What I learned about public speaking at IA Summit 2010

A few weeks back, I attended my first ever IA Summit, in Phoenix, Arizona. My only way to justify and afford overseas conferences is to be a speaker. So, in September last year, I submitted a proposal for IAS 10. I was gobsmacked when it got accepted. Scared. A lot.
What followed were months of research, events, interviews. Reading, writing, procrastinating, panicking. And then there I was, at the Summit, with a mic. You can listen to what I had to say here, and the slides are online here.

The Summit gave me a chance to present at a UX conference for the first time. The feedback I got was invaluable. I will approach preparing and presenting a talk differently next time. So, what did I learn?

Lesson 1:
My biggest take-away were the sketchnotes of people who attended my talk, especially those by Kate Rutter and Jackson Fox. Their visualisations of my talk are stuck in my head, and if I was to give the talk again, I would use some of these images to illustrate my story. (Look at Paul Adam's presentation for a good example). I need to introduce more visual thinking to my talks. Hence, it's not enough to do a dry-run in front of friends and colleagues. Next time, I will ask people in my practice sessions to not only take notes, but get at least one 'black pen' person in the room to take sketchnotes. After I'm done, spend a bit of time collaborating on improving a visualisation of my story.

Lesson 2:
I love the research phase of preparing a talk. For my IAS talk, I applied theory to practical projects. To make clear where I'm coming from, I started the talk with the theory, the research. It would have been better to start with a practical example, then introduce the theoretical ideas as we go along. Supported by a visual representation of the story. (Thanks for the feedback, Peter Merholz)

Lesson 3:
You won't learn how to do it, until you do it. It is scary to present in front of people whose opinion you value highly, who are good presenters themselves. But they won't judge you - they will help you grow by giving you great feedback. I expected myself to be perfect - but there are things you only learn by doing, by standing in front of others - not by practising, thinking, and staring at your slides.

The IA Summit was a good place for a speaking rookie like myself. UX folks are smart, passionate, critical, outspoken - scary. But we are also a friendly and helpful community. If you have something you are passionate about, and you can convey your passion and knowledge, then go and speak. If you forget words, fall off the stage, or make a bad joke - if I can tell that you care, I will listen.

If your dreams don't scare you, they are not big enough. The scary things in life are always worth doing.