No-one really warns you about the consequences of public speaking. I was clueless until this week, when I gave my first solo talk, Beyond UX: Designing for Delight at WordCamp Montreal. I practiced it out loud until the dog couldn’t take it any more. Even so, there were things I did not foresee.
The presentation went surprisingly well, although I’m pretty sure it will be remembered as much for the unplanned entertainment aspect as the content. The night before, I’d had the brilliant idea of tossing chocolates to people who answered my random questions correctly. I figured this was in keeping with my topic (delighting audiences), and people love chocolate. What could possibly go wrong?
This did not go exactly as planned. For while my arm strength is pretty fierce, my aim is poor—and that’s putting it kindly. Also, the chocolates were Lindt truffles, so they made for some pretty hard little projectiles.
By the 3rd question, some audience members were covering their faces and ducking. To top it off, I had played the theme music to Angry Birds at the beginning. One guy yelled out, “How many birds have you killed so far?”
Undeterred, I forged ahead. Another thing I had not considered was that more than one person might answer a question at a time. So when they did, I got a little rattled… I panicked, grabbed a big fistful of chocolate, and apparently started waving it around, as I swivelled left and right, desperately trying to ascertain where the answers were coming from. This did nothing to quell the audience’s fears. I finally just hurled them up as high as I could. They rained down like a hailstorm of shiny rocks.
The rest of the presentation whizzed by in a blur. I was dimly aware of audience reaction. All my focus was on making sure each slide was in sync with what I was talking about. My first realization that they might have actually enjoyed it came during the Q-and-A session afterwards. Upon receiving the mike, one handsome stranger simply asked, “Red wine or white?” I immediately tossed him a truffle. And threw the remaining ones (as gently as I could) to the people in the first 4 rows, as a reward (Hazard Pay?) for sitting up front. WordCampers are known for being generous—especially so in Canada—so when people came up to me afterwards and said,”That was great!” I figured they were just being polite and kind. Only after it was over did I begin to really feel the effects. Here’s what I learned:
1. 15 mins of fame
The conference Twitter feed reveals a lot. You can see right away whether people cared about what you said (good and bad) and what has resonated. They also post photos, so you can see which slides were a hit, and which ones were ignored. Very helpful for future presentations.
2. People do amazing things with your info.
3. Word spreads.
Comments get RT’d (Re-Tweeted) by others on Twitter in other locations and you suddenly gain a ton of new Followers. Your name gets added to lists with names like “UX Pioneers” “UX Influencers” “Interesting UX.”
People come up to you and introduce themselves and say more nice things. They hand you their business cards. Others send you invitations to Connect on LinkedIn. Your network expands more in one day than it does in a year.
5. Free drinks!
You decide to go to the After Party, even though you’re knackered. And just as well. Because you find yourself the recipient of free beverages from total strangers. Everyone seems to know who you are, and you do your best to remember names. A couple of wise-acres ask if you have any more chocolate. Between the wine and the compliments, you float home on a cloud.
6. News jumps to other platforms.
The next day, on Facebook and Twitter, you see links to blog posts about the event that include links to your slides. Writers post on their own sites as well as on other networks like Medium.
7. Moment of Whoa.
Word reaches one of the global companies you’ve showcased in your slides. They RT an image of your slide. You let out a squeal of delight. The dog comes running in. You explain all this in detail to him. He slumps down as it sinks in that this is not about him getting any C-O-O-K-I-E-S…
8. Moment of Uh Oh.
There’s a moment of panic at the thought that they might sue you. Crap crap crappity crap. Then you remember it falls under “fair use” as it’s educational. Also, it’s free and positive PR for them. A win-win. Right? Right?? But wait, they’re US-based. Oh God. Please don’t sue me, please don’t sue me… You send forth a tweet and hold your breath.
Relief washes over you at their calm and witty response. (Delivered, I might add, at 7:30pm on the day after a long weekend. Respect for their hard-working Social Management team.)
You get invitations to speak at other events. (OMG. They want more??)
10. Unsolicited Recommendations
The cherry on the top was waking up to this. Did I mention that WordCampers are generous? What a great way to thank someone. Happy dance!
Back to Reality
And then you realize that you now have a backlog of emails and work to catch up on. Clients are tapping their toes waiting for Ms. Big Shot to finish their damn logo already. And the dog is whining for his breakfast.
P.S. Many thanks to Kathryn Presner who was a driving force behind pushing more women to speak at this year’s WordCamp conference. I was not the only victim of her ingenious secret weapon, The Flatter-Nag. But combined with the work of the WordCamp MTL Organizers, they managed to achieve a balanced speaker line-up of 50% women, 50% men. That’s pretty amazing.
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