I had the chance to give a talk at my local DevOps meetup last July and recently, did another one at a Tech Talk event hosted by my current employer. Both talks are related to OPA but this blog post will be more of a personal reflection for me just to document these moments in my career.
There are two common things that I noticed about myself from giving the talk and I’m gonna describe them here.
Firstly, on days leading to the event I would slowly get agitated, the realness of having to do that talk creeps on me. I tend to procrastinate when faced with a big assignment like this. I will be so productive and do everything from playing a new game, thinking about a new project to do, cleaning my house, cooking, and eating — except preparing and finishing the slides for the talk.
On the day of the talk itself, my productivity will be out of the window. I’d be reading, or doing something else but the thought of having to do the talk later is always on the back of my head. A few hours before the talk, I’m still polishing my slides, making last-minute changes, and going through the slides a couple more times in my head but around two hours before, I start distracting myself and doing other stuff. I’ll go talk to my colleagues, read up on unrelated topics, and even get the time to catch up on my novels. This is when things are getting real for me.
Usually at these events, there will be food served before the event starts. For the first one, they had pizza and for the second event, they served rice with chicken curry and some kuih. They look really good tbh but I definitely won’t be touching those. I’m already struggling enough to keep my nerves together and the thought of having a taste of the food at the back of my throat when talking later will throw me into a full-blown panic mode. It’s like my sense is heightened and I get so sensitive to my surrounding that even keeping a conversation with others made me feel overwhelmed. My best companion at this moment is a bottle of mineral water — tasteless, and I can fiddle with the bottle cap to distract myself.
It might feel like I’m exaggerating here but I can tell you that me before and after finishing the talk is so different I feel like we’re a totally different person.
As the host of the event invited me to the stage, I’ll bring my laptop, set it up, and connect it to the projector. Then, holding the mic, I’ll take a moment to look over the audience and take a deep breath.
Once I start talking, it’s like a switch flipped and all that nervousness is gone.
Just like how I’d practiced, I would go through the slides, following the flow that I’ve set when putting the slides together. I like my presentation to have a story. I think it is more engaging to the audience and it is also a lot easier for me to remember what to say. I probably need to work on my tempo still (I blazed through 40+ slides in 20+ minutes 😆) but at least I wasn’t too nervous and blanked out mid-speaking. In the most recent talk that I gave, I even managed to slip in a joke during my introduction. Quite proud of that one. Hah!
I’m not sure if there’s any science behind this but one factor that I think contributed to this flip in the switch is my confidence in the topic. Before giving my first talk, I’ve been reading, thinking, and playing with the technology for about a year on and off. I won’t say that I mastered the topic but at least for the topic that I’m sharing, I feel like I have something to give to that the audience can benefit.
For my second talk, I’ve been involved in the development process from day one — together with my team members, of course. So, at this point, I can say that I know the topic quite well.
My journey with public speaking started a long time ago. I used to be so nervous waiting for my turn to introduce myself to the class on the first day of school. Having all the attention on me even for a brief moment when I barged in the conversation with my friend group during our lepak session at mamak can make my ears turn red.
My first time speaking in front of a large audience was in a high school public speaking competition when I was 13. I was chosen because my English was pretty good in the class, not because I was good at public speaking, mind you. Being the inexperienced public speaker that I am, I printed my speech text on a big A4 paper and brought it to the stage, holding it full like that, not folding the paper whatsoever.
I didn’t manage to memorize the whole thing so I kept looking at the text during my speech. After I finished, my friends told me they noticed how nervous I was from how the A4 paper in my hand was shaking so badly during the whole speech. I’ll always remember that one.
I can gladly say that I’ve improved a lot since then. Being exposed to these situations countless times made me realize that it is natural to feel nervous and I know that I’ll come out better after going through it.
For those who might struggle with the same issue, just know that others are going through the same thing too and most importantly, take the risk and put yourself out there and eventually you’ll get to the point where you’ll overcome that fear.
Special thanks to the organizers for giving me the chance to put myself out there and my colleagues and friends for supporting me.