Out of your Comfort Zone

May 19, 2014 0 By Eric Shanks

I was recently approached to present the Keynote session for a few VMUG conferences and wanted to provide a perspective about the experience.

ConnecticutVMUG-KeynoteMay2014-4Public Speaking is clearly not one of my top 10 things I’d like to spend my time doing.  Being a Systems Engineer, I don’t mind explaining things to a small group of people, but for the most part am a pretty quiet and reserved person who would prefer to stay in the shadows.  Don’t get me wrong, if asked to weigh in, I have had no problem providing feedback or participate in a conversation, especially if it’s something I’m knowledgeable about, but for the most part, I’m pretty shy.

So when David Davis and Scott Lowe (no, not that one, the other Scott Lowe) asked me to do some of these presentations, I was excited but pretty apprehensive.  Being a Chicago VMUG leader, I’ve spoken at local VMUG events before, but usually around a topic or design that I’ve been implementing in the field, not a bigger picture type discussion about the future direction of things such as this keynote.

To be honest, I think I would have preferred to stay in the shadows and not put myself out there in front of 300 or 600 people but thought back to a post I read from Duncan Epping about “Confessions of a VMUG speaker” and how you need to force yourself into uncomfortable situations in order to grow.  I think that remembering this post is what really made me accept the challenge, even though it’s a scary thing to be a public speaker.  Amy Lewis seems to share this sentiment in a recent Geek Whisperers podcast as well, since she mentions being more of an extrovert than she would prefer to be, because if you’re not a little uncomfortable, “You’re doing it wrong”.

What I found out from this experience was almost the same as I found out about starting a blog, or being a VMUG leader.  Giving a presentation about something, forces you to learn it better.  You have to be prepared for questions, you don’t want to give people wrong information and as a side bonus, I get to practice some presenting skills.  Every time you do a presentation, it gets a little easier to get back up there and present again.  You’re uncomfortable with something until you do it enough to be comfortable with it.

Having the opportunity to do these presentations was a really great thing for myself, professionally.  I met some great people that I otherwise wouldn’t have, and got to develop some skills that I don’t use as much.  On top of that, I researched a topic that I knew about, but now I know it much better than I did.  Every time I do one of these presentations  I agonize over it and stress out for a few days while I’m preparing, but when I’m actually giving the speech, I feel right at home.

I hope that by sharing these experiences with my readers, that I inspire at least one person to go and do something similar.  It really is a rewarding experience both personally and professionally.

Also, thanks to the VMUG crews for putting on such great conferences.