MD Meets the Big Stage: Reflections From Speaking at WordCamp Jacksonville 2017

I recently stepped in front of a room of over 20 people to give my first speaking presentation since a stutter-filled book report years back in High School.

I still remember the feeling in my stomach when I got the email that the application I quickly wrote-in to speak at WordCamp Jacksonville had been accepted.

WordCamp Jacksonville Speaker

For a long time public speaking has been goal of mine. It wasn’t something I had much success with, but always felt drawn to.

Thinking about it had been one thing, but with an opportunity to speak at a conference in front of me—it felt real for the first time.

They say public speaking is one of the most feared phobias in the world, but what is so truly scary about it?

This felt as real as could be, and at an instant I knew it was time to get serious.

But my first step was to figure out why I felt so damn sick about the whole thing. This was not the feeling I wanted to bring with me when it was my time to step up to the podium.

Rather than approaching this with a Tony Robbins “bounce off the walls” style, I trained myself to become at ease with the situation.

I thought the most important thing was to build myself up first and let the speech come out of that newly found confidence.

See, an important realization I had in the beginning was to drop that natural desire to give an unforgettable and perfect presentation, and instead stay focused on what was most practical.

Sure, it sounds less exciting this way, but I found that grounding myself in this kind of thinking allowed me to be more genuine and speak with more authority on stage. In a way this was how I added that excitement to my talk as the audience followed my lead in how enthusiastic I was about the topic.

When it came to preparing the actual presentation, my process was pretty unremarkable.

Staying true to my mental approach, I continued not making this a big deal.

I set out to continue on with my usual workload and keep a vision of myself on stage in the back of my mind. After all, it was important not to forget that this was actually happening!

In-between working on client projects and releasing new MD versions, I’d retreat into my notebooks to write down any ideas that would pop into my mind for the talk.

Cramming together the last of my notes for my first public speaking appearance… so pumped!

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Funny enough, it was only until days before I was set to speak that I actually started practicing what I’d say.

…and making my slides.

Yes, I’ll (begrudgingly) admit that I have a tendency to push things to the last minute, but even I was surprised at how far I was pushing this one.

This didn’t seem at all the way to approach my first speaking appearance, yet I kept that ingrained sense of confidence within me to the finish.

To speed things up I decided that instead of learning how to use PowerPoint to make a slideshow, I’d just use what I knew best.

Marketers Delight Meets the Big Stage

So I went ahead and installed WordPress + Marketers Delight to my computer and proceeded to create a simple child theme to use for my slideshow.

I turned each post into a slide and modified the previous/next post nav snippet to make an easy way for me to click over to the next slide during my presentation.

It took about a day to chisel my notes down into bullet-points and clean up other details around the slides and I was very happy with the results.

It all tied in together perfectly, and I was amazed that I had found another use for Marketers Delight.

I would later find out my audience thought it was a cool idea too as many of them appreciated that WordPress could be used in such a way.

From there, and with about a day before the start of the conference, it was practice, practice, practice.

To come up with a beautiful thought is one thing, but to translate that thought into beautiful verse was another.

…and to be able to do that consistently for about 45 minutes without sounding like a bumbling idiot was a whole other beast!

As I was finishing my slides I had a slight worry that I wouldn’t have enough to say. After speaking through a few test runs to myself in the MD Labs, I actually found the opposite was true!

This was a problem I was very relieved to have. After all, as a coder, I shine in finding ways to cut out the unnecessary and deliver a lean, efficient final product.

I finally felt ready to go.

Getting Warmed up at WordCamp Jax

WordCamp Jacksonville 2017

If there’s one thing about WordCamps, it’s that they set out to create a relaxed environment for everybody to feel welcome to.

The 2 days of WordCamp Jacksonville was no different and the mentality you see right as you walk through the door is that everybody is there to succeed.

Maybe I had it easy because of this, and because I wasn’t speaking until the second day. This gave me a chance to get warmed up to the environment, the people, and to study how other speakers worked their crowds.

From everything to audience interaction, to how you open a close the talk, and especially working within time constraints, I sucked in as much as I could to get ready for my own talk the next day.

Yet, it wasn’t until seeing others on stage that I remembered that same sick feeling I got when I found out I’d be speaking here.

Hello, old friend.

What it was like giving a presentation in front of real people.

Finally, my day had come and I was ready to own this challenge I had induced on myself. The first thing I did after waking up was rushed to my back yard to run through my speech again.

I was still about 8 minutes too long, but I knew I could trim a slide out when I had some downtime at the conference. From there I drank a coffee, a glass of water, and ate a few hard boiled eggs for protein (energy) and headed to WordCamp Jacksonville as obnoxiously as possible.

You know, loud music, over-the-top singing, and just having a good time. Today I had to take over the world.

By 1pm it was my turn to take the stage and the next hour felt like it flew by. It had all come down to this moment and I was living in it completely.

Any of the fears I had built up in my mind has disappeared, and while feeling slightly nervous, I felt calm enough to know what I needed to do and how to quickly fill in any thoughts that suddenly went blank.

I was only speaking to a small room of people, but I approached it like I was going to speak to a packed auditorium. Not because I thought I was special, but because it seemed like the scariest scenario.

I made a point to scan my audience and gauge their interest levels on any specific topics I was on at the time. It seemed that my talking points flowed well enough to keep everybody interested.

Own the room. #wcjax

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To watch them take notes and photos of my slides was a great sign. But it was seeing a look of curiosity and engagement darting from their eyes onto me that fueled my intensity on stage.

After I said my closing line, the audience erupted with applause and the questions started pouring in. After immersing myself in a few rounds of questions, I was gently reminded by the next speaker that they needed to setup for their talk next!

It was time to get off the stage, a place I had built up to be scarier than it was, and a hard place to step down from when all was said and done.

I left WordCamp Jacksonville with a great sense of accomplishment and an excited look towards the future. Who knows when I might get back on stage again, but at least I finally know I have it in me.

In a large way, I couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Yeah, yeah… time for the cheesy gratitude part.

My entire reason for going up on stage that day was to talk about the lessons and strategies I’ve learned from growing a business here at Marketers Delight.

For those of you have been here for the past few years, you’ve seen how much MD has grown. By building your sites with it, you gave me enough of a reason to think I actually had something worthwhile to go talk about in front of a group of people.

We hit the big stage for the first time this month, and more people in the “real world” know what we do here. I think that’s pretty special, and it’s motivated me more than ever to continue building MD into the best WordPress product out there.

The summer is coming up, and I’m calling this one The Summer of MD.

Now that I’m done messing around with this talk, I’m going back on full force to hit you guys with some great new inventions from the MD Labs.

This summer, Marketers Delight is getting some of the most widely requested and badly needed upgrades that will give you even more powerful tools to level up your online business.

After all, I need to do something that topped last year’s Summer of MD, where we saw the awesome release of MD4.5.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of great content and features you can dive into now to finally build the website of your dreams with Marketers Delight.

Whether it’s up on the big stage or quietly locked into the MD Labs, I’m always working on something to move this product forward. I’m really glad you decided to be a part of it.

P.S. you can see the slides from my presentation here.

10 comments add yours

  1. Is there a vid recording Alex? Well done. I’ve been doing a lot of presos for my job (system eng/integration in healthcare) and write my talk whilst cycling for an hour or two.

    I will “rewrite it” about half a dozen times, then commit to a slideshow, then practice that (with timings) about 20 times.

    By the time of the actual preso, I can usually do it off the top of my head and use the slides as prompts as a backup.

    It’s always nerve wracking though!

    Tim

    • Hey Tim, I’m hoping one pops up on the official WordPress.tv channel, but since I didn’t record it on my own, I have no way of knowing if a video will surface. *fingers crossed*

      I bet you come up with the best points to your presentations on your bike! Sounds like you’ve come up with a solid approach to talks, the nerves never fully go away huh?

  2. Alex,

    This was a great read! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    I am not surprised that you were the grand finale and I love how you used wordpress instead of Powerpoint… LOL. Super creative!

    So great that you included the slides… the way you waited til the end to say it had the anticipation really building haha.

    You’re a natural bro, keep it up and thanks for all that you do!

    ~/\/\~

    • Matt, thank you man! I felt a great deal of stress lifted off of me after spending that weekend at your cabin and watching how effortlessly you handled your own preparation for Dallas.

      Haha, I only want to reward the ones that actually read through the whole thing!

  3. You did a great job. Keep applying to speak at more WordCamps. The more you practice the better you get. I was a little nervous when I did mine this year also.
    Keep pushing forward!!
    Wm Jackson
    #Myquesttoteach

    • Thanks a lot William, I saw parts of your talk and thought you did a great job yourself. Lucky for us, WCJAX was pretty small and I think that helped a lot to calm the nerves.

      Best of luck to you on your own quest, hopefully I run into you at a meetup around here!

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