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10/03/2002: Speaking

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I remember back in school being so scared whenever I had to get up in front of class. My face would feel hot, my hands would be shaking, and no matter how much I tried, I would end up talking a mile a minute because I was so nervous. My Girl Scout troop leader in high school got us hooked up with Toastmasters at one point, but I managed only a meeting or two before I stopped going. Even that was too much. I could handle performing in groups (after all, I did synchronized swimming, which involves performing in front of large crowds of strangers wearing nothing but a bathing suit with sparkly stuff sewn all over, gelatin in the hair, and far too much makeup). It wasn't until graduate school that I was forced to face my fear of public speaking, and that was simply out of necessity: I was a teaching assistant for a nutrition class and this meant leading discussion groups for groups of bored little undergraduates.

When I was working for the Little Fish, I got involved in a project where we were trying to make the software do something that had never been done with it before play nicely with time zones. The customer wanted to be able to click a little button and choose any time zone and make the whole screen refresh. While I'm not a fan of Microsoft by any stretch of the imagination, if they'd been a Windows-only shop, it would have been a piece of cake. But we had to make this work on Macs and UNIX and, that's where it got interesting.

We did it, and did it amazingly well. And as a result I got asked to give a presentation on what we did at a consulting conference for the Little Fish. I remember being excited and terrified and nervous and telling myself over and over to remember to talk slowly, and somehow, I got through that presentation, and it was okay. It was actually almost fun. I knew what I was talking about and the people out there knew it, and even when they asked me questions I couldn't answer, it was still okay.

Over the years, working with the Little Fish and then the Big Fish, and then the Company To Be Nicknamed Never, I've been put in this sort of position more and more. Sometimes I've been prepared in advance; other times it's been impromptu, and somehow I'll end up in front of a room of people with only a white board, a bunch of pens, and the determination and enthusiasm to somehow help them all figure out whatever it is that was stumping them. I don't know when it was that I realized this was actually kind of fun (in some bizarre kind of way), but there it was. I could handle it.

To help us all get the hang of this training thing, each of us trainers-to-be will be actually leading parts of the training over the course of this week and the next. Today was my first turn at it. To make things even more exciting, I got to train the others on a few portions of the system I'd only read about (while the others who did this before me had at least been able to watch someone else do those parts first). I knew going in that I'd need a bit more help than the others because of that, but it felt good being up there. Damn good. And when we hit the one section of the system that's actually stumped me because it's hard to understand once I finally got it, before I knew what I was doing, there I was again, white board in front of me, pen in hand, helping the rest of them figure it out. I wasn't nervous. My hands were steady. I wasn't talking any faster than I normally do. And all I could think was that this was fun. Incredibly fun. And when do I get to do it again?

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