By Rhona Kennedy
It’s totally normal to find certain situations intimidating or even downright scary.
Some things (like job interviews) are pretty much unavoidable; others are easy enough to avoid but, if you master them, they will reap personal and professional rewards.
I’ve collated some advice I’ve gathered over the years on how to face some common fears, namely: turning up at Meetup events and networking, job interviews, and public speaking/speaking at conferences.
Going to Meetups/Networking
It can be pretty nerve-wracking to turn up to a room full of strangers and introduce yourself (the dreaded “networking”). Here’s some tips on how to conquer it.
First up, maybe it’s useful to start off small. Find a smaller Meetup (maybe a very niche technology/interest, or held in a smaller venue or somewhere friendly like a coffee shop) and head along. Or, if it feels less scary to you, find a bigger Meetup where you can “blend in”.
Take a friend or colleague along for moral support. Even is your friend doesn’t work in the same field, or doesn’t have as much of an interest in the topic as you do, it can be handy to have someone to arrive with and chat to. Alternatively, check if there’s someone going who you know – you can usually see a list of attendees on Meetup.com or Eventbrite.co.uk – it makes a big difference knowing there will be a friendly face there.
Prepare your elevator pitch in advance. This is a quick spiel about who you are and what you do – it doesn’t need to be “salesy” but being able to sum yourself up in a couple of sentences is handy and takes the nerves out of introducing yourself to a stranger.
Networking is really valuable; meaningful networking isn’t about chucking your business card about indiscriminately or aiming to have as many LinkedIn connections as possible, but it is about building beneficial connections and helping each other out. It gets easier the more you do it; practice makes perfect.
Pro tip for tech Meetups: if you hang out near the pizza/refreshments then I guarantee people will talk to you!
Preparation is key. When you feel organised, you are much less likely to get flustered. I would also advise planning your route in advance; maybe even scope out the location the day before. Arrive in plenty of time, find a nearby coffee shop and do a final pass of your notes.
If you don’t have enough information to prepare, just ask your recruiter or the person who invited you to interview for more information. For example, it might make you more relaxed to know what the dress code is and dress accordingly. Nobody wants to be in a suit when everyone else is in jeans – or the other way around!
Even if your preparation is impeccable, there will still be questions you don’t know the answer to. Keep calm. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed; just be honest that this isn’t something you’ve encountered yet and move on.
Please know that the interviewers want you to succeed – they haven’t invited you in just to fill their diary! They are on your side and want you to do well.
The Big One: Public speaking/speaking at conferences
Again, I think it helps to start small. Try introducing another speaker before doing your own presentation, or pick a really friendly Meetup, or a quiet month to present for the first time. A five minute lightening talk at a local Meetup is less pressure than a big presentation at a conference with hundreds of people – and will allow you to practice your material and get some feedback.
It took me a while to realise that nobody really likes public speaking; even the folk you admire who are really good at it and do it all the time get nervous and forget their words. We’re all in the same boat. It gets easier – try, try, try again! Great and confident public speakers are not born with this talent; they get better with time and practice.
I also think it helps to know that everyone is rooting for you. The audience is on your side, they are interested in what you have to say (and they’re often just relieved they’re not in the hot seat). It’s
not the easiest advice to put into practice but a) try to care less about what people think and b) don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try not to be too bothered if you do stuff it up. It’s actually endearing to have a bit of personality and your audience will enjoy seeing a human side to you. I would also advise planting a couple of friends or colleagues in the first couple of rows – or finding your pals in the crowd – it helps massively to see a smiling face mid-presentation.
Use props to your advantage. If you’re forgetful, make yourself some cue cards. If you fidget (guilty!) then plan to hold a pen or something in your hand to anchor yourself.
If you are presenting and there’s a time limit – practice and make sure your talk is within the limit. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than watching someone watch the clock, and you don’t want to risk being cut off (for example in a lightening talk) if you go over. It’d be a pity if no one heard your whole talk.
The tech community benefits when everyone has a voice and we hear the opinions and thoughts of a diverse range of people. It’s challenging to speak up and we can all get intimidated by a crowd, but it’s also important that we conquer our fear and seize the opportunities we are presented with and support others in their endeavours. It gets easier with time – good luck and happy public speaking!