I love speaking in public, mostly because I am a damn narcissist who finds nothing more enjoyable than hearing himself talk (out of all my qualities, this is the one that defines me most as male, I guess). So naturally, whenever I have the chance, I hop on that soap box and share my wisdom with anyone who accidentally stumbles across my corner of the internet.
This year, however, brought an opportunity to test even my narcissistic nerves. Every year, the Chaos Communication Congress brings together a large number of hackers and nerds to talk about computers, science, tech and society and every year I am in awe because of the amazing stuff the volunteer organisers pull off. There are usually talks and many of them are of great quality and hundreds or thousands of people watch live and later the recorded talks online.
Because of, well, everything, the congress did not happen this winter. It was transformed into a remote event, like so many other events in 2020, and while I was sad af about not walking through the halls of blinking LEDs, the online event gave me the confidence to do something I never did before: I submitted an abstract for a talk.
I chose the topic of scientific literacy, because it is very important for society to understand science and it is also the only thing I have some sort of expertise in. I read a lot of papers, I talk a lot about science and academia, so I thought why not feed my inner narcissist by spreading my wisdom?
I guess I was lucky that this year was strenuous for many people and the call for papers was not as frequented as the years before. I once had insights into the selection process in past years and there were dozens of talks submitted to the science track and the chances of getting through were small. This year, I imagined much less competition, which would explain why they picked me.
Well, I had my doubts when I received the email. I quickly got my questions answered, though, and was quite confident that yes indeed, they wanted me to talk. Yay!
Together with confirmation came a deadline for submitting pre-recorded talks – that was only three days away. And that in the week before Christmas, with no child care and a hard (well, German-kinda hard, so not really hard) lockdown in place. So I wrote the script, recorded my audio and animated my talk mostly at night, which was fun but also made it necessary to really check for typos afterwards. I got a pretty rough cut ready for the deadline and could polish it a bit in the following days.
While it was really stressful to get my talk ready in just three days, I was also happy that I could pre-record it. I don’t like giving talks in front of my screen and, what’s worse, with the approaching day of my presentation, I got more and more nervous – despite having done 90% of the work already. All that was left to do was to do a quick Q&A session afterwards.
Still, I was getting more jittery by the day. What if they didn’t care for my talk? What if I got stuff really wrong? In the short amount of time I couldn’t really test my talk with anyone but Tegan, who had some great feedback, but she is also my friend, so what if she was just nice when she said it was good? I really didn’t want to look like a fool in front of the hundreds of nerds that potentially might tune in on my talk, at lunch time on day 2.
What I came to realise was that this was the first time where I really cared about the opinion of the people watching me. In scientific contexts, where I did most of my talks before, I rarely spoke to audiences whose opinions about me mattered a lot, and I was also quite sure about the stuff I was saying. I had showed the experiments that I had done and explained why they didn’t work and that was it. This time, at rC3, the audience would know my social media, they’d know my voice and face, it would be recorded for all eternity and many would have their own opinionated views on the scientific system. If I’d fail here, I’d fail hard.
So the big day came. I was connected to the broadcasting team, heard the voice of my moderator but couldn’t see them (thanks to years of podcast training that wasn’t a big problem and I anyway tend to just look at myself whenever there are a bunch of squares with faces on my screen (I’m like a weird bird fascinated by my own reflection)) and then my pre-recorded talk was broadcasted and the Q&A happened. Luckily, there were questions, and nice ones, so my moderator didn’t have to come up with stuff on the fly and then it was over.
It was great. It went great. People liked it (so they told me on twitter) and so far, no one has debunked any of the points I made yet. Yay!
Which made this talk a late highlight of my year 2020, that wasn’t a lot of fun, otherwise. rC3 itself was a bit of a mixed bag of experiences but the talk was a lot of fun. Would recommend.
If you’re curious now about the talk, you can watch the recording here. My sources and more info is on this site.
I wish you all a happy new year 2021. Let’s hope that congress in 2021 can be in person again.