The first time I spoke in front of a group of people over 20 years ago about a programming topic, I was scared to death. I could barely sleep the night before, obsessing about the material and practicing it repeatedly. When I finally did sleep, it felt like minutes before I awoke, and it was several hours before I needed to even think about getting up.
After I finally got to the venue, setting up and watching people come into the room to hear me speak was sort of terrifying. Would the room fill up? Would there be one or two people, both who fell asleep and hit their heads on the chair in front of them, then leave? Throughout the presentation, I watched the people who attended 's micro-expressions, wondering what they were thinking.
I rather expect that is why many people have avoided speaking: Fear. It was not my original idea over 20 years ago, either. My boss told me, "we don't have money to pay for conferences, but we can cover travel. Try speaking at conferences." So I applied to speak about ERwin data modeler at CA World. Long story short, I was accepted, and there I stood in front of 30 or so people thinking, "if I survive, this will be the last time I do this." My mind did not change when it was over, but somewhere in the back of my head, I realized... this was a good experience despite the heart palpitations!
I ask myself every time I do a presentation, "why am I doing this?" but the answer is always there right in front of me. You probably think that the answer is that "I want to teach others all the things I know." I do like sharing knowledge, but that is only a little less than half of what motivates me. The real motivation is learning new stuff.
While that may sound self-centered, it is, and it isn't. To do a presentation on a topic, you need to seek out a breadth of knowledge that goes past your basic experiences. So you must read and make sure that what you have done at your day job actually makes sense. (This can can be quite an eye opener!) Then you need to find a way to present the material that makes sense. This means doing the presentation out loud to myself to make sure the words sound right.
Prepping the first time helps you learn, but what about the second or third time you present the same topic? As time passes, the industry changes. Even my beloved relational database design topic has evolved in the past 20 years. Keeping up with all the changes in the industry is a crucial value of regularly doing presentations. A good presentation typically tells the best way to do what your topic is covering, no matter what you have to do in the reality of your day job.
Learning as you prepare to give the presentation is incredible, but once you start talking, you will often learn from the attendees. Consider the following levels of people who will attend your sessions.
- Newbies. You can't learn from someone new to your topic, can you? You certainly can. Questions people ask who are new to your topic help you realize things you don't explain well enough. People who are hungry to learn from you often ask great questions. Sometimes you have to think, "why didn't I think of that?".
- Experts. Why would an expert in the topic you are presenting come to your session? To learn something new. I go to sessions all the time and know 99% of what is being offered. But that 1% is worth it. Experts may teach you a thing or two you didn't realize with questions or discussion after your session. Still, there are very few people who know everything about a topic.
- Every level in between. Most people who go to sessions are not unfamiliar with the topic going in. They have experience and ideas from their own years of experience that they may share when you ask for questions and comments. The more people who go into accumulating knowledge about your craft, the better.
The discussions you may have during and after presentations can really let you realize that some of the things you are staunchly against don't matter. In a presentation, someone asked why my suggestion is to not prefix tables with TBL_. We discussed it and others in the group agreed with me that it is redundant. But others disagreed and felt it was good documentation. In the end consistency and correctness matter more than anything.
If you have that feeling that you have nothing to share, you are without a doubt, very wrong. If it scares you to death to get up in front of a large crowd, you are not alone. A lot of those people who present are scared every time they do it. Heck, one of the greatest performers alive still has some stage fright even though he is over 70 and has played for hundreds of thousands of people over the years. Paul McCartney almost quit performing because he had stage fright.
So consider giving it a try at a conference or your local user group. It isn't easy, but it is very much worth it.