5 Tips for Nervous First-time Speakers.

Last summer, someone suggested I should submit a talk for the Scala Exchange. They made great points: a lightning talk is a great way to introduce yourself to public speaking, you will have unique approaches to experiences that may help other people, and it’s a great way to get involved in the community. That did nothing to stop me freaking out about it. Would anyone gain anything from what I have to say? What if it was boring or people disagreed with me? WHAT IF PEOPLE JUST WALKED OUT?!?!?! However, looking back, I am so grateful I was kindly pushed to take the plunge and it’s been one of the most satisfying experiences of my career.

The motivation behind this post is that the deadline for submitting talks for this years Scala Exchange is Sunday, August 14th 2016. I know a few people who are ‘umm’ing and ‘ahhh’ing about submitting an abstract and this is my advice.

Tip #1      Just click the button

Sorry event organisers. 

My approach was to just do it (there’s a slogan in there somewhere). Click the enter button and worry about it if and when the talk is accepted. One scenario is, if it gets accepted, you can channel your nervous energy into making the talk great – remember one step at a time! It means your decision has been taken away from you and you can focus on getting it done. The other outcome is that it doesn’t get accepted, which means you didn’t waste your time worrying about something that never happened. Obviously, in order to click the button you will need to have given the subject a little bit of thought, but don’t worry about the details. Think of a topic that you would like to listen to someone else talk about, or even would have liked to have listened to when you were just beginning to learn. Use this motivation to fuel a paragraph or two about what you want to get across to your audience. The rest will come when you start fleshing out the presentation.

Tip #2      Make a start

Personally, I find nothing more daunting than an empty page. The potential of what it might be: good or bad. The easiest place to start is the first and last slide. Let this pleasantly distract you. Now all you have to do is fill in the middle bits. And don’t forget to add your twitter handle to the bottom of each slide!

Tip #3      Write everything down

Something that I found invaluable the first time I prepared to do a talk was the help provided to me by Underscore and Skills Matter. They helped by walking me through the process and giving me tips on how to write and structure my presentation. Just start by writing everything down, just a complete brainstorm of ideas, and soon enough you will start being able to group these into categories. Continue this way until a story develops and voilà, presentation done!

Read this post on the new speaker programme for 2016 to find out more about how Underscore can help you and how to apply.

Tip #4      Lose the script

I’ll start this one with a story.

Around two weeks before the conference, I decided to give a little practice talk to my colleagues. I had written all of my slides, knew kind of what I was doing, and more specifically had written everything I wanted to say, exactly, for the first half of the talk. This is what happened. I found myself trying to recite my ‘script’ word for word, and when I forgot a word or two, I had no idea what I was trying to say. I was trying to remember my talk rather than actually talk. Lesson learnt. And lo and behold, I hit my stride in the second half of the talk, simply because I was just talking about a subject that I knew a bit about.

Try not to put so much pressure on it, if you know the subject just simply tell everyone else about it too.

Tip #5      One deep breath

I cannot even start to describe how nervous I was the morning of my talk. Anytime I sat in one of the other talks, all I could visualise was me up on the stage and what that would be like. It was all I could talk about and I was even starting to get on my own nerves. It felt like I’d drunk too many coffees even when I wasn’t actively thinking about it. Is this starting to scare you off? Please don’t let it. When my name was called and I walked up to the podium, I stood (for what felt like slightly too long, but wasn’t) in front of the mic, and took one long, deep breath. At that moment, all my nerves went away. I promise.

Good luck with those abstracts!

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