Last Saturday afternoon contained a pivotal moment in my life and career. After many celebratory drinks, I did not feel drunk nor did I feel such a feeling possible. I felt the best I had in years. If this intrigues you even a little, read on.
A few days earlier, I had been asked to give a 25-minute talk to “up to 200 people” followed by questions and answers at an event I had not heard of called WordCamp London. It was on short notice as a speaker had cancelled at the last-minute.
Most of my brain thought I should say “no” to this request while a smaller but much louder part insisted on saying “yes”.
I’ve done hundreds of sales pitches, but until Saturday afternoon I’d never done a speaking gig. I had to prepare a presentation, know what I was going to say to these people, and then show up and deliver.
The talk I was replacing was about writing great blog headlines. I decided what my talk would be about and sent the organisers a bullet point list of topics I’d cover. They liked the theme. It took around six hours to piece the initial presentation together. In doing so, I realised just how much I had learned over the last five years. The finished product was a deck of principles and processes I knew would be incredibly useful to my audience.
I scribbled down what I wanted to say out loud to my audience. I wanted people to listen to what I had to say rather than allow myself to read bullets from the screen. I wanted to test myself. I read my scribbles a good 30 times. I turned my scribbles into bullet points and printed them out. I took some crucial advice from my colleague Asher on timing as he has done talks and workshops before. On Friday, I told my colleagues at Render Positive I would rehearse using my iPhone’s stopwatch to ensure my timing was just right.
Despite knowing I should, I didn’t obsessively rehearse my talk. I did something more important instead. On Friday night, I made a few last-minute changes to my presentation. I decided I was going to be brutally honest with my audience. I would tell the Render Positive story without coming off like a salesman. I would give them my personal reasons for agreeing to speak to them on such short notice. Most importantly, I realised that there was one part of the talk that was much ‘bigger’ and more intriguing than everything else in my talk. I made sure to reference this at the very start of my presentation. As it turns out, all of these things were far more important than rehearsing my talk parrot fashion.
I wasn’t nervous until the morning of the talk. I made my way to the venue, London Metropolitan University. I got my badge. I went to the stage and spoke with the IT people and got my presentation loaded up onto their computer. I looked out at all the empty tables and chairs. The nerves didn’t go away so I decided, “I will finish my talk, and I will live with the result.”
They introduced me and thanked me for doing my talk on such short notice. I set my stopwatch to 25 minutes and started talking. I got to the crucial part of my talk within two minutes. I told the audience about the doors my advice could open if they put time and effort into learning and practising the skills and principles that I’d be running through. “But.. for now, back to content marketing!” I said. I knew I had their attention, but my nerves remained.
I finished my talk. I was pretty much dead on time. I had made the whole audience laugh with little lines I’d planned and others I hadn’t. I thought I had been underwhelming and that the audience must have known of my terrible nerves. The response I got was something I could never have predicted.
I was given a wonderful applause from the whole audience. Then the questions and answers session began. From the very beginning, things got interesting.
A man in the second row was given the microphone and said “That was the best talk I’ve heard in… I don’t know how long.” He walked on stage and gave me his card to laughter and applause. He had a question, but it was nothing about the main topic of my speech. I remember answering honestly.
The 3rd or 4th question came from a journalist, who said “I’m a journalist – and I have to say your response to the last person was spot on.” I then joked, “between you and the guy that got on stage, it looks like I’ve put plants out there!” It got tons of laughs. She made the comment that “I do have to say, though… I did notice some spelling and grammar errors”. I waffled a bit. She insisted, “There were some mistakes, I just had to say…” to which I replied “In my defence, I did it in a rush.” My response earned me a wonderful roar of laughter. Clearly, I was getting comfortable and starting to enjoy myself. Then it was all over.
I came off stage and people came up to me, said nice things, gave me their business cards and asked for mine. I looked on Twitter and saw more lovely things being said about my talk. I sat down next to the man who had walked onto the stage and thanked him for what he had said and done. We got talking and laughing. After the next talk, we went for drinks. We ended up speaking for a good 4-5 hours without pause, interrupting each other constantly. Eventually, he had to leave and it gave me time to reflect and enjoy the buzz I’d earned.
I received praise, applause, laughter, and all those wonderful things, but I also met a new friend who I know will be part of my life for a long time. It was one of those moments where I realised what I was capable of and why I go out of my comfort zone from time to time. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it gets me in a spot of bother, but when it works, it’s often life changing in the best way. The video of my talk will be put online at some point, and I know I will cringe watching it, but I don’t care. I learned something valuable. I have the knowledge that I can speak to an audience and impress them, and it will make me feel fantastic. The next speaking gigs I do will be so much better. I can’t wait to do another. I will work hard to improve every single time. This audience got substance, but the next will get a little style. It won’t take long for it to feel comfortable. Even if I’m nervous every time, I know I can deliver and impress regardless. I know I can do these talks and do them justice. That is why I felt so wonderful on Saturday night. In writing this, I have that feeling once again.
To think I almost said no. It would have been the sensible and cautious option but how silly would that have been?
Watch the full video here.
Don’t like my voice? Read the transcript instead!
What can you learn from all of this?
When giving talks or speeches:
That’s all I’ve got for now. Have fun leaving your comfort zone from time to time!
Get more great stuff delivered fresh to your inbox.