Masha Reko - Apprenticeship Blog

What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing. (Aristotle)

Day 25: The Terrors of Public Speaking

One: demonstrations always crash. And two: the probability of them crashing goes up exponentially with the number of people watching. ~ Steve Jobs

It was just this morning that I remembered this quote while preparing my first apprenticeship talk. But then I thought: nah, I’m not that unlucky. Everything will be just fine. This has been an incredibly stressful week for me and I truly believed I deserved some luck for once; but alas, my laptop had different ideas.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week preparing for this talk. I love Docker, and I really wanted to make that obvious; usually that is the only thing you need to make a talk successful. So I decided to ditch the idea of a classic slide show and do a live demo instead. Show how Docker really works in practice, even if I had rather limited time to do it. I worked as a student assistant for three years during my studies and I know how people learn best - by example. Theory is nice and all, and you SHOULD know it nevertheless, but you don’t really remember things until you see how they work with your own eyes.

So I prepared two small Node.js apps to dockerize: an inevitable Hello World, and a slightly modified Hello World that also prints the number of times the page was visited. Before the talk, I spent hours getting mentally ready for it. I knew I was prepared, and that I was quite familiar with the topic at hand. But still, I felt anxious about doing it. This wasn’t exactly public speaking, as it was only us apprentices and the mentors, but I felt this huge weight on my shoulders regardless. It’s not that I am inexperienced with this. I did a fair amount of presentations and talks in my life. And I always felt the same. To be honest, I sometimes think that will never change.

Anyways, even before I started talking, there were many technical issues with connecting to the GoToMeeting app. In one moment I thought I’ll have to postpone the talk, which made me even more nervous. I can’t sit on this for another week! Thankfully, things sorted out and I could finally start with a few minutes delay. But then I proceeded on to typing a wrong command into my Docker Terminal, which resulted in everything getting frozen. Steve Jobs immediately came to my mind again. Of course the demonstration had to crash. Of course he had to be right, yet again.

But I stayed calm (or at least I pretended I was) and waited a few minutes for the daemon process to figure out what to do. I tried to smile in the meantime and keep the spirits up, even if I was screaming on the inside, wishing that by some miracle I could revert the time and start all over again. Luckily, there was no need for that. The Docker daemon finally started behaving, and I could proceed without further problems.

I finished in about 15 minutes, which left some time for questions in the end. I was very pleased that people asked them; it meant that they were interested in what I talked about and wished to know more. Hopefully that meant I did a good job with this talk.

And I was right. I received a lot of positive feedback, which made me incredibly proud. But, you know, I’ve heard similar things before. I was told by many people that I AM good at this public speaking thing, after all. I was even told that I look casual and relaxed when I talk. However, I don’t think anyone ever realized how hard this is for me. How much effort and energy I have to put in every single time I have to speak in front of people. How scared and nervous I get at the very idea of me being in the spotlight. And how it never gets easier, no matter how many times I do it.

But as I am writing this post, I start to realize one thing: yes, I am terrified of public speaking. However, over the years I managed to develop this awesome skill to never let that fear show. I learned how to prevent it from completely paralyzing me, no matter how wrong things go. And even though I might never get rid of it completely, I learned how to live with it - and that, in the end, is just enough.

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So an advice to all those with a similar fear: Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Find a way to thrive in spite of it.

Fake it till you make it - that’s all there is to it, after all.