Week 24: Stages of enlightenment

What a great week. A great, dense week. It is Friday, and I think I’ve reached the limit of my stamina, but it’s been worth it.

  • Went to the London Hackspace party on Sunday, and hung out with a friend I’ve known on the internet for about seven years but never met before. Luckily we got on in real life, too. Hackspace was a perfect venue because it was full of puzzle cubes and locks, two of the major themes of our online exchanges over the years. And while we were there we had an idea… which we’ve been working on all week!
  • Spoke at the superb Ignite London on Tuesday, after which I was congratulated more than I’ve ever been doing anything. Someone even high-fived me afterwards! It was reassuring, given I’m essentially telling people the only way they’ll get stuff done is by abandoning all their hopes and dreams. And of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the other presentations, some of which were extremely creative.
  • More W&K meetings and chats. They’re so hip over there. It’s all a bit The Devil Wears Prada when I bowl up.
  • Filed two articles for WIRED UK.
  • Met up with a delightful TV producer pal and his dog. He had some great ideas and tips about the Thing in the Summer. Inspiring chap all round.
  • I’ve been invited to speak at two things in March, and something else in April. Been invited to. Not invited myself. Pleasing progress.
  • I gather there’s an interview with me in the marvellous Re/action magazine, which I’ll be buying today.
  • But most importantly, I’ve been writing jokes. Really making myself laugh again. Never trust a joke writer who doesn’t make themselves laugh. I don’t know if it’s the spring coming or what, but it feels good.

What has it all made me realise?

1. People hear what they want to. I noticed this all through Ignite. When you have five minutes to tell people something, and you speak fast, people will just get an impression of your message, not the details. They’ll sense it in that slightly pre-language way, picking up on what they already believe. It’s quite Rorschach. You’re not just dealing with your message, you’re dealing with their ears – how it’s going to go down. When you give a talk it’s your responsibility (and it’s polite) to at least attempt to imagine how everything you say will sound to other people. It’s also very difficult. I’d like to do a talk about giving talks one day.

2. Being in front of a crowd is a responsibility, but nerves will kill the magic. An audience is looking up to you in every sense. They want you to make them think, or smile (but man, it’s so much easier to prove success with the latter). Look them in the eye! They’re just you, five minutes ago. They haven’t changed – but you have. There is a transformative magic about the stage, and again, this feels quite pre-language. Something in your brain kicks in watching someone up there – it says: they¬†must be different. Don’t play it down. The crowd wants to know that you’re different, that’s why they’re there. It’s not arrogance, it’s all part of the contract.

3. Podcasting is great practice for public speaking. One of my absolute fave talks of the night was Myk Reeve’s talk on The Dice Man. Myk has been doing a very good, very funny regular podcast with Thom (Thomyk) for a long time, and is a joy to talk to when I run into him at various events. I’ve never seen him talk on stage before though, but he was a total natural. I feel sure that the regular silence-filling skills you learn, and talking “as if to an audience” on podcasts are a big help when it comes to public speaking. You ramp it up and become more entertaining. Plus just getting used to hearing the sound of your own voice, being aware of your personal ticks and pacing, is I suspect very beneficial too.

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