This past weekend I gave my first talk, Tasty Stacks, at !!Con hosted at Hacker School in New York. Tasty Stacks is about lexical gustatory synesthesia, how it affects me as a developer, and how the current ecosystem of development tools and processes tastes to me.
Tasty Stacks started out as a humble blog post about lexical gustatory synesthesia. I adapted it to a sub-5 minute Pecha Kucha talk for my web dev chapter at work. For !!Con, I maintained a similar format but focused its scope to web development. I was shocked when I learned that my talk proposal was accepted, and spent that entire weekend swathed in blankets, overreacting.
I had a Chloe-amount of doubts as to whether it would be any success at all. I was nervous that it wasn’t technical enough, and that the audience, comprised of people who are all much smarter than me, would realize that I am actually very bad at programming, that they would recognize syntax errors, or be hyper-aware of how inaccurate I am when I explain things. I listened to a lot of Moth podcasts and determined that I had no choice but to own my limitations and approach it as more of a visual essay than a talk talk. This helped me relax long enough to eke out a couple of sentences at a time over the course of several weeks while primarily sitting in coffee shops, eating my hair, and listening to Suedehead.
Another hurdle to public speaking, or even making friends, is that I am supremely uncomfortable being myself. Maybe you are too, but you’re an adult and you can handle it. I can’t. I’ve been struggling with this for a while, but it’s gotten very bad this year. The nagging suspicion that people don’t want to interact with me because I’m not worth talking to, that all my interactions are perfunctory because people spend our whole conversation wanting to exit it in order to talk to someone prettier, smarter, more positive, more relevant, more interesting, is my greatest insecurity. I felt an overwhelming guilt that I would be forcing people to pay attention to me when we both would prefer that I disappear, and that I couldn’t do that to people, and that I’m in no shape to give this talk or even have any friends.
In order to mollify this terror, at least, for the scope of the talk, I decided to treat the whole thing as Acting! I performed in character, playing the role of someone who is very confident in their ability to give this talk; a person without problems, someone people want to listen to. It was liberating that the audience didn’t know that I’m actually a broken person who regularly walks home alone over bridges and finds weekends difficult and isolating because of the unstructured time. I can’t apply this to my personal life because everyone knows what I really am, and it would be weird if I were “on” all the time. Being in character helped tremendously with my nerves, and I did not fear losing control of any of my bodily functions. During my preparation, when I felt paralyzed by my inability to write my talk and assemble my slides, approaching the content as a script for a character who isn’t me and the slides as set design helped me move forward as well.
As for !!Con, it was a great atmosphere, there was a lot of brilliant content, and I was proud to be a part of it. Chris Martens even did sketch notes. Nobody has ever sketch noted me before until now. I am grateful to the organizers: Lindsey Kuper, Alex Clemmer, Julia Evans, Erty Seidel, Maggie Zhou, and Leo Franchi for giving me this opportunity and for making me feel comfortable and accommodated. I would also like to extend thanks to Danielle Sucher; I wouldn’t have known about the event without seeing her tweets. And I would also like to thank Vince Allen, for presenting the opportunity for me to turn my blog post into a Pecha Kucha talk in the first place, and for encouraging me to practice my talk in front of our web dev chapter, even though I was scared.