Read Part 1 HERE
I jumped into writing my talk proposal with no real idea of what giving a talk would entail. I knew I had an interest and knowledge of Social Engineering, I knew that I wanted to share my expertise, and my friend had given me just enough of a push to make me feel like maybe I should. With a very short deadline, I set to work on my proposal. I put it together quickly with little outside input or real understanding of what I was doing - presentations and public speaking are not exactly my fortè. I was pleasantly surprised (and honestly a little terrified) when it was accepted.
Giving my first talk was a huge learning experience and I can't thank enough the long suffering friends who were so supportive through this process. Presenting and writing a proposal for the first time can be incredibly intimidating and stressful. All I could think about at first were all the faces I would see staring back at me while I spoke - or you know, had a total public meltdown. To combat this, I took a moment to acknowledge those fears and asked myself - what do I have to gain from this experience? This is something that each person needs to evaluate for themselves, and for me - I had a lot to gain. This exercise allowed me to feel the fear and do it anyway.
My process for writing my first proposal was rather flawed. I tried to start by writing the little blurb attendees would read before my talk - which, for me, was all wrong. After speaking to a couple of more experienced friends, I let go of that and switched gears to create an outline of what I wanted to talk about. This was a lot more productive. After completing my outline, I then drew up a bullet point list of what my audience would take away from the talk. This helped in two ways; first, it allowed me to better identify who my target audience was, and second it enabled me to create an effective talk description which told the reader what they would get from my talk. From that I was able to shorten my description to provide a small excerpt with the right tone and feel, and come up with a talk title. In reality, my process ended up being the reverse of what I had anticipated. After passing it to a friend for a quick proof read, I submitted it on the OSB website and tried not to hold my breath. When I received a reply saying that my proposal had been accepted, I was ecstatic. I didn't anticipate that the hard work was yet to come.
Lesson One - Do Not Delay, Start Now!
As I am occasionally a procrastinator, I did not start putting together my talk as soon as i got my acceptance. Instead, I waited until 2-3 weeks before my talk date, which was an awful mistake in hindsight. This was my first lesson - Do Not Delay, Start Now! Because of my delayed start, what could have been an enjoyable creation process became ridiculously stressful.
Lesson Two - Scripts Are Great, But Deviate
As I was nervous about my talk, I wrote a full script. Then I practiced it word for word. In the shower. In the car. I even recorded myself reading the script and listened to it in my sleep. The problem was, despite adding and adding more material, my script kept coming in 10 minutes under the half hour long my talk needed to be! A week before my talk, I started practicing delivering the talk with slides with a friend online. Suddenly, I hit my time mark. Scripts are great, but reading from a script sounds less natural and your talk is going to 'read' faster than if you deliver from memory. You can add pauses, improvise slightly, and play off the room when you aren’t running off a strict auto cue. It also removes a lot of the stress of perfectly memorizing your talk - just practice your cues and see how easily you can lead a talk through each beat.
Lesson Three - Memorize Your First Slide
Choose your intro and memorize it. Once you've memorized it, learn to say it naturally. If you give yourself the easy win of memorizing your intro or first slide, you get early positive reinforcement when you start talking, and you can use that prep as the linchpin of the rest of your talk.
Lesson Four - Practice, Practice, Practice
While reading from the script wasn't a win, writing it was. In writing the script, I did a lot of research and in practicing it, I was able to give myself 'touch-point statements' rather the memorize the full text of my script. These were statements that, when said, helped trigger memories of what I wanted to say about a subtopic within the talk. This was great as I was super nervous giving my talk and my mind often goes blank when nerves hit. These touch-point statements would flood my brain with what comes next. A lot like when you hear the riff to a great song and despite not having heard it for 5 or 10 year the lyrics come to you with no effort.
Lesson Five - Slides Are For The Audience, Not You
The biggest thing I would change about my first talk is my slides. In fact, I am changing them entirely for my next event. Creating the slides for my talk, I kept focusing on how I personally didn't get anything from slides at a talk and found them distracting. I wanted the audience to focus on me. So, I filled my slides with memes and silly pictures that were tangentially related. What I realized afterwards is that we all take information in differently and I was doing a disservice to my audience by failing to provide multiple avenues for people to take in my information simply because it wasn't my way of doing things. Certainly feel free to change your style depending on the audience - a less formal talk might benefit from a few silly images, but try and make sure they provide as much condensed information as you can.
Lesson Six - Entertain First, Educate Second
Remember being a kid and how Bill Nye the Science guy tricked you into learning by making science fun? Adults are no different. There is a lot of information in my talk, but the one thing I had comments on over and over was a funny story I told about my grandma. Make them laugh with your material - it puts your audience in a positive mood, makes the facts easier to digest and makes your key points easier to remember.
Lesson Seven - Take The Time You Need, When You Need It
Right before my talk, there was an amazing talk I really wanted to see. That said, I was such a bundle of nerves that I wouldn't have taken anything in. Instead I found a quiet space and ran through my talk again. Then I watched an episode of Sailor Moon and spent some time meditating. Whatever you do to relax or distress - giving yourself this time and space is a gift that will pay off in spades.
Lesson Eight - Do Unto Other Speakers, As You Would Have Done To You
For the talks you attend, be a good attendee. Listen, ask questions where appropriate and give constructive feedback. That's what you'd like your audience to do, right?
Open Source Bridge was a brilliant environment to speak at. Everyone was so friendly and supportive. It felt less like a conference and more like a gathering of friends. It was a great first experience and I would encourage anyone to submit a talk to them. Speaking at Open Source Bridge was a big deal(tm) for me. I faced a big fear and came out smiling. I met people, I shared ideas and most importantly, I had fun. Talking at conferences is a whole avenue of creative expression that 4 months ago, I wouldn't have thought myself capable of. One that I'm going to keep pursuing. I know I still have a lot to learn and i'm always going to see how I can improve. I have a long ways to go before I'm a great presenter, but maybe soon I can be a good one. If I can do it - so can you.
Oh, one last bit of advice as given to me by a friend - Submit often, submit plentifully and don’t take rejection personally.