Feedback on giving a talk

November 20, 2017    —    4 minutes read

clojure talk

Last week I gave a talk at a local meetup, the Toulouse Java User Group, where I presented Lisp and Clojure.

Apart from mandatory workgroup presentations or master thesis defense, I’ve never volunteered to talk in front of people.

In the beginning of May 2017, I sent a “Call for paper” to one of our local GDG DevFest and got rejected ¯\(ツ)

My presentation title wasn’t entertaining, the content was pretty boring and I also left my speaker bio empty because I forgot to submit it.
Honestly, now that I think about it I would have rejected myself. But at the time it was disappointing, and also relieving.

And then, during the summer I listened to this episode of Functional Geekery in which Mohit Thatte explains how he has created a Clojure conference in India and essentially says that you get the community you deserve and if no-one has created a meetup yet, you can just start with that, it doesn’t have to be someone else to do it.

But creating a meetup first and then try to spread the word about it and convince people to come is not something I could do, so I made a new proposal to a talk about Clojure at our local Java User Group.

The Toulouse Java User Group has a good aura and is one of the most frequently and well organized user group in town, so I decided to reword my presentation proposal and found a provocative title:

The greatest single programming language ever designed: Lisp on the JVM

This is a quote by Alan Kay and I was expecting a lot of trolls, obviously.

Preparing the talk has been exhausting because I was terrified at the idea of not being able to express my ideas or answering questions about my topic.
This is why I read two books, watched and read several dozens of talks and articles about Clojure but also about a dozen of articles about the concepts of Identity and change, plus a mini series of really interesting (French) podcast (episodes more or less related to the concept of “time”, from Sept. 2, 2017 to Oct. 21, 2017).

I’ve read so much that I didn’t take the time necessary to review and memorize my talk…
I you take Tim Urban’s “Methods”, I was at level “3B” which, according to him, is the worst place to be:

Tim Urban Public Speaking Methods Pros and Cons

The night before the talk I was polishing my slides and practicing in front of my fridge, at 2am, in my pyjamas, while my wife and children where peacefully asleep. I was so frightened that I considered dozens of excuses and possible ways to avoid giving the talk.
After a short night I did realize not getting enough sleep was a terrible idea.

The rest of the day has been a cycle going from totally relaxed, to nervous as fuck, until it was my time to talk to the audience.

As soon as I begun to talk I felt like the stress was melting away. I was still nervous of course, but a big part of it was gone just by going on stage and doing the actual thing.

Giving the talk was a tremendous experience and the distress preceding it was immediately replaced by a feeling of completeness, gratitude and love.

Despite my “3B public speaking method” I don’t actually think the talk was boring as most of the people were active during my presentation, answering questions and laughing (when expected to).

But as a first time speaker I’ve made a lot of mistakes both before and during the presentation. I know it, because I watched the video later on. And watching myself was horrible experience

Seriously, it’s a lot worse than just hearing the sound of your voice and being like:
“I sound like a duck.”
The video adds a new dimension to it and you notice every single detail that is wrong about your body, “look” or attitude.

Nonetheless, I now understand what people say when they talk about about public speaking and the desire to get back to it as soon as you’ve finished the last one.
The feeling of hopelessness and nervousness during the preparation, followed by the relief and well being done with it are separated only by an ephemeral moment where you physically and mentally engage in a single activity.
This is all hormones and brain chemistry.

I hope this will encourage other people who might want to start giving presentations to actually do it. Honestly, it’s worth it, even if you feel like shit when preparing and also after watching yourself on video afterwards. If people like what you have to say, they will tell you, and getting congratulations for spreading ideas you care about is the biggest reward.
That and dopamine, you junkie!



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