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A pink elephant with butterfly wings flying in space.

Do you think you’re not fit (yet) to apply as a speaker at WordCamp Europe?

How I kick imposter syndrome’s ass, and you may too!

Do you believe that what you have to say is not interesting enough? Do you think you will get called out by what you believe are more seasoned WordPress users in the audience?

The pink elephant

Let’s call it by its name, that big pink elephant in the room. This is commonly known as imposter syndrome. Although I do not have a one-size fits all answer to how to get rid of that, I will share how I deal with it with two very practical tips, and why applying as a speaker for a WordCamp is a really great idea.

Why speaking at a WordCamp is a great thing

A common mentality in the WordPress community is that we find joy in helping each other to succeed. No matter if you are an experienced user or a beginner. You will find that at flagship WordCamps hierarchy is not a thing. It’s perfectly normal to run into people working on a management level, who are willing to talk to you and share wisdom.

When you are new, and feel overwhelmed by that crowd where so many people seem to already know each other, walk up to any or the organisers (or sponsor booths) and tell people you’re new and wish to meet more people. You’ll be amazed at the response and willingness to help and connect you. And the same goes for people in the content team, who guide you when you apply as a speaker.

We strive to be a safe community where asking for help and guidance is seen as a strength, not a weakness. It’s within this beautiful community that I found the courage to take the big stage about technical WordPress related subjects, and lately also about digital accessibility. Even though the topics I wanted to speak about felt like beginners stuff in my early days. What was beginners stuff in my mind, turned out to be solid advice and knowledge for people just starting out with WordPress.

You grow as a speaker, you grow as a person, and it can help you grow your business too!

It helped me grow in all areas mentioned above. Because of speaking at local meet-ups in and outside of Germany, I started to feel comfortable to speak on biggers stages, going deeper than I did in the beginning. And in online meet-ups and presentations too. It has unlocked a world of opportunities. I met countless people with who I’m able to spar regularly. Speaking and attending talks helps us to evolve in what we do, and to achieve our goals. That’s golden.

My personal eperience it’s a community where no one is being laughed at when doing their best to give a presentation, and not everything is smooth in the beginning. Because, yeah, geez, it really can feel intimidating on that stage, with a crowd in front of you.

Perfect is the enemy of good

I have ADHD on steroids. My slides are not just there for the audience. They are there to keep me on track as much a possible. But sometimes I drift off in my enthusiasm. I inform the moderators in advance that this may happen, so they can step in when it happens.

The moderators are there for that too, they can bring you back on track when you drift off. Sometimes it happens that I speak ahead of my slides because I am answering a question from the audience (my talks are usually quite interactive), only to discover that I already talked about something when the designated slide comes up. Something that would send me in a raging panic in the beginning. Not anymore.

The big discovery I made about public speaking

Experience and countless conversations lead me to a big discovery. That uneasy feeling will not disappear after you have gained years of experience. Impostor syndrome is like rain. It’s wet for everyone, and it does not get dryer with experience.

I have yet to meet a person who can seriously tell me that it’s not an issue for them. And to give this some more weight, I literally grew up around world famous people. Award winning musicians, authors, actors, and animators. And from conversations with them I learned that stage fright does not magically disappear. Talking to seasoned speakers in the realm of WordPress and in tech in general, I know it’s no different for them. And… surprise, surprise! It’s no different for me.

I have been speaking for a while now (and will be speaking at WordCamp Asia 2024 too). I frequently get hired to speak at in-company events of companies who are switching their internal processes to gear towards digital accessibility. Sometimes I speak for an audience of 5 people, sometimes for 500. And sometimes way more. I’m nervous before every event. And I am still nervous when I start. Always. But you know what? I talk about what I know and I inform people about the fact that I may drift off every now and then. Because that’s who and how I am. And people are interested to hear it, and to interact. I offer several moments where they can ask questions. Or to answer mine. It’s fun, really. And the questions part is also something I like to use when my brain blacks out for whatever reason.

So what can you do about it? This fear of speaking?

I can only share how I approach it and hope it works for you too.

1. Dealing with it like you deal with a rainy day

Dealing with my unsettled nerves the same way I deal with annoying weather works well for me. It’s like rain. I know it won’t go away, no matter how much I wish it to, at that moment. I find it uncomfortable when I feel the cold rain on my face. But I can’t stop it, can I? It’s bigger than me. I still need to go from A to B, straight through it. So, I simply acknowledge it’s there, and redirect my mental energy away from it, by not giving it any special attention.

2. Treat it like a visit to the supermarket

In my favourite supermarket they play audio commercials in between the background music. And they are hysterically loud, compared to the background music they normally have. The commercials make me jump out of my skin every time they play. I’m sure many of you recognise this experience. But when you think about it, don’t you blend commercials and background music out, or at least stoically endure it without giving it too much thought, when your goal actually to go shopping for stuff you need?

That’s also how I blend out / endure the fear.

The one piece of advice about speaking, that made it “click” for me.

A few years ago, I gave a presentation at the Düsseldorf WordPress Meetup. There were about 50 people. At the end of my presentation I realised I had forgotten a big chunk in my presentation. I did not make the presentation invalid, it was more encouraging bonus information about less obvious possibilities with this functionality. But I was frustrated nonetheless.

It was about using custom post types and custom fields to create amazing websites with dynamic information. That you can do this without being a hardcore php / react wrangler, is actually news to a lot of WordPress users.

I know, custom fields and custom post types sound like super dev level stuff, right? But it’s really not. I’m not a hard core developer. I’m originally a graphic designer, my development stack is basic semantic HTML and CSS, a love for WordPress, logic, accessibility and common sense. The charm of WordPress is that there are professionally built plugins, both free and paid, out there that you can use to create complex dynamic websites.

Anyway, is I was upset about forgetting part of my presentation that I had prepared so hard for. And then Mario Wolf, a well-known contributor to WordPress and WordCamp organizer from Germany, who had guided me through and moderated really well when I drifted off, said to me: “Anne, the thing is, even when you suddenly realise you forgot to say something, you can bet on it, that it was only you who actually knows which part you missed. People who are coming to your talks, are generally coming, because they want to learn. Not because they already know it and wait for an opportunity to criticise you.”

That made “click”. I’m still grateful for that. And happy that we get to work together as he too is part of the Sponsors Team of WordCamp Europe 2024.

I hope this helps you to “click” too.

Love,

Anne

PS WordCamp Europe has a wonderful program for Speaker Support for speakers from underrepresented groups. It is a Mentorship program where selected speakers can get support and feedback from more experienced WordCamp speakers and community members.