Being Here

I spoke at eight events in 20181. My hope is to double that for 2019. I'd love your help with that goal. If you know of (or run) a group, company, or conference, I'd love to come share my perspective with you.

I told someone recently about this plan and they asked how I deal with the anxiety of speaking. The thing is, I don't mind being in front of an audience. I do get a little nervous during the lead-up to the event, but I am comfortable being the focus of attention once the event starts.

I think the presenter should be the focus of attention during an event. But when I go to small events or large conferences, I see a significant portion of the audience on their phones, or laptops, or whispering2 to their neighbor.

That's why, at every event this year, I started my talk with a 1-minute meditation. My hope was that it helped everyone “be here” and get more out of the event.

Each time I did it, I was pleasantly surprised to see a room full of people willingly go along with me on the idea.3

Interesting things happened because of it:

  • I feel like it creates a shared moment that shows how I respect my audience and that I am taking their attention seriously.
  • I feel like I get better questions from the audience.
  • It slows me down as a speaker, because I am purposefully speaking slowly at the start of things. Really, it makes me talk a bit more naturally instead of rushing.
  • At one event, 6 people showed up 15 minutes late. They missed the meditation. They spent the entire talk on their phone or whispering to each other. Everyone else was paying attention.
  • The downside (for my ego) is that because no one is using their phone, there is nothing on Twitter afterward to give you a sense of what people thought. But, I'd much rather people be in the room with me than on Twitter.

The following is what I say to the audience at the start of the event.

Before we do anything, I want us all to be here. I mean that metaphorically and I mean it literally.

Metaphorically, in that we all need to be here in our work, in our lives, to be sure we’re doing the right work well. If you are going to do the right work well, you’re going to need to be fully part of the process of doing it; fully here.

And I mean it literally, because I want you to be here, in this room, with me, with your fellow attendees. And I want to help that along with a brief meditation.

Meditation can happen anywhere, anytime, for any amount of time.

Meditating even for 30 seconds can help bring your mind to the task at hand. You don’t even have to call it meditation. You can call it taking a moment for yourself.

So let’s do it.

  • Close your eyes or keep them open, either is fine.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Relax your face.
  • Breathe in through your nose and focus on the feeling of the air going in.
  • Breathe out and focus on the feeling of the air going out.
  • Breathe in and feel your chest and belly expand.
  • Breathe out and feel your chest and belly fall back to their resting positions.
  • Be here.
  • I’m grateful you are all here tonight.

I will continue to do this for all my talks in 2019. I took the time to make the talk or workshop, you took the time to show up. Let’s spend our time together well.

For now though, I'm off to put a light glossy varnish on that paining above. Just to see what happens. Because I paint now. Yet another thing to continue into 2019.

1 — My thanks to UX Hong Kong, Startup Week PDX, User Research London, Startup Therapy, Product Tank PDX, pdxUX, and Design Research PDX for letting me have the mic for a bit..
2 — Look ... mate ... you're not bloody whispering. We can all hear you and you're being quite disruptive. Please consider the Three Questions.
3 — I recognize this isn't innovative, but I've not seen anyone else do something like this for an event. The closest I've seen is Luke Wroblewski's Thriller dancing at An Event Apart. But he does usually have the immediately-after-lunch-food-coma-ensues speaking spot.