Now and then I have a conversation with someone who’s interested in pursuing public speaking but too afraid of endless requirements and pressure correlating to doing so. My goal is to enable those individuals to try it nonetheless by debunking some of the common myths relating to the fundamentals for becoming a presenter. I base this on my own experience as a seasoned speaker and event curator.
Industry prominence and visibility
Conferences vastly differ in the way speakers are selected. Some directly invite presenters, others deploy anonymous Call for Speakers processes to aid with bias. It’s up to the organizers to choose whatever suits their event best.
What I find inexcusable though is creating exclusionary platforms with spots reserved for only Fortune 500 companies employees with a high number of Twitter followers or other vain, arbitrary metrics.
Now, I get it. Events have to make money, and it’s easier to do so with a recognizable lineup. Often those prominent individuals worked very hard to achieve their status, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
What’s important to remember though is that there are so many other voices out there worth hearing — we need to empower and elevate them.
There are no “fame” prerequisites to becoming a speaker. Social acceptance and “cred” aren’t by any means an extension of your value or your ideas.
Get out there and start speaking. You deserve this.
Subject matter expertise
Over and over I’ve heard potential speakers admit they don’t have enough knowledge to deliver a talk on a given subject. For a long time that was true for me as well. While I did burn myself trying to speak on concepts I didn’t fully understand, I firmly believe senior expertise isn’t always required.
Each one of us is unique, which means we often have entirely different personal and professional experiences. While most can develop a technical specification or a design concept into a talk, it’s your individual view and takes on the idea what makes it novel and worth hearing.
Often it’s easy to disregard our observations and ideas as obvious to later learn they aren’t that apparent to others.
Don’t set incredibly high knowledge aspirations for yourself — research the subject and offer your interpretation, solutions, and thinking. You’ll be surprised to learn it has been tremendously helpful for others (this applies to writing as well).
Previous speaking experience
Naturally, the more presentations we deliver, the better we get. Over time, we will learn from our mistakes and slowly start controlling stage fright (spoiler: it never really goes away, but we can mitigate some of the symptoms). Our skills will improve significantly with practice.
We all have to start somewhere though. There always will be a first time.
I’ve seen dozens of talks by first timers that were by far more rehearsed, prepared, hilarious and informative than some of the “veterans” of the tech industry, who might take their experience for granted.
Just because you have never delivered a talk, it doesn’t mean your ideas aren’t worth presenting, or you aren’t capable of executing it flawlessly. Believe in yourself — you got it!
Even if your first talk doesn’t go as planned, there’s always room and time for improvement and trying again (trust me, some of my first talks were horrible, but I kept gathering feedback and doing it again).
Hopefully, these three points give you a little more confidence in experimenting with public speaking. Consider starting small; with local meetups and user groups. Find welcoming conferences willing to coach you and aid in developing your talk. There are plenty out there.