How Codegarden helped me overcome my public speaking fears
With the year coming to an end, I thought I would share my experience of public speaking for the first time.
This year, I’ve gone from shying away from public speaking to having now done three meet ups, and Umbraco’s Codegarden.
I’m a senior software developer, but no matter the seniority, many of us will still have a fear or a task we shy away from or are reticent to do. For me, public speaking was that. In my mind, I’ve always feared that I would lose my words, stumble and fail to articulate the points I want to make, and thus validating my own imposter syndrome.
I always knew Codegarden was a friendly and welcoming place, having attended a number of times. Despite that, the fear did reside in my head.
Before mine and Adam’s talk, there were other talks before us. I couldn’t stop thinking about our own beforehand, so instead of going to a talk, I used that time to calm myself down, grabbing some water and ‘hyping’ myself up. I was nervous, particularly, when I saw the room fill up. Being in a co-speaker setup certainly helped stop 'disruptive’ thoughts coming into my mind beforehand. Will I stumble? Will I forget what I want to say? Nope, none of that. Once the talk started, my mind was set on the words I wanted to articulate and in a weird sense, I could relax a bit, knowing that while I was doing the talk, none of those disruptive thoughts could break off my focus. By the time we completed the talk, I was already eager to do more, and that I did.
So how did I get there?
As part of the ‘prep’ for Codegarden this year, we were provided with access to a speaker coach, Adam Montandon, who I’ll name drop, as he helped me a great deal. I won’t go into what he advised, but I will go into what helped me and what didn’t.
We were provided with 2x group sessions and 2x, one to one calls. The first group session was a presentation on how to structure our presentations. Rather than being defined by who you are and who you work for, we defined ourselves by the knowledge and experience we wanted to share, before ending with a more fuller introduction. It was about, why should people care about what you’ve got to say.
With the structure in place, we put together our presentation, section by section. A few weeks ahead of the talks, we then came on to the 2nd group session. This was a zoom call, discussing memorization and confidence techniques.
My one-to-one calls focused on tackling my fear of stumbling and failing to articulate my points. I utilized the 2nd session as a demo of how I would present, that helped me learn, where I should focus my attention the most. In my case, it was about relaxing myself, bringing a positive vibe, rather than appearing tense.
Building the presentation deck
The overall process for putting together the presentation between myself and Adam was to workout the end goal, the key takeaway and then, form a structure from that.
We setup an initial deck, where we would add some headline slides, with some general, rough content. Even with just a few slides, we still did some rough practice sessions, initially lasting from a few minutes. Once we were happy, we would add the content to a new, clean deck, that we would use to present at the meetups and at Codegarden.
We cycled through this process, as we built up each section. This also meant, that once the content was set, we didn’t have to work to memorise everything at the end.
Once the content and deck were set, we did a few virtual rehearsals, then moving on to in person ones, before run throughs with internal team members. Pre-Codegarden, we also took on a tour of northern Umbraco meet ups (Manchester & Leeds), where we practiced and learnt about how we would handle ‘real life’ situations, how do we handle messing up. It was also important, as a way of getting feedback on aspects we may have missed and for details that may not be of that much significance.
To sum up, this is the approach we took and repeated across each section in the presentation.
Workout the key takeaway and structure.
Create rough content and notes.
Practice that section and workout the cues.
Migrate the working content slides to the actual presentation slides.
So what worked and what didn’t?
Developing the presentation bit by bit
Memorisation was a worry for me, but due to developing and rehearsing the presentation, section by section, it became less of a concern by the time we completed the presentation deck. I would say getting into rehearsals after each section was a big help.
Talking my script out aloud, helped me memorise the points that I needed to make. I found that trying to remember the script, word by word, was a bit of a hindrance for confidence. Initially, each time I missed the script, I didn’t always make the point clearly and it re-enforced the question of whether I could remember my lines or not. However, after multiple attempts of speaking out a loud, I did get better with articulating myself.
Learning about myself.
If you don’t know how you’re going to react in situations where things aren’t going well, then how can you know, it’s going to go terribly. When I did the meetups, especially the first one in Manchester, I knew I slipped up on one or two of the slides. I learnt during that meetup, that I could come up with a joke or carry on without giving up. That for me, was the first step in building my confidence up for public speaking.
Recording and playback
Who enjoys listening to their own voice? Not me, or not many of us. But I found that recording what I was going to say and the way I was going to say it, helped re-enforce the points I was going to cover. It was about slipping into the person you wanted to be, rather than memorising it all, line by line. When I listened to the playback, I didn’t always pay full attention to it, sometimes, it’s a case of letting the subconscious mind takeover.
What didn’t work?
Playback in my mind
This provided ample opportunity to get distracted by life’s distractions. I would often find myself, going through the script in my head and then a team’s notification or WhatsApp message pops up and then I was away again. In contrast, talking out a loud, provided me a way to focus my attention.
If it wasn’t for Codegarden, I probably wouldn’t have done the meetups and most likely wouldn’t have learnt about myself and built up some confidence. So to that end, I thank Umbraco for giving Adam and myself the opportunity to speak and I also thank the audience for listening to what we had to say. To those who are wavering from applying to talk, don’t, especially in front of the friendly Umbraco community.