Despite the thrill of returning to London and being invited to speak at FOWD, my primary emotion leading up to the talk was terror. The Future of Web Design conference plays hosts to approximately 600 attendees, and this was my first time speaking to a group larger than 50.
Now that the presentation is over, I can say that I don’t think the size of the audience really matters. There’s a handful of rules that have always helped me when speaking to a group of strangers, and though I’m no expert I thought I’d pass them along:
- If you don’t know your material, it shows. This might sound obvious, but talk about something you’re genuinely passionate about, and be intimate with the material. I’m a chronic procrastinator, so my slides weren’t completely finished until the night before my talk, but I’d been obsessively reading about mobile web design since Louise first advised me to go with that subject.
- A Dan Cederholm Speaking Tip™: include humor. I couldn’t tell if anyone laughed during my presentation because the pounding in my ears was too deafening, but just attempting a joke made me laugh a little, which helped to calm the shaking.
- Bring water on the stage. I’m not sure what biological fight or flight role comes in to play that causes your mouth to dry up in moments of dread, but it happens. As I stepped on to the stage, my face felt like it does when the dentist has me suck on one of those hateful vacuum straws. I would have dived off the stage and stolen an attendee’s bottle of water if my feet hadn’t turned to cement blocks.
- Be as physically comfortable as possible. For me this entailed wearing my soft, breathable (product placement alert!) Charge Tee. (More sizes just posted!) I did make one crucial wardrobe error: I forgot to wear a belt, and was worried about pant sagging for most of the talk. SO! Bring a belt, avoid risky shoes (mostly talking to the ladies here), and don’t wear your lanyard on stage. They’re flappy and itchy and look kind of silly.
My biggest takeaway from presenting is that it’s sort of like lifting a car off a trapped baby.* At first it seems terrifying and impossible, but once your adrenaline kicks in it’s kind of a blur, and you just do what you have to do.
* I guess you could argue that lifting a car off a trapped baby is harder / scarier / more impressive. I guess.