Strong opinions, weakly held

Ignite Raleigh: Show night

This is Part II in my series of posts about Ignite Raleigh. Part I, which covered preparation, is here.

First let me say that Ignite Raleigh was really fun — the speakers were great, the event was incredibly well run, and the crowd was awesome. I don’t think the event could have gone off any better than it did.

I was presenter number twelve.

I was scheduled to speak at around 8:30, and I got there around 5:30. The speakers milled around for awhile, then we got the rundown on how things were going to work. I was in the third set of speakers, and was told to go backstage during the second intermission and wait for my turn. One small hitch was that the screen was at the front of the stage, so it was impossible to look at what was on the screen and at the crowd at the same time.

One of the great things about Ignite is that it’s a huge sensory overload, there’s music, there are talks, there’s the emcee, and on and on. After the second speaker I wished I could go next. I was really, really nervous and the wait was interminable, or so it seemed. I now understand why performers tend to chill out in the green room until they take the stage. With every speech I felt like I forgot a little bit more of my talk.

When I was backstage right before I went out, I came up with a new joke to open with, and I was excited about that.

Here’s the thing. For days, I had my introduction down cold. It was good and I was comfortable with it. So I get up on stage, nervous as all get out, and I skipped a couple of sentences of it — the ones that really laid out what I was going to talk about. As I continued to speak, I looked up at the slides and realized I’d skipped something. Then I started thinking about whether I could put that stuff back in or whether I should just forget about it it. I soon reached the spot in my presentation where I was going to read one of the slides. Unfortunately, the slide I was supposed to read wasn’t going to show up for another 20 or 30 seconds.

At this point I had to make a decision. When you’re doing a 5 minute presentation with slides that advance automatically, you really don’t want to be making decisions. Fortunately, I had the text I wanted to read on a card, so I just read it from there. But I was way, way too deep inside my own head at that point. I was thinking about what I hadn’t said, what I wanted to say next, whether the missing sentences would hurt the rest of the presentation. Oh, and a few hundred people in the audience were waiting for me to say something.

Here’s where it gets kind of blurry. The slides were moving past. I was saying things. I was looking at people in the audience who seemed concerned for my well being. One guy actually said what was on the current slide — I actually chuckled a bit internally at that. That slide had nothing to do with what I wanted to say right then. But I appreciated the sentiment even as I was horrified by it. I was extremely frustrated with myself. My frustration was showing.

We’ll call that the low point. I had just missed the opportunity to tell the best joke in my presentation. I had switched two of the sections. My fight or flight response had kicked in, and I was really thinking now might be a good time to leave. Unfortunately, I wasn’t finished.


Then something happened. A slide I’d made that was sort of a standalone joke got some laughs. Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone other than me would think it was funny when I made it, but people did laugh and that was a huge help. The fact that anything was going over well in the middle of what very much seemed to me to be an escalating catastrophe was a positive thing, although that didn’t occur to me at the time.

Anyway, I told myself that there was nothing to do but finish this thing, and I managed to make my last point and get to my conclusion, which I botched a little but survived. I finished a little early, made a joke about finishing early, and got out while the getting was good.

How’d it go? I’ll let @rhuffstedtler‘s tweet from immediately after my talk capture the essence:

Ouch. I have so been in Rafe’s shoes before. Good job recovering, though. #igniteraleigh

That about covers it. I’ve also written up what I learned from the experience, if you’re interested.

1 Comment

  1. I can relate all too well. Even after five or so years of presenting, I still haven’t got to the point where every interesting thing I had thought to say or every clever little joke I was going to use manages to come to mind while I’m talking.

    I’ve learned to just go with it, keep the current narrative alive and not worry so much about the planned narrative, and just roll with it if things go wrong, or I get off track, or whatever.

    Not being able to see the slides though? Ack.

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