Horkey HandBook Blog

What I Learned from My First Public Speaking Gig

A few weeks ago I spoke for the very first time in public.

Yep, me… at a conference no less!

In front of almost a hundred people.

Many of you that have been around these parts for a bit might not be super surprised. After all, speaking at a conference was on my list of ways to break out of my comfort zone recently. And if you’ve seen me on video, in person or talked with me over the phone, you probably think I’m rather extroverted.

Which is true. Mostly.

But public speaking still scares the hell out of me. And I wasn’t really sure how it would go…

  • Would I be able to perform under pressure?
  • Would I break out in hives – a common response to me being overly excited and/or nervous?
  • Would I fail miserably and run off the stage crying?

I totally had these questions and many, many more leading up to the actual event.

I did trip, I did drop the slide remote and the slides themselves, well… Read on for the full disaster of my first experience, what I learned and why I’ll actually do it again. 😉

What I learned from my first public speaking gig

How It Went Down

I had applied to speak at the Double Your Freelancing Conference sometime this spring when a “call for papers” went out.

I’m not going to lie, I might have had a slight advantage. Brennan Dunn, the conference’s organizer and founder of Double Your Freelancing was a client of mine. And I had gone to the inaugural event the year before.

But I still took my time, gathered my wits and sent the best pitch I could put together. And then promptly forgot about it.

A few months later (and just two and a half months before the actual event) I got a text from Brennan (yep, we’re tight 😉 ) asking me if I wanted to speak.

“Hell yes!” Not my actual response, but the one that came to mind. Followed by “Oh shit…” Now I actually had to do it!

So being the procrastinator that I sometimes am, I shelved the whole speech writing/practicing thing in favor of more pressing projects and tasks (publishing an ebook, rewriting/relaunching my writing course, etc.). But we all know how time flies and soon it was time to buckle down and get to work.

Luckily, my pitch was pretty well fleshed out, so it was more a matter of outlining the rest, creating some slides and practicing the heck out of it. Thank you to all of my generous internet friends for letting me practice on you and for the wonderful feedback y’all gave me!

Of course then I wanted to implement the suggested changes and feedback. So I continued to tweak my speech… and my slides. Even after I turned them in by the deadline given.

But I knew Kai who was running that part of the conference and emailed my revised slides with a “confirm receipt” request. And he’s truly wonderful (and brilliant), but he accidentally loaded the first version of my slides for the conference. But I didn’t know that until after I had already started my speech…

So I had practiced a ton, asked for advice from my friends that have done this type of thing a time or two and packed my bags for Virginia. Wade came with me and our wonderful parents split kid duty.

We flew in on Wednesday, had a speaker’s dinner and cocktail hour/conference registration period and then hit the hay in preparation of my big day that was quickly approaching. Of course I slept like crap and woke up already nervous.

But I was also determined.

I sat through the morning’s speakers and was blown away by their content, delivery and memorization abilities. But I wasn’t going to compare myself or let that get to me. I was going to do what I set out to do and deliver valuable information come hell or high water.

We broke for lunch (I headed out a bit before the rest) and Wade and I ate in our room where I ran through my speech for the last time. Then we went down to the conference room, set out my cute little branded to do list note pads and tried to make small talk waiting for my time to shine.

People were a bit late coming back for lunch, so my speech got delayed about 15 minutes. But soon enough it was time to get miked up. Brennan introduced me, I walked out from behind the curtain (with only a small trip that not too many people noticed) and I took the stage while telling him he stole my story. It got the crowd laughing, which ended up being a nice ice breaker.

The moment I had been waiting for had FINALLY arrived. I took position, grabbed the slide remote and turned around to begin. Only my slides weren’t right…

After some flipping back and forth I realized they were the first version, not the final one that I had asked for confirmation on. Again, I made light of it and yelled out at Kai from the stage to which he replied his profuse apologies. And again, the crowd laughed. (I also think they felt a bit sorry for me.)

But I wasn’t going to let the first trip or the second (really big) challenge keep me from doing what I was there to do. Luckily, I decided to bring printed notes on stage and even though my slides weren’t perfect, at least I knew what I was going to say and didn’t need to rely on my slightly confused/manic mind to do all of the work.

I kept my pace steady, I used my hands to accentuate my points and I focused on delivering value to the crowd, not whether or not I was breaking out in hives. It was going okay – until I dropped the slide remote.

Honestly, this was the most embarrassing part of the experience. I dropped the wireless remote, it hit the stage, the back came off, both batteries popped out and I’m shitting you not, one battery found a tiny hole in the stage and disappeared. A slow motion train wreck at its best. 😉

“Well, I guess I can’t try to fumble and put it back together in front of a hundred people,” I thought to myself.

That was actually a bit of a relief. Can you imagine trying to do that? I would be all fat thumbs and fingers trying to get the pluses on the right side and the minuses on the other.

Complete disaster, right?

It could have been. But Brennan jumped on stage to save the day and become my manual slide remote. And a few minutes later I was handed a new one.

I’m happy to say that it was all downhill from there – in the good way. I finished my talk, people asked good questions and many congratulated me on my speech, asked me questions offstage and even followed up with me via email afterwards.

It was a success.

Phew!

And then I got to enjoy myself and some 1:1 time with the hubs. I guess I’ll have to do it again. In fact, I actually committed to booking/presenting two speeches by the end of next year (hit me up if you want me to speak at your event!).

Here’s What I Learned

I learned quite a bit while preparing for my first speaking gig, at the event and in the time since. Including:

1. I can do hard things.

I used to read Momastery a lot and one of Glennon’s catchphrases was, “We can do hard things.” And it’s true, we can. I can, you can, we all can.

2. Do it scared.

One of my other internet Yodas is Ruth from Living Well, Spending Less (she has an awesome course called Elite Blog Academy <–affiliate link that opens for enrollment once or twice a year that you should check out). She has lots of wonderful advice, but “doing it scared” is a real gem. In fact, that’s exactly what I was telling myself before I walked on stage…

3. I’m just a UI.

For those of you that don’t talk programming, it just means that my speech isn’t about or for me. It’s for the audience and when you concentrate on their experience and the value that they’ll receive, it takes the pressure off of you. I’m just a vessel delivering a message.

Was It Worth It?

You bet it was!

Although it wasn’t a paying gig, I did get a free ticket to the conference and Brennan covered the speaker’s hotel stay (plus treated us to a very nice dinner). I was able to build further authority in my space, strike up conversations with lots of cool peeps, picked up a new matchmaking client and walked away knowing that I could perform under fire.

So there will be a next time. And I’ll make sure to check my slides before I go on stage. 😉

Are you a public speaker? If not currently, would you ever consider it?

Gina Horkey

Gina Horkey

FOUNDER & CO-OWNER

Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama from Minnesota. Additionally, she’s the founder of Horkey HandBook and loves helping others find or become a kickass virtual assistant. Gina’s background includes making a living as a professional writer, an online business marketing consultant and a decade of experience in the financial services industry.