10 days ago I gave a presentation at Refresh Teesside titled Face Your Fears. The slides can be viewed here.

I’ve written briefly about this before, but public speaking is very new to me. This was my third talk and it was to be in front of the biggest audience I’ve spoken in front of (I think there were around 60 - 70 people there that night). This was by far my biggest challenge yet on the speaking front, having tackled 15 people to start out, and then around 40 at the second one. I was, essentially, absolutely shitting my pants about this. It wasn’t just the fact that my anxiety was raging, but that I didn’t want to let @xocs down having been asked to give the talk by him and him being a good friend of mine.

So, we got to around 7:30 that night, I gave the talk and it went absolutely fine from a “completing the talk” perspective. But, to my astonishment, the feedback that followed was pretty overwhelming. People seemed to really enjoy this talk. I received a lot of compliments and really great feedback. In all honesty I was absolutely buzzing after that talk!

I’ve received positive feedback on the previous two talks, don’t get me wrong, but this talk seemed to resonate with everyone in the room on some level. There was no code examples or anything directly tech related in this talk, it was all just based on our emotions, facing our fears and going out there and just doing it (whatever it is).

When I got to thinking about it though, this didn’t surprise me that much. I don’t mean that people enjoyed the talk, but that people enjoyed the subject matter so much.

I think a great deal of this comes down to knowing you’re not alone. That whenever you feel scared or overwhelmed that you’re not the only one. There are others out there going through the same.

Personally I love hearing about failure. This might sound extremely negative, but let me explain. We hear about how amazing things are all the time; that new innovation, how this framework can cut your development time in half, how wonderful the industry is, how basically everything is rainbows and unicorns all the time. We rarely (in comparison to the positives) hear about when things have gone wrong. I don’t know about anyone else, but this makes me feel very alone. Like every time I’m fucking up, no-one else is. Then when I hear that somebody failed, and they’re willing to speak about it, I feel a little more normal. Like everyone is working their way through things a step at a time just like I am.

We seem to perceive as humans that failure is bad. It’s really not. Not all the time at least. Failure is bad when nothing is taken away from it, or when you repeatedly perform that same failure.

But all in all I think some level of “togetherness” (I honestly can’t think of a better word) was felt that night—and that was great.

One of my main concerns was that the talk may come across as arrogant or “preachy” and that was the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want to come across as someone trying to give some sort of self-help talk, or some motivational speech. I just really wanted to say A) I have some problems, but B) I’ve managed to work on them. I’m by no means fixed, and I probably never will be, but I’ve worked on my problems and made life a little bit easier and enjoyable for myself. I knew that hearing the same from someone else would have helped me massively.

It was honestly amazing having people come up to me and say that they too have felt “XYZ” before, but that this talk had given them that little push to try and conquer their fears. It was touching to know that I may have given someone that little touch of courage that comes from not feeling alone.

The core point was that whatever scares you, you should just do it, and see what happens. One of the things that I tried to emphasise in the talk was that 99% of the time things will work out so much better than you expect. One of the most important things that CBT taught me, and that was used literally every session with my therapist, was the 3-point analysis. With this you would say A) what the situation was B) what you thought would happen (the expected outcome) and C) what really happened (the actual outcome). By writing these down over time, it was clear that I was assuming things would go far, far worse than they really did. Whilst this was a technique taught to me for having genuine anxiety issues, it seemed like something that everyone could do—even if just in their head.

One thing I didn’t get to touch on in the talk was when something does go wrong. When your possibly negative expectations line up, or are worse than, the actual outcome. Unfortunately, this does happen. Life isn’t always a positive experience. But it’s so critical to remember, like I said above, that failure isn’t always a bad thing. Secondly, it’s important to see that if 10 experiences turned out better than you expected, and there’s this one bad experience, the bad one is a minority—it is the lesser experienced. They hurt, but they are not the end.

In fact, on the night of this particular talk I had received nothing but positive feedback, tweets and very kind words from people. And yet, about 30 minutes before the closing of the event and heading home, someone approached me and my friends where we were sitting and said “Nice talk, I’m sure I’ve seen it before”. This meant one of two things, that A) I had given this talk before at a different event and he’d seen it or B) that I’d copied the talk from someone else. Given that this was the first time I’d given this particular talk, it was B. That was insulting. Very insulting. I’d written everything myself at 9pm the evening before, and everything was very much “from the heart”. But, things have a funny way of working out, the friends around me stuck up for me and I didn’t even need to say anything.

You will meet these people. Arseholes walk among us. But the important thing is to not let them get to you. This is easier said than done, I know. But take a step back, re-assess, compare the positives to the negatives, and come out swinging.

I’d spoken at this persons event (or, he at least has something to do with it) the month before, and rest assured I won’t be returning in the future now that I’ve seen what he’s like. I don’t like to be associated with attitudes like that. There will always be better places to do things, don’t ever let something like that lower your confidence.

Have a beer, have a hot bath, have a cuddle with your pets or other half, put some awesome tunes on, play some video games…whatever it is that chills you out, do it, then come back and fucking own it.