An experience talk from EuroSTAR 2020 speaker, Jorgen Lund:
Speaking at a conference is a daunting task for most people. There are so many inner voices telling you why you can’t or shouldn’t do it. I want to be that outer voice, telling you why you CAN and why you SHOULD!
My name is Jørgen. I’m a two-time, moderately successful speaker at EuroSTAR. I’m also suffering from some undiagnosed stage fright/anxiety.
Being anxious about doing public presentations is a common phobia – but we all experience it in different ways. I’ll tell you my story, and hopefully you can relate.
In school, I was a really obnoxious child. Sitting in the front row, raising my hand every time the teacher asked a question, and never being shy about pointing out others’ mistakes. I was also the smallest boy in the class, had a funny voice and some front teeth that were eager to see the world, until I had dental correction done in the 8th grade – making me an easy victim for kids to get back at me. Being good at school stuff was my one thing to hang my hat on.
But answering questions is one matter – you can pop your head up when you have something to say. Attending oral exams – when you’re in front of people who don’t know you, but judge you based on your knowledge and ability to present it, is another. I worried for days ahead. And in the moment, I couldn’t think clearly, my heart was racing, my speech stumbled, and my mouth dried up in seconds. In high school for an oral exam, I got so nervous that I vomited in a trash bin when I had to pick the exam question (fun fact: a friend told me, when I told this story, she had done the same thing – you’re not alone out there!).
I’m 40 now – and while school and high school are a long time ago, those traits are still part of me today. Every public speaking engagement is a new exam. The good news is that it hasn’t stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. When I’ve opened up about my anxiety, I have found nothing but empathy and understanding – and I may have finally started realizing that many of the small mistakes that pile up in my head, are sometimes imperceptible to those listening.
I hope that by sharing my story and offering a few hints about my own EuroSTAR presentation, I can encourage you to quiet your inner critic for a short while and submit your story – big or small!
Why you CAN
First, a few words on psychology that has helped me see the world in a different way. I’m no expert – I only hold a YouTube degree in basic psychology. It helps me to understand my responses to certain situations – which is a good way for me to ‘hack’ my anxiety. I also have the attention span of a TED talk, so instead of recommending some books to collect dust on the shelf, I’ve included a few inspirational videos.
At EuroSTAR 2019, I was introduced to Carol Dweck’s theory on growth mindset vs. fixed mindset and the impact of a growth mindset’s ability for kids to thrive and succeed in school. A central part of a growth mindset is understanding that you’re always on a journey towards something. I think in many ways EuroSTAR embodies a growth mindset. Nobody attends to test if you know your stuff. People come to the conference to learn, connect, share, inspire and be inspired. I’ve met nothing but curious, helpful, friendly and compassionate people – from the delegates to the speakers, and the whole EuroSTAR staff. If you’re selected to speak, you are among friends all the way, who only want to help you succeed.
The second part is about Imposter Syndrome. If you feel like you’re not skilled enough, not eloquent enough, or your ideas are not interesting to others to stand on that stage – there’s an above average chance that you’re doing just fine, and you’re just suffering from this common condition. Don’t let that nagging doubt convince you that you shouldn’t give it a go. Mike Cannon-Brookes, who’s the CEO of a ‘small’ Aussie tech company called Atlassian made a TED talk on the subject here:
Why you SHOULD
Are you passionate about testing or other aspects of your work life? Then I’m sure there is someone out there who wants to hear about your passion!
EuroSTAR is a very diverse crowd. Some attendees have been around since the beginning – others are attending their first conference. Their projects and organizations are diverse as well. What’s trivial to some, will be a real eye-opener to others. Each year, the programme committee put together a program that has something for everybody – which means that what is near to your heart, is likely to appeal to somebody else as well.
Another reason why you should apply is, it’s good for you! You get to practice a lot of useful skills – writing a good abstract, creating a video to present your idea and showcase your speaking style (unless you’re part of the Tik Tok generation who grew up recording yourself) – and if you get selected, putting together a good presentation, and getting some experience under your belt in front of a crowd of wonderful people. And if you don’t get selected, maybe your idea will mature for another year and you’ll be clearer on your message, or you’ll get a new and even better idea that might not have come if you didn’t submit the first one!
It is likely to put you out of your comfort zone – but you’re never in too deep, and you’re always among friends. You don’t grow as a person if you don’t occasionally push the boundaries a bit!
My EuroSTAR Experience
By some miracle, I got selected to speak at EuroSTAR back in 2014. It wasn’t a great performance by any means, and the feedback reflected as much. It’s been nagging at the back of my head for a while. After some years of shying away, I applied again in 2019 where I didn’t get selected. I did attend the conference in 2019 as a delegate and really got hit by the EuroSTAR bug again. I wanted to go back! When the theme for 2020 was announced at the end of the conference, I was all in. Testing in the Wild. My biggest passion, making software that works for our military customers in the wild, was right in line with the theme.
I put all my energy into making a good abstract. I solicited help from some colleagues to zoom in on the key points of my presentation. I’ve shared my ideas with testers in my own department, testers in other departments, and colleagues in other job functions as well. It helped me get a better grasp of what was important, and whether it would be relevant to others as well.
The EuroSTAR team highly recommends submitting a video along with your abstract. This was another one of those mental barriers for me, but I enlisted the help of some colleagues in our marketing department to help me record it. Being comfortable in front of a camera and a crowd of one was a good, first step for me. I also sent the final result to my parents to see – for some reason it’s less scary for me to get up in front of a crowd of strangers than to present it to the people close to me.
I went into the registration system early to learn what information was required. At first, it was a bit overwhelming for me, so taking the time to letting the sections materialize really helped. I maintained an offline copy of the registration formular until I was ready to submit. The system does allow you to save a draft online, but I found it more accessible in a separate document – and easier to get feedback from my colleagues. There’s also some bits in there, like writing a bio and summarizing your speaking experience that takes a little time – don’t let it linger till the last minute.
It was a nerve-racking period for me, trying to put together the best possible presentation, and then enduring the excruciating waiting period until the speakers were announced. I had poured my heart and soul into it, and if it wasn’t gonna happen this year I would have been at a loss of what I could have done better. But in the end, it was all worth it, and getting accepted was a great confidence booster.
Since this post is already getting very long, I’ll spare you the details of how the preparation and presentation itself went – but in the end it turned out alright. I got a very respectable grade for my presentation. As a true imposter, I of course don’t trust any of the nice things people say to me – but anonymous reviews is a small window of truth!
After EuroSTAR, my colleagues in the marketing department were kind enough to put together a small video spot (shameless self/company promo alert). I can tell that I’m nervous in the video, but I feel that I’ve managed to not sound like a complete idiot – which is a major milestone for me! So even if it was a long and stressful journey, I can see the progress I’ve made
To sum it all up in the immortal words of the British speed metal band Dragonforce:
We all face our fears in the world,
We all hold our place in the (EuroSTAR) universe,
Check out the EuroSTAR Call for Speakers and consider submitting for this year. Submissions close on November 15th.
Jørgen Lund, Systematic A/S, Denmark
After graduating with a master’s degree in Computer Science, I found my way into testing. Over the past 12 years, I have been part of building, testing, training, deploying and supporting software for our users – and I have used all of the knowledge gathered to become a better tester. Today, I work as a Senior Test Manager where I coach other Test Managers and Testers, implement strategic initiatives and train new employees in testing.