How Did I Become a Public Speaker: My First Time
Last week, my dear friend Roni Vered Adar told me about a pod cast by Kendra Little entitled “How to Level Up Your DBA Career (Dear SQL DBA)“. Roni told me that Kendra talked about the importance of public speaking and wanted to know what I think.
I said it’s a great idea, so Roni asked if I could tell her a little about how I started speaking in public, and about my first time to do it. I told her that’s a long story but I’ll blog on it if she wants. She did, so here we go…
Ever since I became a DBA (or even before that), I was always impressed by people who could speak in public. It didn’t matter if it was a course, a user group meeting, or a convention. Whenever I saw someone give a good session, I thought to myself – “these people have a special gift, I wish I could be more like them – but I could never do what they do “.
Technically, the first time I took the stage and went up to speak in front of an audience was in 2009. I was working at a consultancy company called Glasshouse Technologies, as a senior consultant. I was positioned at a customer site for almost 100 percent of my time, so I didn’t need to present publicly at all. One day, my manager asked if I could give a 20 minutes session at our company’s round-table-technology-day (I think it was about Oracle 11g new features or something of that sort). Actually, he didn’t really ask me – he just informed me that I’m on the agenda and “good luck with that”.
Well, you might say, this sounds somewhat boring – what’s the big deal about that?
The answer is simple: I had stage fright. I’m not talking about a regular every-day little concern – I’m talking about a real scale phobia of speaking in public. I was 29, and almost never talked to more than 4 or 5 people at the same time. I was sure I was going to say something wrong, lose my words, break my voice, sound stupid, and everything would be terrible. My phobia made public speaking seemed impossible and it was very low on my priorities list.
On the day of my first session, I was terrified. I went on stage and felt sick to my stomach, I was almost sure I’m about to faint. The session started, I gave my 20 minutes and to be honest, I can’t remember a thing about it. At the end of the session, I was shaking, sweating, and I was almost sure I am going to die on the spot. My manager said that I did “great” and that was it. It wasn’t my best experience and public speaking went down my list even more.
2 Years Later
About 2 years later, my manager at Glasshouse left his job. After a few weeks without a proper manager, I offered myself to temporarily fill-in the position. I met with the CEO and after about 15 minutes into the interview (to my great surprise) he informed me that the job is permanently mine effective immediately.
That was a complete game-changer for me. In this new position, I HAD to talk to an audience – I was in charge of two teams, with 18 people all together. They were looking up to me; they expected me to lead them; they needed to hear what I had to say, and so I did.
However, this is still not public speaking – how did I get to be a public speaker?
So there I was, working as a service directory, doing well but not great. One day, about 3-4 months into my new role, I was sitting in my office, trying to decide what can I do to step up and build reputation. I was aiming to become a better-known name in my community (I was already blogging for about a year at that point), and then it hit me. If I want to be “famous”, I must speak in public. But to do so, I must overcome my fears.
I decided to try two different kind of public sparking. First, I focused on user groups and conventions. These usually have shorter sessions, so I could practice my presenting skills. The second was course training. I was sure at my databases knowledge was sufficient; it was just the speaking part I wasn’t sure of.
Together with someone from my team, we went to audition for the biggest Oracle-related event in Israel. He went first, but didn’t do very well. That was very discouraging for me. I was ready to cancel the all thing, but I said that I’m already there, so why not try anyway. I started talking about something I wrote an academic paper on, and after a few minutes, the event producer stopped me and said; “that was excellent, you’re in!” – And so it began.
My REAL First Public Speaking Event
My REAL first public speaking event was at a convention called “Oracle Week 2011”, in Israel. It’s a yearly 5-days event with over 2000 participants overall. I was participating it on and off over the years (as a viewer), but never thought I could actually speak there.
Since I already passed an audition, the organizers agreed to give me 2 day-long sessions on that conference. The first was about Data Guard, the other was on Automatic maintenance and diagnostic tools. In the upcoming weeks, I worked my butt off to prepare presentations, practice them, and know everything by heart – front to back on both of the sessions’ topics.
On the day of my first session, I was nervous, but I wasn’t shaking. To my surprise, I was given the biggest room, and had about 30 something people in the audience (much more than I was told, or expected). The session went great: I talked fluently, I didn’t miss my words, I finished on time, and it looked like I knew what I was doing.
When I finished the session – I felt great. I was like I’m on a cloud – totally fell in love with public speaking. From someone who couldn’t talk to more than a few people at a time, I found myself actually ENJOYING talking to a crowd – and the bigger, the better!
What was really nice about it, was that I found out that I’m really good at it. When the reviews (audience feedback) came back, I got very high scores!
Practice Makes Perfect
The years gone by, and in the last 5 years I gave more session than I can count. I taught numerous Oracle and non-Oracle related courses, sessions, conferences, conventions, and user group meetings. The biggest suggestion I can give is practice, practice, practice. There aren’t a lot of people who were born with the gift – most of the people need to practice until they get it right. Once I feel ready, I practice some more… 🙂
Even after all of that, I still had one mountain to conquer: presenting in English (which is not my native tongue). In the last year or so, I gave multiple sessions in English, in attempt to break the fear cycle again. I gave sessions in user groups (Israel – I planned to talk in Hebrew, but did it in English for some of the people in the crowd, Scotland, and Bulgaria). I also gave some private sessions in English for my customers. I feel I improved my English presenting skills greatly and I am now much more confident with it.
As of now, I submit my presentations for almost all of the conferences in the EMEA region – today, for example, I submitted my sessions to POUG (Poland) and HROUG (Croatia). I even submitted session to the Open World a couple of times (but I don’t think I was accepted this year, sadly).
That was my story. This is how I started – and what I needed to do to overcome my phobia.
I think public sparking is one of the best way to be good at what you do. If you prepare yourself to a public session (and not just do it “on the way”), you learn so much about the thing you’re talking about. I can’t even count the number of times I was talking about something in a public event to realize something new about it, something I didn’t think of before.
Public events are also a great way to make new connections, hear new ideas, and meet new people. Even though many people are intimidated to come and talk to the speaker at the breaks, or at the end of the session (I know I was) – I highly encourage that. I also encourage reach outs “offline” – my email, twitter, and blog addresses are up there for a reason – and I guess most speaker would love to hear constructive criticism after their sessions.
If you’re thinking about becoming a public speaker and need my advice, feel free to contact me here (or on my contact form, if you want to do it privately).
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!