EVERY YEAR I give a new talk at An Event Apart. And every year I panic.
After nearly two decades, public speaking no longer frightens me. But deciding what needs to be said gets tougher, and more terrifying, each year.
In 1998, when Hasan Yalcinkaya hired me to give my first public web design talk in, of all places, his glorious city of Istanbul, I wrote a speech for the occasion and read it aloud from the stage.
The following year, when Jim Heid hired me to keynote Web Design World Denver, I intended to do the same thing. But a fellow Web Design World speaker named Jeff Veen (who was also a colleague on The Web Standards Project) persuaded me to throw out my speech and “just tell stories.” I did it, it worked, and I’ve done it ever since.
For all my An Event Apart presentations since starting the conference with Eric Meyer in 2005, I’ve designed slides outlining the parameters of what I intended to talk about, and then spoken off the cuff.
But this year, inspired by the rigorous (and highly effective) speech preparation regimes of my friends Karen McGrane and Mike Monteiro, I’m once again writing a speech out word for word in advance. I will polish it like a manuscript. Only when it is perfect—logically structured, funny, passionate, persuasive—will I design accompanying slides.
I may read the speech out loud, word for word, as Mike sometimes does, or I may revise and practice it so often that I no longer need to see it to say it, like Karen. Either way, my talk this year should be tighter than any I’ve given in the past decade. Hopefully, that’s saying something.
I’m grateful to all my friends for their inspiration, and delighted that the panic and terror I felt at the start of this year, while contemplating creating a new AEA talk, has turned into the inspiration to approach the task a different way.
How do you approach public speaking? And if you don’t speak, what part of you is holding the rest of you back?