I’ve been a little quiet on the weeknotes front lately, and that’s partly because I’ve been in preparation mode for NUX8 - where I spoke on Friday about writing inclusive documentation.
The talk was filmed and it should be online in the next few months. But in the mean time, it was similar to my talk from Patterns Day 2019.
Conferences take a fair deal of time and effort to prepare, for speakers and organisers alike, so I wanted to write up some of what I did and learned from taking part.
When I’m in the midst of preparing for a conference, I often forget that I actually get to attend the conference until I’m actually at the conference.
I really enjoyed all of the talks from the day, and it was good to see a few clear themes emerging. My takeaways were:
- good design puts people before technology
- developing deep knowledge of a problem space is better than committing to any particular solution
- we must design products and services ethically, empathetically and with consideration for the future
- our industry must work as a collective, cultivating a proper appreciation for each other’s disciplines, enabling us all to do our best work
One highlight for me was Vimla Appadoo’s talk “It’s Time to Redesign Design”, in which she opened up some big and thought-provoking questions about the definition of design, the value it brings, and how that might evolve in the future.
I also especially enjoyed Sarah Parmenter’s talk, Designing for Personalities, in which she explored how companies might create and market content in a way that’s compassionate, and acknowledges the complexities of people’s lives and circumstances.
Despite having done a few talks now, I still find public speaking super nerve-wracking (more on that below), which means I tend to pay close attention to the audience, organisers, other speakers and atmosphere.
I’m pleased to report that they were all great. But let me be more specific.
NUX is volunteer-run, led by a team of UX practitioners working at various different organisations across the North of England who give up their time to organise and run the conference.
With that in mind, I was really impressed by the amount of effort, care and consideration that evidently had gone into making speakers and guests feel welcome, and ensuring the day ran smoothly.
Watching them was like a masterclass in facilitation; quietly getting things set up, making sure we had the space and time we needed to prepare, and the encouragement we needed to deliver our talks.
The other speakers were friendly and supportive, and the audience was warm and receptive.
All in all, if you’re considering speaking at a future NUX conference and you’re a little nervous, as I was, you couldn’t ask for a safer or more supportive environment in which to give it a go.
As I’ve said before, I’m pretty terrified of public speaking.
I find the build up incredibly difficult, and there’s always at least 1 or 2 moments when I genuinely wonder if I can go through with it. I do it because I tend to enjoy it when I’m actually doing it, and I’m always glad I’ve done it.
I was a bit disheartened to find that I was more not less nervous at NUX8 than I was at Patterns Day earlier in the year. It felt, somehow, like a failure - as though I should be getting more comfortable over time.
But then I considered the fact that anxiety in general is not linear, and that peaks and troughs are expected, so why should anxiety around public speaking be any different?
That said, I like to try and learn from these things. So for future me and for anyone else who’s got a conference coming up, here’s my current list of tips for keeping calm:
1. Avoid alcohol the day before the talk
I did not do this.
2. Avoid caffeine on the day of the talk
And the days leading up to it, if you need to. I also did not do this.
3. Exercise in the morning to burn off energy
I went for a run and saw a bit more of Manchester, which was distracting and nice.
4. Practice in the days leading up to the talk, until you’re saying the words in your sleep
I did a practice run to a group of my colleagues a week beforehand but then didn’t really practice again until the day of the talk, and I’ve learned I’m someone who needs to.
5. Get out onto the stage for a few minutes before you have to go on
If you can do this, getting a feel for the space and getting comfortable walking around on it definitely helps. I did do this, at least.
6. Say what you need to say to make yourself feel safe
One of the other speakers - Vimla - called out her nerves explicitly as part of her introduction and asked the audience to take this into consideration. I really respected this - it made me feel less alone in feeling nervous and I imagine it also put her at ease to say it.
I'm sure this list will evolve over time, but if you've got any suggestions to add, I'd love to hear them.