New year’s resolutions. We all make them. We all break them. We even sometimes keep them.

Hana Stevenson
Hana Stevenson
2nd January 2019

I’ve struggled with public speaking for a long time. I know that a lot of people find it nerve wracking, but I’ve always had massive blocker with the entire endeavour. Maybe it’s partly due to my dyslexia, but truthfully it’s mostly due to me shying away from opportunities that place me in that kind of spotlight.

Fortunately at Clearleft I have been given keys to unlock the block. Firstly, I have the pleasure of working with experts in the field like Andy Budd, Richard Rutter and Jeremy Keith, who travel around the world, delivering and sharing insights from their respective work. Secondly, I attended a Rebel Lectures event that helped open my eyes to the commonalities of others who struggle with public speaking like me. And the event gave me tools to help me work towards speaking with confidence.

I have set myself a goal; a goal that I purposely cannot get out of. This March is the Spring Forward Festival in Brighton and I will be hosting a Ladies That UX event in the midst of it. Instead of the welcome and speaker introductions, I will present for 20 minutes. That’s 20 minutes of people listening to my voice.

But here’s the thing. I’m scared of my own voice. Sure, I can talk to friends, colleagues and clients. But when you’re standing in front of a room full of people, all there is is silence. Silence until you speak.

With this in mind, I signed up for another workshop. Andy Budd’s presentation workshop provided a variety of exercises aimed at getting to the root of the most important components of speaking. Tasked with presenting a five minute talk, I decided to present on the subject of teeth — if I ever get the pleasure to meet you, feel free to ask me about it.

Then we read a poem. It’s funny how reading the words in drastically different cadences got the point across quickly about delivery —monotone, dramatic; slow, fast; using the body, using the space in the room; loud, quiet; with accents, with pauses.

How often should you pause when presenting?

Do you find yourself trying to get your point out as soon as possible? Do you rush through it so fast that afterwards you question whether they understand you?

Take a second. Maybe two. Breathe.

Continue.

Let what you are saying to your audience sink in. I tend to think about what I am saying continuously but often forget this might be the first time someone has heard it. At first it felt embarrassing to do this, but as I looked around, everyone was in the same boat. Then it dawned on me. It is rare to find someone who wakes up and cannot wait to stand up in front of people and talk, unless they are an actor.

After this exercise Andy asked us to present our talk again. I could tell the difference. I focused on words, I paused. I changed my volume to emphasise my points. I actually enjoyed it. Most people felt the same. It’s obvious but it’s true: it just takes practise. With that in mind, I’ve been looking for opportunities to present, stepping away from my comfort zone and presenting to the whole Clearleft team. The next time I have to present, I will practise and focus on one thing at a time. Starting with my voice.

Thinking ahead to my talk in March, I have a stack of presenting books ready to read and other presenting opportunities. More importantly, I have a talk to write. I haven’t written a 20 minute talk before. There are many approaches, processes and things to consider. Content structure, the audience, the narrative, slide design, technical feasibility, time, presenting style…

Pause.

Breathe.

Continue.