Confessions of an Introverted Conference Presenter



I’m a friendly person. When I’m in a professional setting, I’m in the zone: totally comfortable and able to make small talk like a champ at the water cooler and in meetings.

Put me in a purely social setting though, and I look for the nearest animal to pet/baby to hold to avoid interacting with other adult humans.

Parties? Nope. They just are’t my thing. I enjoy people a couple at a time, and I have great close friendships, but large groups freak me right out.  

Fun for me is being home, snuggling my kiddo and my fur baby and watching a flick or reading a good book.

The slightly odd thing is that I absolutely LOVE presenting at conferences. And prior to being a conference presenter, I was a software trainer. Put me on a stage in front of 500 people and I am completely comfortable. Put me in an after party with those same 500 people an hour later, and I’ll be looking for the nearest exit to escape and go hide in my car. (Seriously, at one conference I picked up my lunch and went and hid in my car for an hour and blasted music to recover and mentally prepare to socialize some more.) It’s not that I don’t like people, I do. Being in a large group setting just sucks me dry emotionally and energy wise. Extroverts are energized by crowds of people, introverts are drained by them. It’s not anyone’s “fault,” it’s just a thing.

People don’t believe me at first when I tell them I’m introverted, because I’m very friendly, and tend to smile a bunch. I love meeting new people a couple at a time, it’s just big social events that make me want to flee. So If you see me on stage looking all comfortable, and then see me at an after party hiding in the corner sucking down a dirty vodkatini, don’t be alarmed. It’s my usual, and I fully own it. 🙂 

It took me YEARS to finally realize that being an introvert isn’t “wrong.” It’s absolutely fine. I don’t like crowds. You don’t like being on stage. I love steak. You think it’s gross. You like hiking. I prefer chilling on the beach. Everyone is different. There is no “right” way to be. Just be you: introvert, extrovert or a mixture of the two. 

And you know what? I’m not the only introverted conference speaker! There are tons of us! You’d be amazed at how many conference speakers are self identified introverts!

So to all of my fellow introverts: if you have something to share with your industry, get out there and submit some presentation proposals! You can always skip the social events if you need a break to recharge. And if we wind up at the same conference, and in the same corner at the after party, I’ll buy you a drink. We’ll both probably need one. 🙂

Presenting at a Tech Conference for the First Time: Simultaneously Terrifying and Awesome

So I took a flying leap out of my comfort zone today, and did a presentation at a tech conference… and lived to tell the tale!

It was TERRIFYING… and Awesome!

It was the craziest experience! I did the presentation on a research method that I’m really excited about. I was a software trainer in my last life, prior to diving into the UX & design world, so I’ve trained groups of folks in the past many many times, and have spoken at company workshops and user events. I’m telling you what though, presenting at a tech conference with actual awesome technically savvy folks is a completely different experience!

I don’t think I’ve ever been that terrified in my life, haha, but I also don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a rush! Having lived through it, I’m now here to tell you that you should absolutely give speaking a shot if there is a topic you feel passionate about!

How I ended up with this gig…

A few months ago, there were a few simultaneous calls for proposals for tech conferences all over the country. I had never ever written a presentation proposal in my life, but decided one night at 9pm after seeing an inspiring call to action tweet from one of my fav UX authors Karen McGrane, that it would be really fun to submit one, just to cross “submit a presentation proposal” off my bucket list. So I got to work and knocked out a description of a really fun research method I’d recently had the chance to apply, that had some pretty sweet results. (I’ll blog about that soon, I promise!) I had less than zero expectation of actually making it through and being offered the opportunity to speak, and was STUNNED when I received my acceptance letter!

What did I just get myself into?

I experienced an interesting combination of joy and panic when I got the notice. There was a period of about 20 minutes during which I considered declining and just not mentioning it to anyone, haha, but then I remembered how pumped I was about this research method, and how much it could really help out other UX pros and organizations. So, I alerted my super supportive manager and VP, and replied with my acceptance.

Then it dawned on me: I needed to make a PowerPoint presentation to go along with my session. I have ZERO artistic skill at all… I can barely draw stick figures, so the thought of putting together a presentation that would be viewed by amazing designers completely stressed me out. Also, I’ve created a grand total of about 3 PowerPoint presentations ever, in my life.

Focus on the Content

I got some really awesome advice from my fabulous coworkers at this point, they told me not to worry about making it fancy, and to just focus on the content. So I did.

The Day Of

I’d practiced my presentation about 400,000 times, but still felt like I was going to pass out when I arrived at the conference this morning. I’d been too nervous to eat any breakfast, which was probably a good thing. Thankfully there were some really interesting conference sessions in the morning that completely distracted me from the fact that I’d be presenting after lunch. When lunch time finally hit, everyone else went down to the restaurant, and I snuck into my presentation room, set up my laptop, and tried not to have a full blown panic attack. I hid in there through the entire lunch break, flipping through my slides to make sure I was ready and then attendees started to file in. I was able to chat with a few really nice folks while we waited for the rest of the crew to come in, which really helped me relax. I was expecting about 15-20 people to attend, and wound up with many many more than that, closer to about 60.

Adrenaline… GO!

Once everyone got in and sat down, it was go time. I started the presentation, still feeling the nerves, then started making eye contact. That was when the nerves exited the scene and the excited adrenaline kicked in. I’m pretty sure I started talking at warp speed for a bit there, haha. That’s what I get for skipping breakfast and lunch and having 6 cups of coffee instead. lol But I got through it, and shockingly, ENJOYED it!

They said thank you!

My whole goal in presenting was to share this research method in hopes that at least 1 attendee could use it to benefit his or her software, website or service. After the session several attendees came up and thanked me, and told me they enjoyed the session and were excited to get back and apply the research! I was overjoyed! (In fact I probably scared a couple of them, I had so much caffeine in my system by that point that I probably could have taken flight.) A really kind attendee even tweeted a thank you, and another live tweeted some session quotes! It completely made my day!!!

If I can do this… so can you!

So here’s the thing… if I can do this as an artistically challenged person with zero PowerPoint skills, so can you! And it’s SO important that as design and UX community members we share our tips and tricks with one another! Together, we really can make the world a better more usable place!

Thank you!

I just want to send a gigantic thank you to the organizers of the Web Conference at Penn State for giving me the opportunity to present! Also, I’m sending an enormous thank you out to the completely amazing audience who attended my session, and didn’t even heckle me! You made what could have been a totally traumatic experience, awesome! 🙂