A Responsive Day Out

on stage at Responsive Day Out

Me on stage with Jeremy Keith, Tom Maslen, and Sarah Parmenter. Photos by Laura Kalbag and Marc Thiele.

On Friday 1st March, I spoke at Responsive Day Out in Brighton. Videos at BesquareAudio of all talks is available and you can click along to my slides too.

What a wonderful day! When Jeremy asked me to speak last year, March seemed eons away. I’ve never spoken at anywhere near this level before. It was an honour I couldn’t refuse and I figured, 20 minutes? I can handle that. I’m so glad I immediately said yes without thinking. I would have talked myself out of one of the best experiences of my life.

In ten weeks I jotted down hundreds of notes for my talk on “Responsive Navigation”. It wasn’t until last week, when I put my slide deck together, that I began to question my ability. Do I even have the knowledge to tackle this subject? With intense scrutiny my bullet points started to seem trivial, obvious.

I trusted my gut. After a whirlwind three days I’m now relaxing at home and I think I might — just might — have avoided total disaster!

The conference

It may be that I’m slightly biased but Responsive Day Out was brilliant. Best conference I’ve ever attended. The shorter 20 minute format with Q&A allowed for more variety and honest discussion. I was glad to be second on the bill. I’ll have to watch @sazzy’s talk again. As the only person to take stage before me I spent the entirety of her talk taking in deep breathes, trying to forget about the 400 people sat behind me.

The attendees were in great spirit. It seemed like my Twitter feed had descended upon Brighton. Too many people to name but it was an absolute pleasure to meet you!

On first-time speaking

Relief — I was expecting to feel overwhelming relief, stepping off stage after my time in the spotlight. In the days leading up, thoughts of “too late to back down now” and “just get it over with” were all I had to stem the bouts of anxiety. I’m sure there are better techniques than suppression but that’s all I’ve ever known.

On the day of the conference, the negativity and self-doubt had gone. In part I know my stupid brain was incapable of dealing with such an intense range of emotions, but what really calmed me was the solace I’d found in my fellow speakers.

At dinner the evening prior I realised the astoundingly obvious; these people were just ordinary folk like me. Sure, some are well known figures, some very experienced in public speaking, but nothing makes any of them any less susceptible to human emotion. There are no celebrities or inner circles, just people insane enough to take on such an ordeal for the benefit of others. To regularly expose such vulnerability is commendable and believe me, however much misplaced criticism is thrown at these people, nothing is attacking them more than their own inner turmoil.

I can only describe being on stage as an out of body experience. It was auto-pilot. I had painstakingly prepared eight pages of printed notes thinking I’d simply read them verbatim if all else failed. I glanced at them a few times but somehow I was saying things anyway! My mouth was moving without the usual mental process. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, but I am generally an introverted, reserved character. This was a surreal experience. I really have no idea whether I was speaking well or rambling gibberish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When I stepped off stage my head was clear. I would describe it as tranquil but that would suggest I was processing anything at all. My brain just switched off. A short breather before it zoned back in.

I knew the audience were making a noise but I had no way to gauge feedback. Was it courtesy, sympathy, gratitude? It was only when @aral leant across with a smile that I knew I would be content with whatever performance I’d given.

I’m hugely appreciative of all those who spoke to me with kind words later that day. Thank you all so much. I’d highly recommend the experience of conference speaking. As agonising as the process can be I left very humbled and even more respectful of those who do this often. I allowed myself to feel a bit of pride knowing I’d achieved something personally. I can’t see myself as a regular speaker, if anything I hate travelling, but I’ll do it again.

Once again, a big thank you to @adactio and the Clearleft team, and all the other speakers and attendees who made Responsive Day Out such an unforgettable experience.

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