Me at IgniteAs some of you may know, last week I spoke at two(!) different events here in Sydney. That may have been one too many. 🙂

The first was Ignite Sydney on March 17th. Ignite happens a couple of times a year, and it usually involves a number of short 5 minute lightning talks on various topics. The catch is the format: you get 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. It’s nerve-wracking! I submitted a pitch for my previous “Granny was a Hacker” (geeky knitting) talk, updated and reworked to fit the format, and I was lucky enough to be picked. So I dug out my old preso and got to work tweaking it to suit the format. Then I memorised the talk.

Here’s the thing: the Ignite crowd isn’t the usual tech crowd. It’s held in a venue that normally hosts rock bands, and every one sells out. I’ve been once before, and I only recognised a couple people out of HUNDREDS. (Who are these people?! They’re all very fashionable. Maybe marketing or agency-type people??) Anyway, I found out on the day that I was going to go FIRST. I freaked out more than I usually do before public speaking. (It didn’t help that my last two dress rehearsals were pretty disastrous.) The Snook came along to cheer me on, along with a few friends and colleagues from work… but it was still a big crowd of not-my-people. One of my fellow speakers reminded me to do the Wonder Woman pose before I went on stage. Fortunately once I got up there, adrenaline kicked in and I nailed it. The only problem I had was that people LOVED my jokes, and I hadn’t left enough time for the laugh lines! I had a fantastic time. Afterwards I had a lot of lovely compliments from people too. So overall Ignite was a stressful but rewarding experience, and I’d urge anyone to give it a go. (Thank you to Jean-Jacques Halans for the wonderful photos.)

The second event of the week was my first ever conference talk at Web Directions Respond. I’ve spoken at a few smaller Web Directions events in the past, so the organiser John asked me late last year if I’d be willing to give a talk on responsive advertising for this one. How could I refuse? Of course, then I had to write the thing. TWENTY MINUTES ON ADS. What was I thinking?! I developed a raging case of Imposter Syndrome. Fortunately Peggy came to my rescue and suggested I do a practice run for the Girl Geeks. That gave me a much needed deadline to start preparation and organising my thoughts. The talk I gave that night – “Punch the Monkey: Why (Some) Banner Ads Suck” – and the response to it were very helpful in shaping what my conference presentation would become. My eventual conference talk was called Responsive Ads: This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things… Yet,” and one of the designers at work helped me out with a beautiful slide theme. I was still nervous, but at least I was prepared. On Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with the other speakers and was relieved to see that they were, after all, just fellow human beings. (That said, amazingly talented and smart human beings!) Thursday morning as I looked around the conference room at the 120+ attendees, I breathed a sigh of relief. Unlike Ignite, these were definitely My People. My talk went smoothly, I finished on time, and I even managed to survive the dreaded Q&A session. When I got back to my chair, I fired up Twitter and saw this:

Andy is an internationally recognised designer, writer, and podcaster – not to mention the closing speaker on the day – so when I saw that I just about fell over. It was literally the nicest compliment I’ve received in a very long time. The rest of the day was kind of a blur. I was on a high, listening to inspiring people in my field and feeling gratified at their friendship and respect. I spent time talking to Andy and his wife Sue, as well as John and many other attendees. My Imposter Syndrome was finally blown away. Towards the end of the day, I made a pact with a couple of the other speakers that we’d submit our talks for other conferences (a pact that I have since made good on). And then today, I got contacted about potentially writing up an article on my topic for A List Apart, one of the most respected sites in the field. That’s pretty great, right?

People at work often say to me, “But you’re so good at public speaking! I couldn’t do that!” I tell them that it’s just practice. I struggle with the nerves the same as everybody else. It doesn’t go away. But it’s SOOOOO rewarding when someone tells you that they learned something or got inspired from one of your talks. And the endorphin rush you get when you step offstage is incredibly addictive. In an ideal world I could make a living out of this. I’m not there yet. But I feel like I took a good step in that direction. I set a hard goal for myself and then got the satisfaction of achieving it. Woohoo! (BUT MAYBE NOT TWO IN THE SAME WEEK, FUTURE SELF.)