Friday, May 25, 2012

Talking...talking about stuff...talking about stuff at Ignite...

Ignite Minneapolis happened last night, and with it, my talk on "The Defense of Earnest: OR, Why Twihards Will Be The Ones To Save The Community Rec Center."

Disclosure: While "Pizza Parties & World Peace...Let's Do It, You Guys" got the resounding vote from readers, I wanted to do the honorable thing and get permission the comedian whose tweet first sparked the idea into my brain. Sad to say, I didn't get a response from him in time for talk submissions, so I had to go with the Twihard exposition. Not that I wasn't unhappy about it - like I had stated before, I really liked both ideas. But in case some of you were wondering out there why that one was the talk when a talk about pizza parties is such an obvious choice for world domination, there you go.

After the initial "OH MY GOD I'M GONNA RULE THE WORRRRRRLD!" elation at my talk being accepted for Ignite, I quickly learned that preparing to speak at Ignite is one part exciting with three parts stressballs. Crafting a persuasive argument is hard enough - even though I do it almost every damn day on here, leading you, my dedicated disciples, to my personal glorious gospel of reality, coffee stuff, and book crap - but trying to pack one into 5 minutes, and then break it up into 15 seconds increments that match your slides? Total boner killer.

But with the help of the talented Karah, I got my power point presentation prepped and submitted on time, and then spent the better part of the past week editing and rehearsing and polishing my talk. This included a couple hours of timing myself so each point corresponded with each slide perfectly. I really wanted to have the whole thing memorized so I could do most of it without referencing notes, but alas, by the day of, I knew my brainage space would not be able to take that amount of stress.

But I felt good, going in. My points were as succinct as I could make them. The slides were cohesive enough so that if I talked into the next one or preempted the upcoming one, it wasn't going to be a total meltdown disaster. My outfit was a little bit hooker, a little bit casual business person. I was good to go.

When it was time for my talk, I walked down the aisle feeling the same way I feel whenever I did any kind of public performance - speech tournaments, cheerleading routines for half-time (yeah. Those. Shut up), motivational messages or skits at camp, and currently book readings - confident. Jazzed up. Slightly nervous, but focused.

And then I got up to the podium.

And then my heart started racing a gajillion times a minute.

And then I started to lose my breath.

And then my entire body, along with my voice, started to literally shake uncontrollably. As in, "Hey guys, this must be what having Parkinson's is like!" uncontrollably.

It was a total adrenaline rush, and not the good kind. I had this happen to me at a couple of book readings earlier this summer, but with those, I was able to just take a step back, slow my breath, make a few jokes, and then begin. But this was timed! And I had made the mistake of packing so much into those 15 second increments...during practice I had figured that since I usually talk fast, I could power through them or just take a deep breath and improvise. But seriously, it took all I had to just keep steady my voice enough so that people could actually understand what I was saying into the mic that was also shaking uncontrollably due to my hand.

The entire talk is pretty much a blur. I can barely remember anything that I said, except that I tried to make a joke about the Titanic that I had decided in practice was a bomb and should be cut but somehow I forgot about that and it just spilled out of my mouth. And my slow clap mention came about 15 seconds too soon (I had a Rudy slide that was supposed to correspond with it. RU-DY! RU-DY!). Also, pretty sure that the majority of the audience thought that the talk about me defending Twilight instead of the point, which is that even if something seems kind of dumb (and it does), if it's touching off such a rabid spark amongst so many people, it's worth at least examining why instead of wholly dismissing it because we're 2 Kool 4 School.

So after my talk, I kind of blindly walked into the women's room and talked myself down from a heart attack, and then focused on gathering some takeaways from the rest of the talks that I could learn as tools for how to improve. They are as follows -

1) Be your goddamn self
This wasn't necessarily a mistake, but in my quest for trying to get my point across and do it in a way out loud that didn't make me sound like a total moron, I kind of left out some of the personal touches that make my writing and speeches reflect who I am. Mainly, swearing (I spotted some old people in the line going into Ignite, and decided to maybe leave out the swears since old people don't really love the cursing. But then later I realized that everyone else was swearing and it was an event with free beer, so how uptight could The Olds really be, right?). AND, the best talks of the night (in my opinion) were ones that were completely reflective of the presenter's personality. So while I didn't totally fail at this, I could have injected a little more of my essence (gross) into my talk and had a little bit more fun with it.

2) Pack lightly
Next time (Pizza Party next time!) I'm keeping it light. If it takes 15 seconds to make a single point, that's too fucking long. I will also build in time in the beginning to say hello to the audience or make some jokes (aka, squeezing my belly so it looks like it's talking while I proclaim "Pizza par-tay!" in my best Alanna voice) so that I'm not having a total seizure on stage. Also, the presenters that looked like they were having the most fun were the ones who stood off to the side of the screen and made their specific points in a well-rehearsed but easy manner. They didn't go up there and just riff, but it was obvious that they had memorized what was important to hit and then let the rest of it flow naturally. And they spoke to the slides. That was the big thing - I made the mistake of being so tied to the points on my notes that half the time I was just hoping that the right slide was up there because I didn't have time to pay attention to them.

3) Slides matter
The thing that saved me where the slides. Funny ones. Ones that could stand on their own. I'm glad I had enough presence of mind to realize that even if the talk bombed, if I had the right slides the audience would still be entertained, and really, that's all that matters.

4) Fuck those jerks. 
There was a lot of chatter going around on Twitter about presenters and the points they were trying to make. A lot of self-righteous, extraneous bullshit. The Ignite audience itself was supremely respectful, lovely, and wonderful to all the presenters. Some peeps from the Twitter audience, however, were total assholes. And this isn't about my talk - I actually had one lovely conversation with a Tweeter who disagreed with my point, but that was actually awesome - it allowed me to clarify further what I was trying to do, and I welcomed that. But for the rest of yous...it bugs the shit out of me when others try to hijack someone's else's bag in order to showcase their own authority on a topic. I've seen this in Twitter chats, also (but that's another topic for another day), but mostly when people are tweeting up events like SMBMSP or Java MeetUp Minneapolis. Yes, you're very smart, but you're not the one up there because you either didn't have the guts, didn't make the effort to try to be, or weren't picked to do so, so let that person have their moment, give them the respect to finish what they're trying to say, then state your opinion in a way that is is helpful and edifying and all sorts of constructive and insightful. Or, shut the hell up until you can learn how to say things in a manner that is not condescending and pretentious. There's a way to gently lead someone to a teachable moment (aka, "Sources make statistics so much more powerful / Am dying to know more on that fact you just mentioned!" vs. "EVERYBODY knows to do this, except obviously you, stupid."). Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and whenever someone is trying to make a point or persuade others to their point of view, that speaker should be open to and expecting healthy discourse and debate. Note that that doesn't say: If someone is on the stage and that person isn't you, then you're entitled to be an asshole about it. So my takeaway was this - fuck those jerks. I had a little bit of fear, going in, that I was going to tarred and feathered over my topic or what I was trying to say, or that people would do the very thing I was arguing against and dismiss it as a stupid talk about a stupid topic...and while I am glad that didn't happen, I never should have been frightened of that in the first place, because that kind of stuff deserves little to no merit.

5) Say Thank You.
After my final point, I kind of just blindly stumbled off the stage and forgot to thank the audience for their time. Also, a couple of cool presenters made their last slide into a "Here's where you can find me" biz-card-type slide, which was totally cool - if I liked your talk, I'll also probably like you on Twitter or Facebook or your blog. So next time you can expect a big smiling slide of my face and a title of "FOLLOW ME, AND WE SHALL RULE THE WORLD TOGETHER..."

I'm really into themes of world domination right now.

All in all, it was an awesome experience - I'm so, so grateful for the opportunity and so glad for the experience. It was also super rad to get to catch up with so many great people at the awesome afterparty - People of Minneapolis/St. Paul, you rock this jam out.

Thanks so much to the volunteers and organizers of Ignite Minneapolis for putting on such a great event. I was supremely honored to be a part of it.

The End.

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