Fear of public speaking and WordCamp Bhopal

A couple of days ago, the WordPress community in Bhopal conducted its first ever WordCamp.

This WordCamp was organised by students and mostly from LNCT Bhopal. It was a short one day event and I came across some very hardworking and enthusiastic students who were exploring WordPress.

Saurabh and I  visited from Yapapaya. We both had a lot of useful and interesting interactions with several students.

For me, WordCamp Bhopal was special because it was the first time I stood on a stage solo and spoke. The previous time was WordCamp Pune but it was mainly as a moderator and I think I managed to be just about passable there.

The Fear, the shyness!

I suffer from extreme anxiety when it comes to speaking in public. So say there are more than two or three people in a room, I tend to clam up and not be very talkative or expressive for that matter. It takes me a long time to get comfortable and I suffer from extreme shyness which makes me simply prefer to not speak out or speak up in some cases.

I have a very strong case of anxiety and stress when I have to speak in front of people. I remember from childhood, I would dread being made to try out for elocution competitions, I would dread poetry recitations often to the point of becoming physically sick.

I would not be able to think clearly, nor collect my thoughts most times, and usually it ended up with disaster and the disinterested teacher marking me out as student not to spend too much time over.

I always loved to write and I felt more comfortable laying out my thoughts on paper or on a screen later. This fear of speaking in public is a constant companion, and pretty ironic when you think of it – because much of my career is about interacting with communities.

I thought that was how it would be all my life, and then I took a dive.

The Dive

WordCamp Bhopal was announced and the organisers were looking for a speaker. Since I had spoken to the organisers a few times, I knew there would be many students attending. Students still having doubts and possibly looking for ideas about their career choices. I felt “Why Choose a career in open-source?” would be a decent topic in this scenario. I applied as a speaker and got approved.

Thanks to the WordPress community, I have learned to speak out and speak up in public bit by bit. In a moment of confidence I applied. Then I sat contemplating what I had got myself into.

WordCamp in Bhopal

On WordCamp Bhopal day, I prepared well. My fellow travellers from Yapapaya, Ganesh and Saurabh helped with expert advice, tips and design magic. My slides were minimalistic and I knew I wanted to keep things simple and easy to execute. I knew what I had to say. I prepared over and over again but I was still stuck on having a good opening.

I knew that when I was nervous and froze on stage – it was usually following a bad start. If I started well, managed to keep calm for the first few minutes, I would feel less anxious and I could breathe a bit easier and basically manage to speak without sounding like Mr. Monosyllable.

Back in Bhopal, on reaching the venue early morning, I had an auspicious sighting of the [ya] papaya tree, that was outside the guest house of the college campus.

The event began with registrations and some familiar faces to me from Mumbai and Pune squatted on some stairs waiting for things to begin. The second from left with the white t-shirt is Vachan Kudmule.

A few almost by now mandatory delays to every WordCamp the event started. Then there was a nasty technical difficulty that had cropped up. The venue’s projector was not working.  I am sure the organisers were very anxious.

But the Batman in disguise, Vachan Kudmule had magically produced a backup projector from his utility belt. Jokes apart for Vachan to carry a projector when he was not even going to speak, shows he is insanely thoughtful.

Soon my session was up. I almost started to feel sick by then. I busily looked at my notes on my phone all the while, trying to tune out everything. Then I looked around and saw some in the audience a bit uninterested. I think many were hungry as things were delayed and by the time I was to talk it was lunch time.

I walked onto the stage, heart pounding. Alexander Gounder threw me a stress ball so I would keep calm. I walked up the steps to the stage and threw the ball back to Alex. All this was not planned and completely non-sensical.
I looked again at all the slightly bored and hungry faces. All those faces row after row.

I suddenly realised I was not as nervous as I had imagined. I was not feeling giddy or sick. Just my hands had gone cold and I was almost shivering. You’ll be fine I told myself and asked the crowd “Every one who is present at WordCamp Bhopal stand up”

Everyone did. I followed up with questions like “Who is still a student here?” and “Who is below the age of 25?” – I asked them to stand up each time instead of raising their hands.

Then I blurted, “Wow, I had never felt so powerful before.”

There was a bit of laughter going around the audience. For once they were not laughing at me, they were laughing at my silly introduction.

The rest flowed a lot more naturally. I asked questions during my talk, I got some applause too and at the end a few questions were posed to me. When I walked off, I thought I might have done okay.

But few people said, I had done a pretty decent job. I was suddenly feeling very bashful and confident.

The fear has been conquered. I have made a lot of progress since I have been involved with WordPress communities and this seemed about right.

I even put on hat after a while and posed like a thug. I am still walking around with a bit of swagger. And I have WordCamp Bhopal to thank for that. 🙂

My Slides

My slides are pretty useless by themselves as much of the content in them are single sentences.

Here is a list of some folks who were attended WordCamp Bhopal and blogged about it.

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