Earlier this year, I signed up to speak at Interact 2019, a design conference at the Natural History Museum. Throughout the summer lots of incredible speakers joined the line-up and I started to get nervous. Luckily, I was surrounded by my supportive colleagues who helped me work out a plan to feel confident and deliver a great talk. If you find yourself in the same situation, here’s what I did:

5 weeks to go

For me, one of the scariest parts of a talk can sometimes be at the end. You think you’re finished, then you’re asked some really difficult questions that you have to answer on the spot. I started Improv comedy classes at the London Improv Theatre to get better at dealing with the unexpected and unpredictable. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been recommending it to everyone. It’s not as scary as you think and I left every session on a high. Jake, the course instructor, guides you through games and exercises that help you deal with fear of failure and accepting situations you can’t control. It also teaches you to be a more supportive and generous communicator. There’s a concept in Improv called “Yes, and…” that encourages you to accept other people’s ideas and build on them, rather than be negative or dismissive. I’ve been trying this with our team at work as well.

4 weeks to go

I attended Upfront, a workshop run by Lauren Currie that aims to help women feel more confident sharing their stories. I practised exercises for controlling breath and projecting my voice. But the most valuable part of that day for me was feeling that I wasn’t alone. Regardless of industry or seniority level, everyone there had felt moments of doubt and anxiety. Sharing our experiences together and knowing its normal to feel like is, was super powerful. Since the workshop, the group have stayed in touch: every Friday we check in with the group on Whatsapp and celebrate what we’ve achieved.

3 weeks to go

I spoke at Interaction Design Day: Trust and Responsibility. It gave me a chance to test out the talk with a smaller audience and I got really good feedback from some attendees on how to make it better. It was good to practise speaking in front of people and try and get used to the unnatural feeling of everyone looking at you. Each time it feels a little less intimidating.

2 weeks to go

Since I was already pushing myself out of my comfort zone I also decided to book skydiving. I didn’t manage to do it before the talk due to hurricane Lorenzo but the intention was there (it’s scheduled for November). The idea of jumping out of a plane helped put public speaking in perspective. I’m not recommending this for everyone but I think it helped me!

1 week to go

As a team, we spoke about the hardest questions we get asked at talks and came up with answers together. This was helpful for spotting topics that I felt less sure about and meant I could spend more time tackling those.

A few hours to go

In the lead up to my slot, I chatted with as many attendees as I could. Getting to know the audience, what they’re interested in, and what they’re curious about, helped me relax and feel confident that the content of the talk would be valuable for them. It also distracted me from feeling nervous.

Talking about systems and data flows at Interact (Photo Grace Annan-Callcott, IF, CC-BY)

When it came to it, I felt calm, prepared and confident. I even got asked a whole load of questions at the end and had answers for all of them. I’m feeling very proud and want to keep momentum up so will keep looking for speaking opportunities. I’ve found reading about other people’s experiences around public speaking, like Emma Parnell’s blog post, really inspiring and helpful. I hope sharing this is helpful for anyone else who feels nervous about public speaking. Get in touch if you want to chat more.