Last Saturday, I gave a presentation at BarCamp Charlotte 6. In short, the point of BarCamp is that it's an "unconference." Everyone gathers into a room, and people who are interested in giving talks each have 30 seconds to pitch their talk topics. After the pitching session, attendees line up and vote for the talks they'd like to hear. The talks with the most votes get separated into rooms and times, and the day begins!
When I attended BarCamp 5, I prepared my talk for a week. I knew what I wanted to present, put together some slides, practiced my pitch, and even did a few run-throughs for friends and family. I just desperately hoped I would get picked! Sure enough, my preparation paid off - I received an overwhelming number of votes, got to present in the largest room, and heard wonderful reviews. That day, I made some amazing contacts (and friends!) that have served me extremely well since.
When BarCamp 6 came around, however, I actually wasn't planning to attend. The last two months had been a whirlwind, and it felt like I hadn't had a day off in at least 8 weeks. But I went anyway, mostly because I knew my friends were going to be there, and it could be a great opportunity to learn something new from people in the community. About half an hour before pitching began, I decided to pitch a session on networking.
Why on earth would I pitch something? I hadn't prepared anything, much less a topic title! Fortunately, I was fully aware of what I was about to do - I love networking, and I knew I could speak passionately about my experiences. So, out of thin air, I came up with a 30-second pitch. I reasoned that, if I didn't get picked, it wouldn't be the end of the world (especially since I didn't do any preparation whatsoever). But what if I did get picked? Then it would be an opportunity to get in front of an audience and hone my presentation skills.
After the voting session, I'll admit, I was surprised: I was picked! And, again, with an overwhelming number of votes (second only to Hackerspace Charlotte's "Build Your Own 3D Printer and Why Things Explode" presentation). I got the largest room again, and even had an hour to put together some notes. By the time my presentation started, I had the following title:
I am honored and delighted to say that not only was my session packed, but the talk went wonderfully well. I had no slides, no toys, no fancy lighting - just me, my ideas, and my stories. And, above all, I had an amazing group of people who asked great questions, provided their own wonderful anecdotes, and really helped me make the presentation into more of a workshop. I would even go so far as to say that it was one of my best presentations!
Now, to the point of this post: preparation, whether it's done for a week before or within the 90 minutes before your big moment, is essential. You can't always guarantee where you'll be or what you'll be doing, but you are in charge of the experience you provide for yourself. It would have been silly of me to spend 90 minutes preparing a speech on a topic I knew nothing about, but 90 minutes was more than enough time to talk about something I know very well and am very passionate about!
And, being prepared can work in your favor: After my talk, a very respectable-looking gentleman (whom I had never met), came up to me and told me about how much he enjoyed my presentation. He noted my name, shook my hand several times, and praised me. I also took down his name and twitter handle, to follow up with him later in the day.
That evening, I looked him up on twitter and found out he's a freshman member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.
It sure does pay to be prepared, no?