"Sure, I'll chair a session," I chirped eagerly many months ago. TCT Show + Personalize was nothing more than a note on the calendar, I had buckets of time to prepare for anything going on then so why not offer?
Rookie mistake number one: never assume you have buckets of time and that the passage of time will somehow mean everything is miraculously alright on the day when you've put it out of your tiny brain for a quarter of a year.
It was only the night before we set off for the NEC in Birmingham for the TCT brand's big event it began to dawn on me. I was expected to walk on stage and say my piece about the three 3D printing professionals everybody in the audience had come to see. I was expected to announce them in such a way as to give them the auspicious welcome on stage they as respected members of the industry deserve, as well as coordinating them on and off stage, managing Q&As, passing them water without spilling any and generally being responsible for an important part of the show.
Suddenly, I became very conscious of my "rookie" status and harboured fears of tripping over and fluffing my lines with my speakers storming off remarking "Who is this amateur? Why have I come all this way to be brought on stage by a trained monkey?"
The night before, I told my colleague I would only have one glass of wine "because I am chairing my first speaker session tomorrow", but I ended up having three. When pre-show nerves got the better of me I bid my goodnights to my drinking buddies at the hotel bar at 21:30. Alone in my hotel room I decided I was too much of a liability to commit my piece to memory and so out came the complimentary notepaper (which is actually the perfect size for flashcards) and the frantic scribbling, pacing and talking to myself in the mirror commenced in earnest.
Rookie mistake number two: never assume practicing your paltry 50-word piece until midnight and winding yourself up so you can't get to sleep will make everything better in the morning.
The next day, the hours zoomed by and all of a sudden I was having a microphone hooked over my ear by one person, while another nonchalantly tucked a battery pack into the belt of my skirt and (embarrassingly) the elastic waistband of my tights. My nerves calmed when I met the speakers in my session who were cool as any cucumber, professional to a T. I began to feel a swell of pride that it was nearly showtime and I could not wait to get back to my seat and see what these amazing 3D printing practitioners had in store for expectant onlookers. I am, after all, a huge fan of 3D printing and was just as keen as anybody else to watch the show.
Then I was told to walk on stage and the AV guys at the back would know it was time to start.
Rookie mistake number three: don't look for people you know in the audience - it doesn't make it better when you spot your editor, the COO and the CEO all watching you.
I said my piece, welcomed the first speaker on stage and walked confidently back to my chair and suddenly realised it was not beyond the realms of possibility that in my excitement I had read my flashcard notes in a nonsensical order and just confidently spouted half a minute of gibberish, but my editor - a seasoned orator - told me afterwards this was something that worried him too, which was a slight comfort. I am yet to watch the footage back...
After that first welcome, the introductions between speakers and the final thank you to the speakers and audience was much easier but I was bouncing off the walls with excitement for the next hour. Now I have calmed down (it has been a week) here are some top tips for rookies who have been roped into doing a spot of chairing.
- Don't spend the 48 hours before going on stage fretting - the people in the audience haven't come to see you, they’ve come to see the billed speakers. You can get away with keeping it short, simple and light.
- Making your speakers feel comfortable, welcome and valued will in turn calm your nerves and make you feel like a responsible, professional adult rather than a terrified chancer.
- Don't ad lib unless you are confident you can pull it off. I ad lib-ed and cocked it up by asking the audience if they were having "an enjoyable weekend" - TCT Show + Personalize 2013 (to those who don't know) took place on a Wednesday and Thursday…
- Try and get a little headspace before. Difficult at a trade show, I know, but I found a quiet space next to the stage and used that to go through my lines and take a few deep breaths.
- Finally, enjoy it - it's quite a rush when you're in front of the dazzling stage lights and everybody is watching you.
The official TCT Show + Personalize speaker sessions and other video footage will be online soon. Keep an eye on the website and our Twitter @TheTCTMagazine for when the videos have been uploaded.