How to give a talk about yourself

giving a talk

Back when I was new in my previous job, I was asked to stand in for my boss to give a talk about my career. My boss was quite well known, had started her own business. I was someone who had just jumped from a year-long stint in apprenticeship recruitment into this company.

I said yes to the opportunity but I felt like a fraud. Why would these people want to know about my career – I have done nothing?

The theme was alternative careers in education, so I detailed my work in Japan, what I had done in the apprenticeship company and what my new role was. I peppered my slides with photos of me along my journey.

When I stood up to give my talk, however, I started by saying that I didn’t know why I had been asked there, apologised for not being my boss, and said that my experience probably wasn’t all that interesting.

As soon as I said it, I knew it was the wrong thing to do. The people in the room were PhD students just finishing up, looking how to apply their knowledge in alternative roles. I had three jobs that they could have done – and they had lots of questions for me as well.

I was reminded of this experience this week, when I attended Game Anglia, a video games conference. I had been asked to do a talk on my experience at Nintendo, specifically how someone might get to do similar jobs.

Much like my feeling before of feeling like a fraud for not being my boss, this time I felt slightly like a fraud because while other speakers were current professionals, I was the only one on the list as a “former”. However, when I spoke, instead of apologising for not having up to date knowledge, I explained that Nintendo employees’ contracts say that you are not to speak about your experiences there for 5 years having left. So, in fact, I’m as recent as they’re going to get.

This time, I spoke with confidence. I’m a totally different person to who I was back then – now I speak in front of people often, and mostly, I know my worth. I no longer feel awkward talking about myself and my career, and while I’m not at the peak of my career (yet!), I still have something to give.

I wanted to give some tips to people about being confident when talking about yourself in a similar situation. The kinds of things I wish I knew when I was speaking about my career for the first time.

You have information the audience wants

No matter how ill-experienced you feel you are, you have totally different experiences to the people sat in front of you – that is why you have been asked to speak. So no matter what you give them, it is useful to them. If you can (and if they are available) try to see other speakers at the event and try to get an understanding of the types of thing the audience respond well to or look interested in.

At Game Anglia I attended a couple of talks in the morning before mine. I made notes while I listened, and when I was talking I referred back to what the others’ had said as well. As well as showing that you belong in this position by showing alignment with other speakers, it helps to reiterate messages and themes through the event.

Use confidence strategies

You’re going to be nervous – even at this event, I was. So try to use confidence strategies (I talk about them here) that will help put you in the right frame of mind. Often, even though you feel nervous, you don’t sound or look it to other people. I once gave a talk in a board meeting where I was sure I was so nervous I was about to cry – no one else had the faintest idea that was the case.

DO. NOT. APOLOGISE.

Don’t apologise for not being your (my) boss. Don’t apologise for being nervous. Don’t apologise for the content you’re delivering.

You are giving them new information that they have signed up to receive. They want to hear it from you. They cannot tell that you are nervous. Just speak.

 

Giving talks about our careers is one way to promote ourselves and what we do, while also really helping people. There are so many different jobs out there and it’s always worthwhile learning about what can be possible – even if it’s not the thing you’re interested in.

One of the themes that ran through the talks at the gaming event was that networking is so important – it’s something I believe in myself. I don’t just make sure I’m reaching new people on Twitter and LinkedIn, I also attend IRL events that would allow me to know and be known to people who care about the same things I care about.

If you’re interested in giving a similar talk but aren’t sure where to start, then why not contact your local school and speak with students about what you do first. They would be glad to have you, and as you have a job and your audience does not, you’re already a superhero to them.

Got any tips I missed out? Let me know in the comments!

 

Comments

  1. I’d imagine that, for current students, you’re A LOT more interesting than your boss – and someone that they can identify with! But impostor syndrome being what it is, obviously you’d have to go through that experience first to know that.

    I used to be an abysmal public speaker – or, at least, so terrified of speaking up that I can’t imagine it didn’t show. Changing your mindset to realise that you do have really valuable information to impart is a big part of building more confidence. A couple of years ago, I got asked back to my old university to talk to the students about alternative careers you can do with a law degree, which was a brilliant experience – not least because the lecturer who asked me back was someone who knew me well back when I was terrified of speaking up in class.

    Lis / last year’s girl x

    • That’s amazing! I think we should talk about our careers more – to students, friends, whoever. We always have something to give.

  2. Speaking in front of many people might be really terrifying. You’ll think of how would they absorb whatever you’re saying, but thanks to these tips, I really believe they’re all helpful. Doing these things plus practicing speaking in front is a great way to get used to it. Thanks for sharing!
    Hannah Lagdameo recently posted…39 ways to close salesMy Profile

  3. Speaking in front of many people might be really terrifying. You’ll think of how would they absorb whatever you’re saying, but thanks to these tips, I really believe they’re all helpful. Doing these things plus practicing speaking in front is a great way to get used to it. Thank you.
    Hannah Lagdameo recently posted…39 ways to close salesMy Profile

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