissions were accepted.
Please join me for
Achieving Awesome Adoption Through Training & Support
Gamification: The Trail to Awesome Adoption


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