Public Speaking as Performance

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Credit: Flickr / Sarah Embaby

I’ve written before about how I prepare mentally for a talk. Most recently, I’ve started to view it as a performance and be more and more (as the fall conference season is now underway) I’ve got more comfortable with the things I need to give a good performance. This change is mental, viewing it as a performance (rather than, commonly, a terrifying obligation past-me committed to), so differences are subtle, but important. I felt really good giving my last talk, which I think is a sign it’s time to prep a new one!

Because, it is a performance. I stand up in front of people, not my natural habitat, and try to be intensively witty and insightful.

I hope I’m usually witty and insightful, but in conversations, you take turns. On stage, it’s all on me.

One of my pet peeves as an audience member is when speakers are unprepared (even, maybe especially when they apologise for it!) Not preparing is disrespectful to the audience who have given up their time, and often significant amounts of money to be there.

If I’m speaking, then everything I do is around showing up prepared and in a good place mentally. This makes the conference experience very different. I feel OK about missing talks prior to mine. Although, pro-tip, for small conferences it’s worth letting them know you are hiding prior to your talk, and when to expect you as they may worry if they don’t see you!

Now, I always ask for travel costs (most conferences give speakers a free ticket) in part because it means I don’t feel any obligation to make the cost of attending worthwhile. Any value I got (which has typically been high) is gravy. Everything comes second to the performance.

Decompression time afterwards is also important. I usually use some of this time to make a storify of tweets during my talk.

Following day – a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast!

The other thing I’ve realised is that as a speaker, you can ask for things. Like water. Or to avoid specific slots. You can also ask for specific slots, but that is much harder for the organisers. It is incredibly hard organising a conference, so I try to go along with as much as possible and only ask for the things that will genuinely make an impact on my talk.

  • Prepare.
  • Hide (mental prep / power poses).
  • Setup equipment, test sound etc.
  • Perform.
  • Hide.
  • Socialise (this is when people say nice things! Don’t want to miss that!)
  • Relax (sleep in, have a nice breakfast).

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