Yesterday was my nan’s funeral. I was asked to share some thoughts from our close family about my nan and to do a reading of them at the service.
Throughout school and into university I was never a huge fan of public speaking. I’d struggle to read out loud in class and would always shy away from giving presentations as much as possible. I remember my final year presentation at university was horrible, I was sweating, shaking, and stuttered most of my words. After getting out of university I thought that was it, I was free. I’d never have to do that again.
I became a web developer, a breed notorious for their introversion. It was perfect. However I started attending meet ups and conferences and started to see a different side to us. We like to share knowledge, to help others with tales of our experiences, to give back to a community of people that we feel helped us get to where we were in our careers.
My first talk at a meet up was at Oxford Geek Night, a monthly meet-up I used to attend while working in Oxford. I wanted to share some of my experiences of how I came to be a developer and what I thought could be done better for education. I was prepared, I was confident I knew what I was talking about, but when I got up on the stage the same old things came back. I was sweating, stammering, I lost my place in my notes and it felt like a complete failure. The second time was no better, a Pecha Kucha talk that I rushed through and didn’t prepare well enough for. It was fun, but I was starting to think public speaking was still not for me, that if I were to give back to the community like so many others I’d have to do it a different way.
My third talk was at my old University, to students taking the same class I had just a few years prior. It was an hour long talk, the longest I’d done so far by 55 minutes! I thought this was it, if I can’t make it through this talk I’m never doing another one. In the first couple of minutes I was sweating, shaking, and stuttering again. But then I thought to myself, I have nearly an hour of talking left to go, am I really going to stand here shaking the whole time! I took a deep breath, gulped a bit of water, and finally let myself relax and delivered my talk. At the end there were plenty of questions and people were really interested in the things I had to share with them.
Since then, I’ve spoken at more conferences than I thought imaginable just a few short years ago. Speaking has even taken me to New York and to places in Europe later this year. I’m very lucky to have been able to do this, but I’ve worked hard at it as well. It’s been one of the ways I’ve been able to share my experiences and opinions with the community. I hope by doing so I’ve been able to give back to the community that has helped me to get to where I am today.
Public speaking may now come a lot more easier to me than it used to, but yesterday was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. To stand there in front of family and talk about someone so close to me who’s no longer going to be there anymore was heart-wrenching. But by doing so I was able to share some amazing memories of my nan, and I learned so much more about a woman I’ve known all my life but only known for a short part of hers.
My nan was an incredibly giving person, working with the local communities, raising money and helping out whenever she could. She was adventurous and would try her hand at anything, even if she was scared of heights! Yesterday I was able to share some of these memories with some of our closest friends and family. To share such wonderful moments, to make people laugh with her antics over the years at such a sad time was an absolute honour and meant an awful lot to me.
That was probably the hardest moment of public speaking I’ve ever had. Probably the most meaningful too. While I’m likely to still get a bit nervous before a big talk in the future I’ll never feel anything like I did yesterday.
Community was a huge part of my nan’s life, she did so much for the people around her. Whether it was the local youth club, a football team she helped set up for the children in the village or for her church. She was always willing to pitch in and do what she could to help out. She was adventurous and didn’t let her fears stop her. Community recently has meant a lot to me too, but learning what I have about my nan over the past few days, reading everything she has done for others in her life has made me even more aware of the fact that I want to push forward with the work I do in the community. In the future I hope I can do half as much as she accomplished in her life and give back to as many as she managed to help. She will always be a huge inspiration and taught me more than I can ever thank her for.
Thank you for everything you did, you will be forever in my thoughts.
Bye nan x