Stage Fright

Last week I did the opening keynote for PHPUK.

It’s not the first time I have keynoted, but it is the first opening keynote.

Do I get scared?

Many people since have asked if I get scared or stage fright beforehand.

Yes, i get scared.

It doesn’t matter if I am standing in front of a user group or a conference hall full of people, I will always get stage fright. It is usually the worse the last hour before I’m due on.

My brain runs through various issues:

  • What if i am too negative?
  • What if I forget the bridging phrase / point?
  • What if I am too monotone?
  • What if I have no colour of variety in my voice?
  • What if people fall asleep?
  • What if I mispronouce someone’s name?
  • What if there is a spelling mistake I missed?
  • What if my ankle gives way on stage?
  • What if I have a wardrobe malfunction?
  • What if I am too bossy?
  • What if my laptop breaks?
  • What if I drink some water and spill it on my laptop?

So on and so forth.

I don’t think these worries have gotten better or worse over time. The most I can do is control as much of it as possible.

Someone once told me that

No one wakes up wanting to see you fail.

This is open source community. From everything I have experienced in the last 8 years in this community, people are always cheering you on to do your best and are cheering you on to be your best.

So as long as i try my best, do my best, I’m ok accepting that stage fright is part of the parcel for me.

Controlling Stage Fright

There are a few things i do to control my stage fright and not let it run a drift.

Hopefully this will help you:

  • Have a USB copy of the presentation  with font files and images in Keynote, PPX and PDF.
  • Have a public dropbox folder of the presentation  with font files and images in Keynote, PPX and PDF shared with the organisers, yourself, and a friend in the room.
  • Test out the wardrobe choice on a night out with friends. If it passes a fun night out with friends where you are more likely to be moving around, it will be fine on stage where you don’t move around so much.
  • Break new shoes in. I tend to go on a trip with new shoes and walk a lot to break them in.
  • Have backup batteries for your clicker in the bag
  • Go to tech test early.
  • Have a version of your slides with a white background and a version with a black background. Depending on how bad the projector is, you can switch colour contrast quickly.
  • Have versions both in 16:9 and 4:3 because seriously the effort v the stress isn’t worth it.
  • Do not change slides on the day unless you REALLY have to. People will not miss one extra meme.
  • Set a run-though date with friends a week a head of time to :
    1. Force me to have a draft version of my talk  “ready”
    2. Give you feedback where it doesn’t flow and help you tweak the talk.
    3. Remember to write down the feedback
  • Video your practise runs. It means you can go back and write down that cool phrase you just made up which helped bridge two parts together as speaker notes.
  • Practise in front of people who don’t care about the content is useful. I found they tend to concentrate on your speaker style and point out things that are nothing related to the content.
  • Ask someone you trust and knows the subject to review the content.
  • Always leave a caveat and be honest if you are uncertain about data.
  • If my talk is in the morning, I have a super big dinner the night before. I know I will not stomach anything in the morning so i just eat ahead of time. Also I carry snack bars so I can eat straight after I come off stage.
  • Turn off the air con in the hotel room, and wrap that neck up! I find air cons dry out my voice and my voice breaks easily if its cold so i wear a scarf to stop that from happening. Airplane air cons are just as bad.
  • Know where the bathroom is so you can do a last minute bathroom run.  Nothing like drinking lots of tea to warm up the voice and then needing the bathroom 🤭
  • Whether you submitted to a CFP or got a invite, the organizers of the event are the people who curated the schedule so trust them. They thought your talk was interesting enough to put on stage.
  • Have a playlist of your favourite tunes and stick your headphones on and forget the world. I find that I have far too much adrenaline before i go on stage so if I can, I spend a bit of time before my talk where I  stick in my headphones and listen to a playlist I have saved offline.  I find I only really get through the first 5 songs at most so make sure the first song is one that ground you! This is my go to  playlist:
  • The talk is only going to be [ Insert session time amount here ]. In a year/ life time that is going to equate to a very insignificant amount of your time.
  • We’re not performing heart surgery.
  • You’ve got this. 

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