Manish Barnwal

...just another human

My first attempt at public speaking

Having graduated from college, it was just 6 months into my new job that I was asked to give a tech-talk on Introduction to Data Science. Imagine the thrill and fright of a fresher when he is presented with a situation like this. The first thing I asked my manager was — how many people are we expecting in the audience? Notice the fright in the question. I was scared that I might screw up in front of a large audience. I may not be able to present the talk eloquently, the audience may laugh at me and all those crappy thoughts that quickly clouds your mind with fear and uncertainty.

Without much thought and ignoring the above questions, I straight away agreed to present the talk. The plan was simple. Commit to the task and then learn how to do it. In a few days, after a lot many iterations I had the presentation ready with me. I had not prepared any script or dialogues for the talk. The reason being, I wanted to give an impromptu talk. Days passed and I got busy in routine office work and meeting project deadlines.

Writing and public-speaking was something that has always fascinated me. I had read many a posts on effective public-speaking. Now was the time to apply whatever I had read about it.

The day had come when I had to give the tech-talk. That morning, I woke up a little early and I looked at a few videos on dealing with the stage-fear. I found this video in particular to be helpful.

It’s not that I had not practiced at all. We had a few dry runs. Frankly, I didn’t had the exact lines that I intended to say. I had just planned the overall flow of the talk. As I had read on various blogs on public-speaking, I reached the conference room a little early, walked down the room confidently, talked to some of my colleagues about random topics so as to divert the attention and calm the nerves. 

Within a few minutes, the room got packed with folks from various teams. I hadn’t expected these many people to turn around. Nevertheless, I was happy and confident. I kept saying this to myself — you are going to rock today! So many people have come just to listen to you. You know this stuff. This is your bread and butter. I took a few deep breaths and started the talk. 

After first few minutes of the talk, I started reading some of the faces in the audience, trying to understand if they are following what was being spoken. A good proxy for this include people asking questions, nodding to your statements in agreement, and making notes. I could see the audience doing these. So the feedback was good and I continued with the talk.

It was not all that easy. I stammered in between, fell short of the right words, the throat felt thirsty, some of the faces in audience looked scary but somehow the confidence in me was at peak. I was happy talking about something that I enjoyed doing.

It has been almost a year since I had presented this talk. Now when I think about it, I feel good. I feel accomplished. I know I could have screwed up badly. I had to start somewhere. And today I am happy that I did take that chance.

Next time, don’t let that chance pass away. Take that risk, prepare well and make it your first attempt at public speaking. We all need to start somewhere.

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