Welcome to the Ask Chloé column on Security Boulevard! Each week, Chloé provides advice to readers’ questions to help guide them as they navigate the technology industry. This week, Chloé addresses a reader’s desire to speak at conferences and offers tips on how to prepare.
I was wondering if you have any advice for someone who wants to start giving talks at conferences. I’m trying to get comfortable with the idea, but could use some advice or guidance on how to get comfortable speaking in front of others, especially on stage.
Dear Timid Speaker,
Every single conference speaker started where you are right now. So if you ever doubt yourself, just know—you can do it, too. It’s never too late to start! 🙂
I highly recommend starting out by giving a talk about a topic you are passionate about. When speakers talk about a subject that grinds their gears or excites them, it shows. When drafting your slides and your call for papers (CFPs) submissions, make sure it’s in your voice. In other words, don’t have someone write or create it for you. The best CFPs and slide decks are the ones that show who you are and let the passion behind it shine through.
The next step is to submit the CFP to small events at first, and/or reach out to local meetups or user groups and ask to give a talk. Start by speaking to a small(er) group and work your way up to larger groups; slowly get yourself comfortable with an even bigger audience. Remember, continue to update your talk every time you speak, and ask for feedback from the crowd. Once you feel comfortable with your talk and less anxious about speaking to a crowd over 100+ people, then start to submit your CFP to conferences. Also, remember, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule; it’s okay to start by submitting your CFP to major conferences before testing the waters with smaller events. It’s really up to you, your comfort level and your style.
Now, let’s talk about stage presence and getting comfortable. There’s a few ways to get more comfortable with speaking on stage by doing the following activities:
- Acting class
- Improv classes
- Dance classes
- Playing an instrument in front of a crowd
I learned to get comfortable on stage by dancing when I was much younger, and later on, through acting. Dancing taught me the importance of movement on stage, and to understand how physical motion can keep the audience engaged. Acting and improv taught me to get comfortable with the unexpected, but also taught me strategies for owning the stage, even when one is shy or an introvert.
I’m actually a bit shy when off the stage and a social introvert—so acting really helped. It’s really about whatever makes you most comfortable on stage and what is fun for you to do. For example, I’m scared to sing in front of people, so I don’t do karaoke (it’s a real fear of mine), but I enjoy acting a lot, so I used acting to help feel more comfortable giving talks. However, I know plenty of speakers that do Toastmasters, teach, play instruments and so on to work on their speaking presence on stage.
Whatever you choose, what’s most important is practice, practice, practice! When we focus on being confident on stage and then practice, it does show in our talks. Getting comfortable in your own skin is vital as a speaker.
Lastly, if you suffer from stage fright, know that it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it. In acting, we learn to just dive in. In other words, become part of the moment and forget about everything else. Visualize the person you want to be on stage; close your eyes and take a deep breath. When you exhale, become that person—and walk on to that stage and own it. Basically, you want to create a character in your mind and dive into them, ignoring the self-doubt. This helps me a lot.
And remember, nobody’s perfect. No talk is ever perfect. It’s just recitation and repetition, at the end of the day. So don’t be afraid of making a mistake. Just know, it may happen—so what?! Shake it off, and keep leading the audience—and don’t give in to the fear. Your audience is there for your content, so focus on providing that content rather than focusing on yourself. Have fun! You got this!
Learn more about the award-winning tech changemaker, Chloé Messdaghi, at https://www.chloemessdaghi.com.
Have a question? Want advice? Submit your anonymous question to Chloé: [email protected].