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The Split Mind of a Speaker

I’ve put the work in. Prepared my talk and slides. I arrived at the hotel the day before. Its hours before I’ll attend a speaker event.

My mind is bouncing between the talk I will give and my presence throughout the conference. I’m split between mentally preparing for my talk and enjoying the conference I put so much effort into.

When I’m at a conference, until I give my talk, my mind always returns to my talk. I’m rehearsing in my head parts of my talk that don’t feel quite right. I’m rehearsing parts that do. I’m wondering if the jokes will land. Will I make my time? Are my slides good enough?

Can I add one more cat picture?

Other speaker’s I’ve met seem similarly obsessed. Even speakers who do this almost monthly. We all joke about our slides and talk. We look at each others’ material. We make suggestions. We don’t stop preparing.

Behind the Scenes

I will join very few sessions before my talk. Sometimes I join a talk I was looking forward to. Sometimes I join to show support for a fellow speaker. Often I find myself attending very few sessions and sitting somewhere out of sight trying to stay calm and let my mind work through the talk.

This is what a number of speakers I’ve met seem to do as well. We’ll find little areas or go to a speaker’s room. We’ll joke and catch up. Everyone with their slides in front of them. Everyone tweaking and adjusting.

Everyone asks each other when their talk is and what it will be about. We all give our encouragement and support freely. Each of us is focused on doing our talk to the best of our ability. We help when asked. We respect each others’ preparation.

Moment of Truth

Then the moment of truth comes and I give my talk. Maybe a fellow speaker or two joins. They may be toiling away on their material if they have yet to speak. Regardless, they are giving their support at that moment.

The first time I had other speakers join my talk my nerves went through the roof. It was one thing to give a talk to strangers, and another to give a talk to people I respect and view as role-models.

Another time they also thought it would be funny to sit in the front row. The jerks.

In reality, they gave me their full support. They smiled at moments through my talk. They gave nods of approval. They stayed behind to encourage me and give me feedback in a way I was happy to hear. They were wonderful.

Freedom

After the talk is done, my mind is free. The conference is open to all the learning I can take. I’m eager to celebrate with speakers. I’m able to talk to guests freely and openly.

Before my talk is complete, having guests come up to me to chat is extremely hard. I have to stop my mind from obsessing over my material. This is hard for me at times. I sometimes leave those conversations wondering if they felt like I wasn’t giving them my full attention. In truth, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can’t stop my mind.

Speakers smile and laugh and joke after their talk. Their laptops are closed and they are there to enjoy the conference.

In the speaker’s room, we commiserate. We talk about our next conference, our lives, and whatever else we want. In the evenings we find ways to be together and celebrate.

Being a speaker at a conference is like a tiny summer camp mixed with the feeling of a job interview.

Exhaustion

Attending a conference with your mind in two places can be exhausting. I find myself needing to be alone throughout the day and will disappear for an hour at a time. My mind is pulling double duty and being around people is expensive for me. Until my talk is finished I struggle to be present with my peers and with the guests. I’m consumed by doing my best. When it’s done I can relax. I’m ready to celebrate, share, and talk for the time I have left. I’m ready to learn.

It’s a strange experience to be a speaker, but it is one I’ve grown to enjoy.