Last week I attended FOSSETCON, a new open source convention here in central Florida, and I had the opportunity to give a couple of presentations on Ubuntu phones and app development. Anybody who knows me knows that I love talking about these things, but a lot fewer people know that doing it in front of a room of people I don’t know still makes me extremely nervous. I’m an introvert, and even though I have a public-facing job and work with the wider community all the time, I’m still an introvert.
I know there are a lot of other introverts out there who might find the idea of giving presentations to be overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. Here I’m going to give my personal experiences and advice, in the hope that it’ll encourage some of you to step out of your comfort zones and share your knowledge and talent with the rest of us at meetups and conferences.
You will be bad at it…
Public speaking is like learning how to ride a bicycle, everybody falls their first time. Everybody falls a second time, and a third. You will fidget and stutter, you will lose your train of thought, your voice will sound funny. It’s not just you, everybody starts off being bad at it. Don’t let that stop you though, accept that you’ll have bruises and scrapes and keep getting back on that bike. Coincidentally, accepting that you’re going to be bad at the first ones makes it much less frightening going into them.
… until you are good at it
I read a lot of things about how to be a good and confident public speaker, the advice was all over the map, and a lot of it felt like pure BS. I think a lot of people try different things and when they finally feel confident in speaking, they attribute whatever their latest thing was with giving them that confidence. In reality, you just get more confident the more you do it. You’ll be better the second time than the first, and better the third time than the second. So keep at it, you’ll keep getting better. No matter how good or bad you are now, you will keep getting better if you just keep doing it.
Don’t worry about your hands
You’ll find a lot of suggestions about how to use your hands (or not use them), how to walk around (or not walk around) or other suggestions about what to do with yourself while you’re giving your presentation. Ignore them all. It’s not that these things don’t affect your presentation, I’ll admit that they do, it’s that they don’t affect anything after your presentation. Think back about all of the presentations you’ve seen in your life, how much do you remember about how the presenter walked or waved their hands? Unless those movements were integral to the subject, you probably don’t remember much. The same will happen for you, nobody is going to remember whether you walked around or not, they’re going to remember the information you gave them.
It’s not about you
This is the one piece of advice I read that actually has helped me. The reason nobody remembers what you did with your hands is because they’re not there to watch you, they’re there for the information you’re giving them. Unless you’re an actual celebrity, people are there to get information for their own benefit, you’re just the medium which provides it to them. So don’t make it about you (again, unless you’re an actual celebrity), focus on the topic and information you’re giving out and what it can do for the audience. If you do that, they’ll be thinking about what they’re going to do with it, not what you’re doing with your hands or how many times you’ve said “um”. Good information is a good distraction from the things you don’t want them paying attention to.
It’s all just practice
Practicing your presentation isn’t nearly as stressful as giving it, because you’re not worried about messing up. If you mess up during practice you just correct it, make a note to not make the same mistake next time, and carry on. Well if you plan on doing more public speaking there will always be a next time, which means this time is your practice for that one. Keep your eye on the presentation after this one, if you mess up now you can correct it for the next one.
All of the above are really just different ways of saying the same thing: just keep doing it and worry about the content not you. You will get better, your content will get better, and other people will benefit from it, for which they will be appreciative and will gladly overlook any faults in the presentation. I guarantee that you will not be more nervous about it than I was when I started.