Dealing with the impostor
So this post is more of a personal post, about challenges or maybe even fears we face. The challenge we’re facing is most often the Impostor Syndrome. One where we fear the fact that there’s always someone better than us. And let’s face it, that fact is true.
As an attendee
I like to visit tech conferences. First of all, because I do often and get to see the same faces. A couple of those faces became sort of friends, and getting to spend some time together is fun. This is exactly what “the community” is all about.
I live in a tech space where I most often use Microsoft (or related) technologies to get my work done. Microsoft supports the movements of communities making it fairly easy to find, and join one (or more) that fits your needs. Attending events organized by that community, especially repetitively, will effectively narrow the gap between nodding and saying ‘hi’ to someone, and actually making contact by having a chat or even a conversation. As a regular organizer of community events (DotnetFriday), I do see a lot of attendees coming back and I do see that people start recognizing each other and making contact.
One bar that seems to be quite high for some people, is to ask a question during a session. There is an audience that will hear your question and the fear of struggling with the correct sentence or asking a stupid question is real. Although I understand this challenge, I do want to encourage you to reach out to the speaker in a way and ask your question. Maybe not during the session, with the audience listening. Walk up to the speaker after the session and ask your question in private. You will see that the speaker will absolutely not find your question stupid, and will do his very best to get you the best possible answer.
Speakers of tech events most often join these events because they believe in sharing knowledge and experiences and have a lot of fun doing so. Please take advantage of this and ask your questions. It will make them feel even better because they could truly help someone. And in the end, you may feel confident enough to ask your question while the audience is listening.
Attending tech conferences, meetups, and other community events has two benefits. One is to gain (deeper) knowledge of methodologies and techniques, the other is to get to know some of your colleagues around, that may become fellows.
As a speaker
When I joined my current employer, I was challenged to become a public speaker at tech events. Although I do like to draw attention here and there and play the clown, this was not really my alley. This is why I decided to go for it and explore outside my comfort zone. The first event I was invited to, was an event with 6 people in the audience (one colleague and 5 people I didn’t know).
Luckily I could do the session in Dutch, my native language. Although I do think my English is fine (not good, just fine), having to switch to a foreign language has always been a challenge for me. So I did the session, as nervous as I could be, and everything went fine. The information came through, the demos went fine, and afterward (my session was the last one of the day) we had a drink and chat about my session. Driving back home in my car I felt great. I truly had the idea I helped people get more insights into the tech this session was about. I was ready for more…
Techorama NL 2019
Some events later, I was invited to speak at Techorama. Techorama is one of the (if not the) largest tech conferences in The Netherlands for developers working with Microsoft technologies. I felt confident and all and once my session started I blacked out… Completely…
For the first five minutes of my session, I was almost unable to form a correct sentence, and people in the audience started to walk away (and I understood why). So I went to my speaker desk, took a sip of water, and tried to carry on. Slowly I managed to recover and continue my session. I was rambling and going way too fast, getting ahead of myself (and the time). So I completed my talk way ahead of time, had virtually no questions and I felt horrible.
This is what community is about
When my session was done, the audience started to leave the room except for this one person who walked up to me and sort of congratulated me. I did not fully understand why because I just delivered the worst session possible at a conference that was supposed to be my break-trough as a public speaker. But instead of focussing on what went wrong, she managed to see through all that and see what I accomplished. I managed to get myself back together after fully blacking out, still delivering valuable content while doing something way outside my alley.
The turning point
This experience actually brought me a lot! Impostor Syndrome is still there, and it is real. I have done quite some talks and sessions here and there since this Techorama debacle and every time I walk up the stage, the first 5 minutes of my session is driven by my nervosity. This nervosity comes from two sides. One is a healthy fear of standing in front of an audience, and while this is somewhat of a fear, it also brings a lot of energy. The other cause is the fact that in the audience, there is always someone better than me. And this is true, there always is someone better than me. But who cares?
This person is not there to bring me down or make me feel bad, this person is not going to ask questions making a fool of me. This person is there to see and learn how others do certain stuff and maybe pick up a tip or trick.
Especially at tech events, demos will fail and other stuff will go wrong. And yes, there will be someone better than you. But you made it all the way to that stage and are willing to share your knowledge and experiences. Look at what you can do, and just a little bit less at what you think you can’t.