A Call For Speakers…From 40,000 Feet

I’m writing this from a bar…that’s floating somewhere over Greenland. I just enjoyed a complimentary 3 course meal with wine, cheesecake, tea, and Baileys to top things off. After lunch, I finished editing my new Pluralsight course while hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour above the Atlantic, on my way home from speaking at a conference in London.

I wrote this post sitting here:

Coding from the bar on a Virgin Atlantic intercontinental flight — so cool!

I feel indescribably lucky to be enjoying this life. Especially given that I didn’t pay a dime for this experience. How?

I spoke for a few hours at a software conference.

I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this as an invitation to you.

This opportunity is available to anyone. Five years ago, I had never spoken at a conference. Actually, I’d never spoken to a group of any size, period. Like most humans, I found the prospect of speaking to a crowd terrifying…

But I wasn’t simply intimidated by public speaking. At the time I was struggling with general social anxiety. I found the thought of making small talk with strangers at a conference terrifying. Weird huh? Anyway, I often avoided social situations. I was in a shell. I was stuck.

Chase Fear. Pick Yourself.

How’d I get here? I chased my fear. I scheduled a lunch & learn for my team. You can do this too. No big deal. Order some pizza. Ask your boss to pay for it. If he/she won’t, drop the $40 and buy it yourself.

Don’t sit around waiting to be picked. Pick yourself.

That simple, low risk step, started a journey. That little step toward fear is how I ended up here, writing this post at a bar on an international flight. Who saw that coming?!

Of course, I’m glossing over many steps in between. After speaking at my job, I worked my way up to speaking at local user groups, then regional conferences. I presented sessions at over a dozen conferences across the US before I worked up the courage to speak overseas. But that first lunch & learn made all the difference.

I realized two things:

  1. I didn’t die.
  2. I actually enjoyed speaking because I cared deeply about the topic.

Surprisingly, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve presented over 100 sessions at software conferences around the globe…

Crowd at my “Becoming an Outlier” talk at NDC Oslo, Norway 2014
NNIT, Copenhagen, Denmark 2016
Codestock 2016 keynote
Codemash 2017

Improved Communication = Virtuous Spiral

One of the most powerful changes you can make: Transform your greatest weakness into your greatest strength. Communication isn’t your strong suit? That’s precisely why you need to start speaking.

Public speaking doesn’t just radically improve communication skills. It improves confidence. It’s made me a better writer. A deeper thinker. A better teacher. A better manager. A better husband. A better father.

Communication forms the foundation of your life experience. I used public speaking as the means to conquer my illogical fears and break out of my shell. The odd fallout of speaking a lot: I’m now as comfortable speaking to a crowd of hundreds as I am having a beer 1:1.

If something is hard, do it more often.

Oh, and trust me, once you’ve gotten comfortable selling your ideas to a room of 100’s of skeptical developers, selling your ideas to a few executives is surprisingly low stress. :)

Drop the Imposter Syndrome

I’m frustrated by how often this message is met by the same response:

“I can’t speak. I’m not an expert. I’m still learning.”

We’re all still learning.

Excessive humility is a vice. It’s an excuse — a form of hiding. You don’t need to be the best to help others. You just need to know something they don’t know. That’s it.

Just getting started? Teach introductory topics you’d like to know better.

Have depth in a niche? Teach your strength.

In a world of specialization, there are countless people who are shallow where you have depth.

My Challenge To You

If you’ve never spoken, take the first step by presenting a short session over lunch at work. To get what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done.

Here’s my recipe for getting started.

Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s worth it.

“What’s behind fear? Nothing.” — Jamie Foxx

Cory House is the author of multiple courses on JavaScript, React, clean code, .NET, and more on Pluralsight. He is principal consultant at reactjsconsulting.com, a Software Architect at VinSolutions, a Microsoft MVP, and trains software developers internationally on software practices like front-end development and clean coding. Cory tweets about JavaScript and front-end development on Twitter as @housecor.