Wednesday, 22 July 2015

One of Them

FIG 1: Me, and my beard, talking at a conference.
In real life, I'm a pretty awkward guy at first; I'm prone to stuttering, have no sense of direction, I forget names, the faces of people I've met, places I've been, and find it impossible to be assertive, or confident in any way.

I'm pretty much a mess.

Some of these symptoms disappear once I get to know you better, but first impressions count for a lot. My small circle of friends just accept, thankfully, that they have to help me navigate the world if they want me around, and sometimes have to wait for the end of a sentence.

I'm okay with it, I don't live in the real world, so don't have to deal with real life very much. The written word, including code, is not usually awkward for me, it flows freely, though it may not always make sense.

I know I'm not alone, I know lots of people who work in Tech are the same; They will confidently talk about the pros and cons of their favourite systems in IRC all day long, but put them in a real life situation and they fall apart, can't make decisions and don't know who or where they are.

While I am at peace with my acute awkwardness, it so happens that I hugely admire anyone who is able to get up on a stage and hold an audience. It's worth noting that if it weren't for this breed of individual, there are things I would never have understood properly.

Not so many months ago, in a burst of uncharacteristic confidence, I decided I would submit a talk to the inaugural PHP South Coast. This is as local as a conference can get for me, there would be friendly faces (I might not know their names, or recognize them at first), and I chose a subject matter I know a fair amount about, parallel PHP.

The plan was to practice at my local meetup in Hampshire, however, because of real life that never happened.

In the last couple of weeks leading up to the conference my beloved partner and I discussed how the talk should go.

I arranged to drive two friends to the conference, and we thought we could go through my talk in the car. However, it was 7am and we wanted bacon, so that didn't happen either.

So there I was, scheduled to speak after the keynote from Cal Evans, having not practised talking to anyone, not even one person. A few of us got around a table, and I quickly ran through the outline of the talk, asked if anything was missing, and we discussed, for about 180 seconds, questions that could be asked.

I lapped up the keynote, it was funny, even emotional, well produced ... I totally forgot I was up next.

I went straight into the room where I was speaking, then left, walked around to the other side of the room, entered again, then left, went to the other side of the room and finally got my shit together and approached someone that looked like staff.

We couldn't get my laptop to work, which was embarrassing. A working laptop was hooked up, I got the attention of the room and heard myself shakily enter the world of the speaker.

I eventually got control of my voice, managed to get a couple of laughs, and I think confidently answer questions at the end.

It was over, I literally ran outside to a corner and smoked by myself, caught my breath, and began to look forward to the rest of the conference.

A short while later I tweeted:

 From the comfort of my office chair, the awkwardness of the experience for me is overshadowed by the sense of pride that I done it. 

It may not have been the best talk; I don't know if I stuttered during, or missed anything out. I know that it was short and the audience was left wanting more, and I was left looking forward to having the opportunity to speak again, and improving.

Photo at the top courtesy of Rob Allen, who was there and armed with a camera all day.