Stepping Onto the Stage

By Zander Galloway of  | @zandergalloway

Looking out over the room, I saw the faces of my peers, a group I had gotten to know well over the past three years. A professional mastermind of sorts, this group contained successful business owners and high-ranking employees, and they were all looking back at me with eyes of curiosity and expectation.

Little did they know, I planned on having each one of them as my client one day.

But before I began speaking, I found myself frantically fighting off skepticism of that belief. With a PowerPoint behind me and every emotion possible inside of me, I silently wavered between confidence and self-doubt.

Back and forth.

“It all comes down to this moment. What if I go down in flames and blow nine months of work in these twenty minutes?”

“But I’ve been working on this project for nine months. I know the content like the back of my hand.”

Back and forth.

“But will I be able to articulate my idea?”

“Of course I will! I’ve already brainstormed with some of the very people sitting in the audience.”

Back and forth.

Let me give you some context on how I got to this moment.

Within my industry, I noticed a problem in the way businesses communicated with their employees; it was inconsistent at best, and in some cases non-existent. I particularly noticed it at my firm and believed I had a solution.

I wasn’t in a position to quit my job on the spot and devote all of my time to it, so I framed the project as something that would help my employer’s communication workflow. Fortunately, they were on board with it, so I began bringing it to life.

At the same time, I started making phone calls to others in the industry and asked if they experienced the same problem. It turns out they did, and they were more than willing to brainstorm a potential solution. One of those calls was to an industry thought leader who was so impressed that he asked me to present at a conference in two months.

Let me be clear, my programming skills are virtually non-existent. I put together a WordPress site to get something tangible in front of my audience, and then I just kept asking them questions. I talked to business owners and their employees to get both perspectives on the problem.

By the time I got to that stage, I knew my market.

Yet there I stood. Seconds away from sharing my idea with the world, preparing to open up to a new level of vulnerability.

The emotional pendulum was swinging back and forth.

And then I remembered advice that a friend told me just the day before: “Think of ten possible next steps you will take if the presentation flops.”

I wrote down 21.

Looking back, the presentation passed in the blink of an eye, and it was a resounding success.

So what did I learn?

Advice for First Time Speakers

Here are my major takeaways from my first time on stage at a conference:

1. Focus on the content and the conversation.

The focus of every conference is always on the content and the conversation – not on you, the speaker. We tend to forget that we are just the messengers, and in the long-run, the audience usually just remembers the message.

2. Get the audience involved.

The more people interact, the more they will feel ownership of the topic. I had planned on having about one minute of conversation with the group dispersed throughout the presentation; I ended up with at least five and it made my speech exponentially more impactful.

3. Expect the unexpected.

Don’t stress out trying to plan solutions to everything.  Instead, be ready to adapt and improvise as things happen. [click to tweet]

4. Maintain perspective.

Your presentation isn’t life or death.

Before your next talk, think of ten things you will do next if you absolutely bomb it. Write them down; the act of putting your ideas on paper makes them much more real.

Now look at them.

Is the presentation really that scary now?

You have so many ideas…if everyone hates you after you present (which isn’t going to happen), there are so many things you can do next.

Be vulnerable. Be open. Be scared.

Feel the resistance.

Do it anyway.

*   *   *

Zander GallowayZander is a recovering employee and is currently launching his first company. He loves challenging others and meeting people with a unique perspective on the world. Hang out with him at or @zandergalloway.