Technology conference speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds, experience levels, and interests. At CFP Land, we highlight different speakers every week in our Speaker’s Story blog posts.
I love reading stories about speakers who went from sweaty, nervous messes to confident, capable speakers, and Rizwan’s is one such story. Of course, transformations like this don’t happen overnight, so don’t worry if speaking takes time and doesn’t come naturally to you. As Rizwan shows, sticking with it, and improving over time can help anyone get on stage.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into public speaking?
I started my career as a UX designer at a design agency. Being an introvert, I was very uncomfortable speaking in meetings and used to literally run away from having the spotlight on me. I even had a hard time speaking in front of my own team. Each time I stood up to talk I would get the classic symptoms such as dry mouth, profuse sweating, and forgetting what I wanted to say. It was frustrating because I noticed others who would get up and speak effortlessly and I wanted that for myself. I wanted to be able to get up and speak without hesitation and share my ideas.
It was time to act.
So I decided to turn things around and searched for ways to improve my public speaking skills. My search led me to a 30-day online speaking challenge which focused on specific areas in public speaking such as speed, filler words, pacing, etc. The last exercise of the challenge was to create a presentation of my own and record myself presenting it. At that time I was also diving into the world of sketching so I created a 5-minute talk about sketching journey. To test out my presentation I needed real people to present it to so I searched for meetups and found a developer meetup which was looking for presenters for their next meetup. Their CFP page was very inviting towards new speakers which gave me the confidence to apply. I jumped on the chance and submitted my talk proposal and that’s when my public speaking journey began.
What do you like about speaking at conferences?
For me, it’s all about the people. Whether it’s someone who connects with my message or another speaker who is just starting out, I love meeting new people and making friends at conferences.
Speaking at conferences has definitely helped to improve my presentation skills. I am more confident in speaking in front of groups of people who I don’t know whereas before I would get nervous and my anxiety levels would go through the roof.
Another benefit of speaking at conferences is that each conference brings its own challenges such as room layouts, the acoustics of rooms, the size of the audience, the distance to the audience, lighting, etc. these all present challenges that help us grow.
Do you remember your first conference talk? How did it go?
I remember my first conference talk very clearly because it was started out a bit rough. I was really nervous before the event because I didn’t know anyone in the sea of people. The layout of the room I was presenting it was a bit challenging. There was a big column right in the middle of the room which divided the audience into two sides. The windows were from floor to ceiling which sounds nice but made it extremely difficult to see my slides. We had to turn off the lights to be able to see them so I presented my talk in the dark, talk about throwing you off your game. As I began my presentation I noticed the people in the audience with their expressionless stares which made me think I was boring them. This started the negative self-talk in my head while I was presenting which never turns out well and it caused me to read my slides instead of looking at the audience. Towards the end, I felt much better and more in control of my talk. After the event, I felt a bit disheartened but I was determined to learn from the events of the day and improve for the next time.
Each new talk presents challenges and opportunities to learn from and to help us grow. I am still learning from my “mis-takes” and addressing the areas I need to improve in. It’s important to keep in mind that public speaking is a continuous learning process. Never stop learning.
How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?
Honestly, I haven’t kept count but I know I have applied to many conferences. My CFP rejected-to-win ratio is probably around 0.00001 which is definitely an exercise in learning how to accept rejection and not take it personally.
I have presented at 6 conferences in the US and in Europe. My talk recently was accepted at a conference in Oslo which improves the ratio just a little bit.
Do you have a pre-talk routine?
A week before my talk, my routine consists of getting a fresh haircut and picking out the outfit I will wear. I also make sure I have all the dongles, adapters, cables, remotes I need.
On the day of the talk, I make sure I have a good breakfast and pack a few snacks just in case I get hungry before the talk.
If I am speaking at a conference, I make sure to scope out the room I will be presenting in beforehand to check out the stage and seating arrangements. This way I can visualize myself up on the stage presenting beforehand, which help me feel prepared.
Right before giving my talk I will do some breathing exercises, and if I really need to get pumped up then I will find stairs nearby and go up and down them quickly to warm up and get my blood flowing.
What advice do you have for new speakers?
I recommend new speakers look for opportunities to present at work, meetups, schools, basically anywhere they can. At work, you can present at a Lunch and Learn session. Don’t have a Lunch and Learn session at work? Why not start one? This will give you the opportunity to present regularly and get more practice. Meetup organizers are always looking for new people to present and share their ideas. You can also start off with Lightning Talks which are short 5-minute presentations on any topic you want and are a great entry point to start your public speaking journey.
Another tip I like to share is to make your talk interactive. Find ways to get your audience engaged with your message through exercises, questions, or discussions. Getting the audience involved will help them connect with your message on a deeper level and when the audience is engaged I notice that I relax more and become less anxious since.
Are there any other speakers you look up to? Anyone who’s inspired you?
Inspiration is everywhere. Whether it’s a team member presenting at work, a speaker at a conference, or kids presenting at an elementary school, I find inspiration by observing people and how they communicate. I have presented my talks at elementary schools and I’m especially inspired by the confidence kids have in standing up and sharing their ideas without hesitation which is something I am working towards.
Where can readers find more about you?
A good thing about having a somewhat unique name is that if you Google Rizwan Javaid, I will show up. Not personally, that would be creepy but the search results will be mostly about me. You can also follow my updates on my website, rizwanjavaid.com, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Medium.
My next conference workshop is at JavaZone in Oslo in September. I also present at meetups around the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach out if you are ever want to chat about sketching, design, life over some coffee.
If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected] to tell your story. 💌