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Harinder Seera 🇭🇲 for AWS Community Builders

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Overcoming Butterflies

 "...His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
         There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
        He's nervous, but on the surface, he looks calm and ready..." 
                       - Eminem (from Lose Yourself song)

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I have a little experience in public speaking, primarily in person. I only do one or two public speaking engagements yearly, but I do virtual speaking more often. Whenever I have to speak in public, I get nervous, and my palms become sweaty, my knees weak, and my arms heavy - just like in the lyrics of Eminem's song "Lose Yourself." I start having butterflies in my stomach.

In this post, I want to share my experience presenting at the AWS Community Summit in Thailand last year. I presented to over 120 people from different countries and was surprised to find myself feeling relaxed. Looking back and thinking about it now, a few things helped me. Some of them were intentional, and others were not.

I hope this post will inspire you to take the risk of public speaking, and hopefully, you can leverage some of the things I outlined below to help you deliver your speech in person.

  • Practice, practice, practice! - Each talk was allotted 20 minutes. As a speaker, I needed to rehearse my speech and enhance my delivery to stay within the given time. I made it a daily routine to practice my speech early in the morning, multiple times in front of the mirror while timing myself. With each run-through, I aimed to improve my delivery. I found that structuring my slides in a clear and concise way helped me to stay on track during the actual talk. Practicing multiple times meant that my words flowed naturally without hesitation when it came time to speak.

  • Meet And Greet - On the first day of our arrival, we had a welcome dinner for all the attendees. During dinner, I took the opportunity to converse with as many people as possible. This was not intentional. Looking back, the act of meeting as many people as possible transformed my scary 'public' speaking into a more natural, relaxed 'personal' speaking. It was as if I was talking to my friends. I also had the opportunity to explore the city with other attendees, which helped me become more comfortable around them.

  • Rehearsal Opportunity - As a speaker, I was allowed to rehearse my speech early in the morning in an empty room. This allowed me to check my slide deck and ensure it would appear correctly on the screen. This opportunity also helped me get a feel for the room and visualize myself on stage, all while avoiding the anxiety that comes with having a crowd of people watching. I didn't want to find myself in a situation where I was unable to use the clicker properly in front of an audience.

  • Eating light - I was scheduled to give a talk on the last day of the summit, after lunch. To ensure that I gave the best talk possible, I decided to follow the advice of several articles and avoid eating a large meal beforehand. I found that eating light helped me stay focused and prevented my vocal cords from being affected by any beverages I consumed. At the same time, I made sure not to skip a meal entirely, as I didn't want my stomach to start rumbling during my talk. Overall, it was a wise decision to eat light.

  • Arriving Early - I arrived early in the room where I was scheduled to speak after lunch. The room was quiet and empty as the audience was still having lunch. This allowed me to get on the stage again and feel the space. Moreover, I had a chance to speak with the AWS team, who were assisting all the speakers and ensuring that the event went smoothly. Talking with them helped me feel more confident and relaxed. They reassured me that I would be alright, and I just had to get on the stage and enjoy the moment.

  • Starting With A Story - Starting my talk with a story turned out to be incredibly helpful, especially during the first few minutes when I was trying to gain control of my nerves. Although I still felt a little anxious, it wasn't to the extent that I started shaking or forgetting what I needed to say. Additionally, it helped grab audience attention after lunch.

  • Having an Anchor - During my presentation, I ensured that I established a connection with the audience by making eye contact. However, I found myself looking back at the table where my friends from Australia and New Zealand were seated, as they were my anchor point to calm my nerves. Despite making eye contact with everyone in the room, I regularly looked at their table to help myself feel at ease.

  • "Blue Screen Of Death" And Just Breath - It's important to remember that even the most successful people experience setbacks. For example, Bill Gates famously experienced the Blue Screen of Death. So, instead of being hard on myself, I asked myself, "What could potentially go wrong?" Remember that even if I messed up, the world will keep spinning and I will still get another opportunity. There will always be a next time to do better, so take comfort in that.

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I have had multiple chances to speak in front of the public ever since. With each opportunity, I observed a significant improvement in my skills and a growing ability to reflect on areas that require further growth.

Final Thoughts

If someone like me, who is usually shy at public speaking, can do it, you can do it, too. Don't be afraid to try it, as it may not be as scary as you think. I am going to end the post with...

"...You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.
       This opportunity comes once in a lifetime..." 
             - Eminem (from Lose Yourself song)

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