My Journey to Becoming a PASS Summit Speaker

I have gone through the better part of my life eschewing any and all public speaking. I didn’t like it, and, to be honest, it terrified me. Then I came to a crossroads in my life where, in order to achieve what I wanted, I was going to have to start doing some public speaking.
I had a choice:

1. Give up on what I wanted to achieve.
2. Get over myself and learn to speak in public forums.
I now speak at SQL Saturdays, PASS, and other venues many times each year. It has gotten to the point where I often lament that I only have one hour to get my point across. I went from not being confident about public speaking to being very confident. This journey took a lot of “speaking” steps!

I looked at the situation and understood that people who stand up and speak in front of a crowd do not have some magical ability. I’ve seen some great speakers, but I’ve also seen some poor speakers. They both managed to survive their ordeal. I was confident that even if I am not a gifted public speaker like my daughter, I can still, at the least, be a competent one. I found a couple of coaches, and I practiced, and practiced, and practiced. I had to practice a lot because I was nervous as hell and needed to know that if I blanked, my speech could go on in auto-pilot mode.

I survived my first speech, then my second, then more. Eventually, through coaching and practice, I was no longer “surviving”, I was thriving! I was willing to work hard, and suffer through the initial fear because I knew that I was able do it. If others can, there was no reason why I couldn’t.

The path I had to walk that lead to becoming a confident speaker is one where I had to face that fear head on. Paint on a smile, and fake it till you make it. And what did I achieve by taking on this (Martin Luther) King sized task? In a word, “lots!”

Becoming a speaker took me out of the 9 to 5 office and thrust me into a world of knowledge, friendship, community, and opportunity.

Knowledge: You really don’t know what you don’t know until you try to teach something. When you stand up and teach a subject, you must first refine your expertise, and in the best case scenario, understand it well enough to be able to explain it simply and succinctly.

Friendship: It is astounding how many intelligent, professional, and friendly people you meet (and want to meet you) when you start giving lectures. The friendships I have made on this journey are deep and will likely last well into my retirement.

Community: I love giving back to the community. The number of people I have and currently mentor is just a small testament to that statement. Being a speaker has invited many people to pick my brain on a variety of technical topics and I love being able to help others solve technical problems. In addition to speaking to my peers, I have also run some coding workshops for grade school girls.

Opportunity: In addition to making friends, you also make a lot of business connections. However, without the confidence, the demonstration of your technical knowledge, the demonstration of your interpersonal skills, and so much more that comes from and is demonstrated through public speaking, few of those connections would be meaningful or result in anything actionable. Public speaking also put me in line for a Microsoft MVP award, and I can attest that that badge opens doors and breaks down gender and other barriers.

Speaking at PASS Summit is my Super Bowl. Getting strong favorable reviews from my peers about how well I presented is my Super Bowl Ring!

I have coached several people into starting to speak at conferences. If you are reading this, I cannot emphasize enough how starting down this path will change your life for the better.

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