Welcome the sixth metsitaba newsletter. It turns out that writing newsletters is quite a lot of fun—thank you to everyone for all the feedback and kind words!
I’ve got some great suggestions for improvements, which I’ve implemented in this edition. The conference list is moving to the end of the newsletter, as it was breaking up the content too much. That means you can read the content sections without interruption. For direct links to videos, I’ve added a [V] suffix to indicate that the destination is a video page on YouTube, TED, or elsewhere.
This week I want to talk about self-doubt. Specifically, doubting the value of your own ideas. You can be nervous about your ability to deliver a talk, but that can be overcome with practice. It’s hard to work around a lack of conviction in your own ideas. And yet, as a speaker, that is often what you have to do.
Before I started doing tech talks, I knew that I wanted to speak at meetups and conferences, but did not think I had any good ideas. I felt that in comparison to all the great speakers out there, I had nothing useful to say. No real ideas, nothing original. Nothing to add to the community.
This wasn’t true—I ended up writing an entire book about my ideas! But at the time, I certainly had a lot of self-doubt. I was pretty sure my talks would be easy to criticise, and my positions would be easy to destroy with a well-placed question from the many real experts who would no doubt be in the audience.
I was wrong about three things. First, the audience wants to hear new and novel ideas, and it doesn’t matter if they agree with you or not. They want to hear what you have to say, even if they think it is wrong. That’s why they are there. Even if you get nasty questions from some, it will help you refine your thinking, and I guarantee that other audience members will come up to you afterwards to tell you that they agree with you. Often objectors are simply trying to draw attention to themselves.
Second, you make your ideas much stronger by talking about them—why do you think preparing slides is so hard! The act of putting a good structure on your thoughts improves them much more than you might think. You’ll find that you have not considered many edge cases, and you are guilty of fuzzy thinking in all sorts of places. Just putting together slides fixes a lot of these problems.
Third, if you take a leap of faith, and just give your talk, you overcome your own doubts. There is no trick to this. The simple act of standing up in front of an audience, and saying the words, and giving the message, makes you stronger. Yes, this is the old advice to “fake it till you make it”. The funny thing is, it does work! Your greatest enemy is yourself.
I’ve never written a newsletter before, so I’ve no idea what I’m doing here. Please help me to make this newsletter better each week. You can email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can tweet too: @metsitaba. I’m really asking for your help to make this work – thank you so much for reading!
Alan Kay was a key member of the team at the Xerox PARC research center that designed our modern user interface experience. This team invented pretty much everything from graphical user interfaces to laser printers. The big message is that you are allowed to ask big questions and think beyond immediate progress that seems plausible. To come up with new ideas, you need to deliberately put doubt to one side. You don’t overcome doubt; you ignore it.
Learn from the best
Thomas Francis Meagher: Speech from the dock
Thomas Francis Meagher was an Irish patriot from Waterford, Ireland (where I am based), so you will forgive me a little local indulgence this week. Meagher (pronounced MARR) led an extraordinary life, one entirely impossible in our modern age of restricted travel and stifling notions of intrinsic national identity.
Born in 1823, by his early twenties he had become one of the most prominent orators of the Irish nationalist movement. He was the first to unveil in public (and in Waterford) the modern Irish national flag, the tricolour of green, white and orange (symbolizing peace between the communities of Ireland). He was one of the leaders of the failed rebellion of 1848, was captured, and sentenced to death.
It was the custom in the english courts at the time that those sentenced to death were granted an opportunity to address the court after sentencing. Meagher used this opportunity to give a rousing speech which is remembered to this day. The speech asks the court to consider that the validity of his ideas will be judged not by the court, but by history. It is an important reminder to stay true to your own ideas, even when your audience is hostile. The speech was also considered remarkable for its fluent oratory, and as speaker, one can only aspire to the poise and focus needed to deliver a performance when you know that you are going to be executed.
As it happens, there was considerable public support for Meagher, and his death sentence was commuted to banishment to Tasmania, literally on the other side of the world. In 1848 this meant that you would never be coming home.
Meagher escaped from Tasmania in 1852 and made his way to New York. He joined the Union forces during the American civil war, serving as an officer, and was wounded at the battle of Antietam. After the war, he was appointed Acting Governor of Montana and oversaw the state’s first constitutional convention.
It is easy to read the Speech from the Dock with the power of hindsight and see nothing but absolute certainty, but it is impossible to believe that Meagher did not struggle with self-doubt when he composed it, given the circumstances.
Even if you’re not sure about what you’re saying in your slides, you can at least make sure they look great. Better than great, designed. This little book is a wonderfully accessible explanation of the basics of design. I read it years ago, and I keep going back to it. Learn the fundamental principles of typography, and four easy rules of thumb for layout: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. Your slides may not end up as good as those of Steve Jobs, but they won’t be as bad as those of Bill Gates.
This is an inspirational little blog post. Even the greatest minds can forget to give themselves permission to invent. Sometimes the fact that you are not the absolute best in your field is an advantage. It allows you to stand back and synthesize. You are able to bring a wider range of ideas to bear on a problem simply because you can’t grasp all the details. But that also means you aren’t stuck in the weeds.
Putting things in a wider context, and drawing ideas together to form new perspectives, is something that you end up doing so that you can give interesting talks. Defeat your self-doubt by proposing deliberately ambitious talks, and then figuring out how to deliver them after you’ve made a public commitment. Only you really know what you might have said!
Developer Week Austin
- Developer Week Austin
- Austin, USA
- Tue 7 Nov 2017 to Thu 9 Nov 2017
- Palmer Events Center
- Standard ticket: $695
Are you a Pythonista? Then you won’t want to miss PyConIE 2017. Two days of the best Python related talks from Irish and international speakers, full workshop tracks, and the opportunity to meet some really cool people. Did we mention this takes place in Dublin? Why aren’t your bags packed yet? It’s coming up in just a few days, so check it out.
Future of Technology Conference
- Future of Technology Conference
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- Wed 29 Nov 2017 to Thu 30 Nov 2017
- Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel
- Standard ticket: $600
Why attend the Future of Technology conference? To see tech breakthroughs in important fields; take advantage of the hundreds of presentations and demonstrations to gain insight and training; network in an informal setting; connect with technology experts in leading fields; and walk away inspired with new ideas and excitement. While you’re there, be sure to enjoy what the beautiful host city has to offer! Vancouver by air anyone?
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.
- Tue 31 Oct 2017, Dublin Is…, Dublin, Ireland
- Fri 15 Dec 2017, Voxxed Days Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania
- Mon 8 Jan 2018, DevOps Days Seattle, Seattle, Washington, USA
- Mon 27 Nov 2017, Developer Week SF, San Francisco, California, USA
- Fri 1 Dec 2017, Wonder Women Tech Conference, Washington DC, USA
If you’d like to get a newsletter like this every week, just for conference speakers, then please subscribe!