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It’s Never About Your Slide Deck

gsto profile image Glenn Stovall Originally published at glennstovall.com ・3 min read

I’d like to share a story with you about my first conference talk.

The First Day

September 28th, I arrive in Norfolk, Virginia for the speaker’s dinner. Brennan invited all of the speaker’s out to a fancy restaurant before the opening mixer at the Double Your Freelancing Conference. This will be my first time speaking at a conference. To prepare for any presentation, I have a routine:

  • Get increasingly anxious at the time approaches, even though I’ve over prepared.
  • 10 minutes before the speech, pace around muttering vocal warm-up exercises, Looking like a crazy person.
  • Go on stage, feel fine.

The talk is never scary; it’s the anticipation that breeds anxiety, even though I know it shouldn’t. The organization is on point, what could go wrong?

The Second Day

Matt Inglot takes the stage to give his talk. His slides broke. Matt didn’t miss a beat. My heart did.

Something could go wrong.

It was also Gina Horkey’s first conference speaking gig too (Don’t tell her I said that). She went on before me. We would silently cheer each other one whenever we passed by in the hall.

“We got this!” “Do we have this?” “We got this!”

Gina takes the stage. Slides are out of order. She dropped her clicker. It snapped open. The battery fell through a crack in the stage.

Fuck.

After that, it was my turn. I was a bit shaken up, but it went fine.

Later, at the bar

If I learned one thing from DYFC, successful lifestyle business
owners know how to party.

We talked shop too. You know what people said about
the day’s presentations?

  • People talked about how professional and unflappable Matt was when his slides broke.
  • People talked about valuable Gina’s advice was, no one cared about her bad luck. “All that happened, and she was still great.”

People who gave a damn about the things we feared most: zero.

Why did our talks work at all?

Kathy Sierra put it best:

… if the presentation is a user experience, then I am just a UI.

That’s it.
I am a UI.

Nothing more.

And what’s a key attribute of a good UI?

It disappears.

It does not draw attention to itself.

And the moment I remember this is the moment I exhale and my
pulse slows. Because I am not important. What is important is the
experience they have. My job is to provide a context in which
something happens for them.”

We Are Not Important

We all took the stage aiming to help people and did. We
disappeared. Broken decks and speaker pointers ceased to matter
because we ceased to exist.

Are you starting a new endeavor? Maybe you’re in the middle of
one, and you’re struggling to finish. Either way, try to take
yourself out of it for a minute. What problem are you solving for
who? Focus on that and success can find you regardless of rough
edges.

P.S. This letter originally appeared on the Tuesday Pulse. Every Tuesday I could be sending you letters about shipping products that help others, and getting out of your own way so you can.

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gsto profile

Glenn Stovall

@gsto

Full-stack developer & writer. Available for technical writing and consulting. Free 7-day writing course for developers: https://glennstovall.com/zero-to-10/

Discussion

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Great advice Glenn, thank you! As someone who regularly talks to teams around our business, I'm pretty sure I'll find this invaluable (particularly when my slides bust again!)