I am not a naturally social person. I do enjoy seeing people in real life, but what restores me is staying home with a good book or a Star Trek marathon. I am the textbook definition of an introvert.
I am also naturally shy. As a child, I rarely spoke in class, not because I did not know the answer, but because I did not want to speak in front of my classmates. I once had a teacher ask me to say anything – as in literally the word “anything” – just to prove to her that I could speak.1
Things did not improve in my teen years. As a high school senior, I had to give a 45-minute presentation on Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion. I am fairly certain I said words. I am less certain they were coherant.2
The end of that senior year brought great relief when I learned that I ranked 3rd in my class.3 The top 2 ranking seniors were given the honor of speaking at graduation. I was blissfully spared from that nightmare(-to-me).
Fast forward to today. I speak at conferences. I actively participate in panel discussions. I teach and have led 3-hour-long classes.4
I enjoy speaking in front of a crowd.
I wish I had advice or a five-step program or “one weird trick” to share, but I do not. I started speaking in front of other people out of necessity. Teaching stemmed from the need to do something different after being laid off from a particularly toxic job.
Conference speaking stemmed from the desire to attend conferences. I was in a position where there was very little money for conference travel. I had to apply for funding and was advised that my application would have a better chance if I was selected as a speaker. So, naturally, I applied to speak at every conference I wanted to attend. And then I was accepted to speak at four conferences in one year.
Overboard? Yes. Worth it? Also yes.
My first speaking gigs were nerve wracking, but it quickly became easier. I teach and speak about topics that are interesting to me. I trust (hope?) that those who hear me find my talks equally interesting. I have fun at every speaking gig and will continue to speak for as long as these events will have me.
High-school-me could never have imagined this, but today-me couldn’t be prouder.
I complied and only said the word “anything” to her. In retrospect, I don’t think that helped. ↩
My presentation also included visual aids in the form of styrofoam balls painted as the planets of our solar system. There is a non-zero chance that I juggled Jupiter and Saturn during this presentation. Also, thank you universe for allowing my high school years to be before the era of smart phones and TikTok. There’s no need to relive that. ↩
I wish I could truthfully say I did that on purpose. ↩
I also lost my voice once – mid-sentence – while teaching one of those 3-hour classes. ↩