Conquer Your Fears: Public Speaking in Your Underwear

When you’re getting ready for a big presentation at work and you’re really nervous about it, do you have those horrible dreams? You know the kind I mean. You’re standing up at the podium delivering your speech at the big company meeting. Everything seems to be going well until you notice that everyone is staring, and then you realize that you’re doing your presentation in your underwear.

Speaking in public can be scary but it doesn’t have to be talking-in-your-underwear bad. If you’re a technical person, delivering public presentations is often a great investment in your career. I write from experience.

Periodically over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the topic of “what it means to be an expert,” and one truism that I’ll start with here is that to reap the benefits of being an expert, you first have to make people think you’re an expert. Speaking at conferences, or even your local user group, is a great way to start getting your expertise recognized. Don’t get me wrong, actually BEING an expert is hard work, and I’m sure everyone realizes that to get ahead you have to take advantage of opportunities that come your way. But the people who tend to truly get ahead often create their own opportunities rather than waiting for them to be presented on a silver platter.

The Professional Association for SQL Server has posted its call for abstracts for the 2007 PASS Community Summit. The deadline for submissions is tomorrow, March 2, and I wish I had written this editorial sooner to give you more time. But heck--a day is still a day, so get busy and write that abstract.

The PASS Community Summit is a great conference in which to get your feet wet in conference speaking. The summit gives people the chance to make opportunities for themselves and move from “unknown expert” to “recognized expert.” PASS makes an effort to cultivate speakers who might not be well known enough to score a speaking slot in some other venue that values a speaker’s bio as much as the speaker’s level of expertise. That doesn’t mean the speaker selection process for other shows is bad, and it doesn’t mean that the speaker quality at the PASS summit is inferior to the quality at other shows. But PASS does tend to have a higher number of “non-name-brand” speakers, so the summit has a bit of an “American Idol” quality that can turn people into stars.

Don’t think you should try to speak at a conference like the PASS summit because you’re not an expert yet? Trust me, there are few more powerful incentives for mastering a topic than being scheduled to deliver the content in public. Presenting in your underwear sounds like a nightmare (unless, like one well-known Microsoft speaker, you did it on purpose at a TechEd show a few years ago), but the potential horror of standing up in front of your peers and truly not knowing your topic is a strong motivator that can force you to spend the time necessary to become an expert in a topic. I’ve known a lot of new speakers who had a great topic idea but perhaps weren’t experts when they pitched their talk in an abstract. But by golly, they were experts on that topic by the time the show came around.

Speaking really isn’t as scary as it might seem. The absolute worst that could happen is that you’d be horrible and make a complete fool of yourself so that your friends and colleagues remind you of the experience for 7 or 8 years. But don’t fret--they’d forget your lackluster stage performance pretty quickly if you began showing up to work in your underwear, so you really have nothing to lose. If you’re interested, you can submit your ideas for presentations to PASS by clicking on the link that’s at the top of the PASS home page.

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