Slow Down, New Yorker, and Enjoy the View

So you are asked to help co-present a keynote at a historically well attended industry event.  After you go through the vicious self-esteem sucking spiral of “It’s Just Little Old Me” you start panicking about all the preparation that has to be done.  Trying to recall those skills you developed (or were supposed to have developed) during college.  You know: time management, critical thinking, research, public speaking, what not to wear.

These are the thoughts racing through my head when I get a message from Gary Kayye that he would like me to help present a KEYNOTE address (approved for Renewal Units by InfoComm) on Green AV. Sure, Green AV is my passion. Some people love ice cream, I LOVE Green AV. I could talk about it all day! To anyone (believe me, I have). So why was this different? Why would an hour and a half be so difficult for me?  Well, first, I was on stage- spotlight on me/ us- in front of about a bazillion people (true statement). Second, I was SHARING the stage with one of the most recognized speakers in our industry. He really knows what he is doing- totally comfortable in front of a bazillion people.  Wouldn’t you be nervous?

I convinced myself that the only way I would calm my anxiety would be to just dump myself into research and writing. I read an ENTIRE executive order released by the White House- so darn dry. But it renewed my excitement on the subject. The more I dove into Green AV opportunities to speak about, the more enveloped I became in the subject (more so than I already was- I know, it’s crazy, right?). Preparation became my routine. Every day when I got home from work, I would set myself up on the dining room table and write. First, hand written notes on index cards. Then, notes on bigger index cards.  Finally, a whole presentation in a word document.  Digression: Hand writing notes has always been how I start to organize big projects. I guess that habit began in high school- because my family didn’t have a computer, we had a very pretty, electronic, semi-automatic brother word processor that only allowed you to see one line at a time on the puny screen that it had. I did buy my first Gateway computer for my dorm room when I went away to college. Gateway was awesome back then- complete with Boston Acoustics speakers and sub woofer.

Back to public speaking: With my speaking points all organized and well written, I board a plane to Chicago. 2 hours of reviewing the document, without distraction. Nerves on edge, I realize that I have never seen the slide show Gary created for us. I sent him an outline of my points and he incorporated them into a slide show for the session. Oh, and BTW- I had never met Gary in person before this either. Two more unknowns to add to the list of things to be anxious about.

The morning of the presentation day arrives. Gary and I had reviewed the slides. Check one off the anxiety list. I ordered tea instead of coffee, in case Starbucks caffeine exacerbates my excitement to the point beyond the typical “You speak really fast.” “I am from NewYork.” “Ahhhh, understood.” Finally, after all the preparation and anxiety, Gary begins speaking- comfortable and informal (further punctuated by his clothing- jeans and a [rAVe] Pubs t-shirt), as if he has known each and every attendee for years. No notes. No reservations. Completely confident. And although I am still nervous, I stop trembling. I stand a little straighter (in my business attire); I keep my notes with me but don’t rely on them to hide behind. And I begin my section. Informal, though shaky. Trying to roll with any hiccups we encounter. Hoping to make eye contact with as many attendees as possible. I play off Gary’s points and he plays off mine. In the end, I think it went quite well. People came up to us afterward to tell us so! Honestly, it was definitely not the horror show I envisioned.

My point and my advice to anyone unsure about presenting to large audiences- go back to basics.  Know your subject matter and be confident in this expertise. Relax. Have a conversation with your audience.  Slow down to enjoy the view from the stage; your expertise put you there and those people- from the faces in the front row to the blurry ones in the back- all want to hear what you have to say. Above all, make a point to observe a presenter who displays all the characteristics you would like to have when speaking. Ask them for their tricks and secrets; perhaps use them as a mentor of sorts.  I will let you use Gary, if you promise to share him…

Choosing tea over coffee can’t hurt either.