Dylan Smith

Broken leg

I was asked to speak at last month’s London Email Meetup. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked.

As a note of advice to my past and future selves, here are three things I wish I’d done differently.

Dylan Smith speaking to an audience at the London Email Meetup
Speaking at the London Email Meetup in May 2018; Photo by Elliot Ross

Write more.

When I was a young reader, I thought novelists started on a blank page and imagined stories as they wrote them. I later realised they keep loads of themes, scenes, and characters ready to be deployed at just the right time.

Have a vault of ideas that are already fleshed out and documented to draw from when needed. Iterate over and expand upon those ideas. That is how you build depth on a subject.

Give yourself more time.

Writing all-new material is fine. Taking a last-minute gig is fine. Writing all-new material for a last-minute gig is awful.

Be prepared early. Have enough material for the length of the talk, know the material well, and feel confident in its strength. Then you have the luxury of being able to explore new angles or directions, make revisions to what you have, and cut what isn’t strong. Your concern becomes quality and not just filling a time slot.

That’s a common approach for standup comedians; once they have enough jokes to fill five minutes, they drop the weakest jokes and try new ones. Repeat until there are no weak jokes.

Rehearse more.

There are two main reasons people get nervous on stage:

  1. They’re worried about how the crowd will respond
  2. They’re worried about remembering everything

You can eliminate one of those reasons by memorising your material front and back. In the lead-up to your event, rehearse often.

Rehearsing aloud surfaces issues with the content and flow of your presentation in a way that reading to yourself can’t quite do. Rehearsing in front of friends and coworkers prepares you for how people will react on the day, and lets you get feedback from different perspectives.

Side note: Next time you’re in the audience enjoying a talk, do your best to appear halfway interested or entertained. That visual feedback can make all the difference to the speaker’s confidence and, by extension, the remainder of their presentation.

I’ve done plenty of hosting and speaking at events large and small, but this one more than any before it was a learning experience. I’m looking forward to my next speaking opportunity — but I’ll be selecting it more carefully.

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