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The girl on the stage

It’s 8:30 in the morning.

In 3 hours I will take to the stage for my last international talk for a while. I’m taking a break to focus on family and business and life.

But that’s not why I’m here writing.

I want to show you something.

Now you see me

Three hours from now you will see me. In front of a slide deck, wearing a lapel mic and talking (hopefully animatedly) about security. It’s my field, it’s where my passions lie and I enjoy speaking to new people about it.

I love to watch an audience and connect with them. Taking each person in turn and trying to make part of my message just for them.

The words will dance and the time will pass quickly.

Now you don’t

But right now, like most speakers, I am not the woman you see on stage.

You don’t see the bits behind the curtain. You don’t hear the voice in my head.

I want to share that with you for a moment. I want you to know what I (and most other) speakers are really doing behind the well drilled talk or the pristine slide deck.

I want to do this so that you can see we are just like you.

I want to do this so that when you consider a CFP or applying to an international conference you don’t listen to that doubting voice that says ‘stay home, wait until you are better at this’.

So here I am, the girl on the stage, in her room before a talk.

Here is what you don’t see.

The slide deck is never right

The simpler the slides look the longer it has taken. Agonising over which shade of dark black/grey is the same as the other sides. Wondering if the contrast is right or if the animations will play. Pondering resolutions and projectors which are never the same or consistent. Pondering how the colours will actually look up there.

The demos and the demo gods lurk near by.

Torn between the convention that showing a terminal on stage and typing into it somehow makes your talk more authentic, more credible or plausible.

I am…

Tearing out demos

Throwing in demos

Testing them without sound or without internet

Typing at my terminal and questioning the value of it all.

Making a video in a hotel room at 2am because panic has stolen my sleep.

Am I more competent because of them?

Will people believe me?

The talk structure is spinning through my head

Finding a way to weave a story through is hard. I’m practicing flows, I tweak and slash and cut and dice away my talks until they are a new shape.

I talk aloud in the shower, to my pets, to myself.

I stumble over words. I lose my focus.

I realise that I am being insensitive or crude.

I edit.

I forget all of these things: things I have learned , selected and chosen, the second I get on stage.

The company and crowds are intimidating

Everyone here will have a story. The other speakers share theirs loudly like me, the attendees you have to go deeper.

I ask questions and listen to stories.

I watch crowds and audiences.

I watch people, watch people like me.

Will they think my story is interesting?

Am I technical enough to be here?

None of this matters

They didn’t choose me for perfection.

The audience don’t want to see my successes. They want to connect with my vulnerability.

I should just show them the girl behind the curtain. We’d have far more in common than they think.

Today is my last international talk for a while.

I’m not sad about that.

I’m excited.

It’s your turn now, come stand behind the curtain, take a deep breath and go be the girl on the stage.

Go show your vulnerability and change the world.