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From our Depsters September 30, 2019

Speaking at Dept Festival: your favourite rollercoaster ride


The Dept Festival is (one of the) highlights of the year. Drinks, dance, great ambience, networking, art, interactive experiences and of course: inspiring talks. Not only does the festival hosts international speakers; it also provides the opportunity to siege stage presence for our very own Depsters. After all, with so many passionate specialists in one company, knowledge has to be shared. But why the hell would you put yourself in front of this huge audience and share your story? Well, actually, the real question is: why not? The experiences of these Depsters will definitely inspire you to steal the spotlight.

Practice public speaking

There’s no better marketing than word of mouth. It’s literally the old skool version of online reviews. That’s why Anne van de Wijdeven was so easily convinced on giving it a go. “During Dept Festival 2018, I had a conversation with one of the speakers afterwards. He told me I should give it a try, and it really showed how much he had loved the experience. I made it one of my professional goals for the year. Public speaking is something I’ve dabbled in and something I have to do every now and then for Dept, so I figured it’d be good practise if nothing else!”

For Sarah Maria Messmer the hurdle to overcome was a little bigger, she really approached it as an opportunity to grow professionally, certainly in the field of public speaking: “I would say from myself that I do not really like to present in front of a big audience and being in the centre of attention. So basically I applied to talk at the Dept Festival as it was a unique chance to get training and to prepare to be in these kinds of situations. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.”

“I have no passion”

Many people often say “I would love to do a Dept talk, but there’s nothing I am passionate or know enough about”. Full disclosure? Some of our Dept speakers share that exact feeling. “I initially didn’t apply because of lack of inspiration,” says Marilou Coutty, “but because I really like presenting I applied anyway. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to make people think about a topic differently; just to stir things up.”

Anne also struggled with a topic: “But once I happened upon a good one, the rest of the process went smoothly. When I was reading up on one of my pet interests (nuclear semiotics) it suddenly hit me how I could connect it to future-proof design. I already knew a lot about the topic and knew I loved talking about it with people.”

“For me,” Jorge Costa puts it, “the first thing that came to mind was gaming. With the first idea being about how games are more than a leisure activity and how much you can learn from them. However, as soon as I started going into the topic I changed the idea a lot and ended up with a completely different subject. What made me take it further was wanting to share my vision and experience about the topic with others because I thought it would be beneficial for people to know about it.”

For others, however, coming up with a subject of interest wasn’t an issue at all. Take Willem Blom for example. An environmentalist and innovator at heart, it was no problem to connect both topics. “Disrupting our food industry is something I was already passionate about. Along the way, I tweaked my story thanks to the help of Thomas and colleagues, friends and family.”

Remember that a topic can be anything varying from gender equality to accessible design, and from gamification to the vegan lifestyle. As long as it offers an innovative perspective on the future of society, you’re good to go.

Motivation: check. Topic: check. Preps: ongoing.

Whereas one is a born public speaker, the other needs a bit more practice. But don’t let the fear of the ‘big crowd’ stand in your way of personal growth and your moment to shine. We are all human, we all face our own struggles, and we all overcome each and every one of them. This makes prepping for your Dept talk a highly personal experience. So, how did our 2019 speakers cope with this?

Marilou: “I wanted to finish everything as quickly as possible. This way, I had enough time to learn my talk by heart. Once I knew it, I could focus on presenting skills. However, I did encounter some hurdles and not having a set-out topic was one of them. Soon enough, I figured out the story. Learning it by heart, on the other hand, was quite difficult. Practising was the only remedy.” 

Method or not, getting your text done first seems to be the overall way to go. As for Jorge: “I first focused on having my text done. Trust me when I say it went through a lot of reviews. While I was writing and editing, I would make notes on any ideas I had for a visual presentation. Afterwards, I focused on the presentation, so I could train the text and memorize, which I did pretty quickly.”

For Sarah and Anne, it was about research, research, and then, some more research. Anne has an extensive document about the topic in extreme detail (seriously, it made writing a thesis look easy) and Sarah having to do a deep dive in an industry she knows but doesn’t practice herself, namely eSports: “I am already familiar with the eSports industry but not a gamer myself. I spent quite some time reading different sources and studies in order to collect a list of facts about the eSports industry, growth numbers, famous games, the audiences and brand cases. After this deep dive I had twelve pages of facts. Out of those I picked the most important and promising ones for my talk. Furthermore, I thought that you can only believe these facts when you actually see it. That’s why we decided to produce a video visualising the eSports audience and the most important facts in order to show to the audience how it feels to be part of this world.” 

Hurdles and how to deal with them

Ah, the sweet issue of procrastination. Don’t we all know the struggle? Anne does. “Procrastination is usually a symptom of fear of failure — for me, at least! — so I mitigated it by overdoing it on preparation. My logic was that if I knew enough about my topic, it wouldn’t matter if I forgot my exact lines during the festival; I’d have enough to talk about off the top of my head. I also built in a lot of accountability checks, by working with other speakers. Regularly meeting them and discussing my work with them (and seeing how they were growing and developing) ensured I had to do something every week because otherwise, I’d fall behind!”

Other than procrastination, there’s the issue of having a very busy job. Although your manager will make sure you get the time needed to prep your best, it can still sometimes feel challenging to combine the two, as Jorge states: “My main problem was having time to work on the talk because I was extremely busy at work. Also, when I did have time, I’d be so tired that I couldn’t focus on writing anything. I really had to put some breaks on the work and ask for some time so I would be able to do something. Especially during the last two weeks.”

And how about if you have your passion, your story and everything lined up, are there any struggles left? Likely. Willem explains how he had to address a wider audience than just those interested in sustainability: “The biggest hurdle was to build a story that also appealed to meat-eaters and people not open to the vegan way of life. I struggled with it because I wanted to clearly highlight all the negatives from animal agriculture and our current food system. In the end, I managed to align both, being firm on the point we need to change while embracing the full audience by pointing to technology as one of the solutions.” 

With a little help from our friends & Dept

A little guidance goes a long way. That’s why Dept sets the speakers up for success with the inspiring guidance of presentation trainer Thomas. Sarah: “For me, it was the biggest hurdle to break create a storyline out of all the information. That’s where Thomas, our coach, came into play. Together we worked out six story points. I then allocated the suitable facts and figures of my deep dive to each story point and started to write my speech. Afterwards, while practising the talks, it was difficult for me to come out of my comfort zone, to speak up, to change my accentuation and body language. The tips of Thomas were very helpful here and also practising with other speakers.”

Other than the training you get from the Dept coaches, don’t underestimate the power of peer review from your colleagues. According to Anne: “It was also great to work with other Depsters — sharing pitfalls and practising together is very helpful, and it settles your nerves a bit.” And Willem can only add to that: “Thomas’ training was amazing, as well as feedback sessions with colleagues. They really were incremental to the change in the tone of voice of my talk.”

Convinced? You should be.

And if not, here are a few testimonials to get give you that last little push. Marilou: “It is fucking awesome! You get such a rush out of it and you learn so much during your journey. Things you’ll benefit from your entire life. Who doesn’t want to know how to give a killer ass presentation?” 

Anne:To shamelessly borrow a sentiment from JFK: I chose to do a Dept Talk not because it was easy, but because it was hard. You’ll learn a lot in a short span of time. About presenting, about your topic, and about yourself. It was a whirlwind experience. My best endorsement is that I’d do it all over again.”

Willem: “For most of us it is slightly out of our comfort zone. But you’ll learn a lot about storytelling, writing, and the do’s & dont’s of public speaking. Plus, you’ll have an awesome experience that will make you proud afterwards.”

Sarah: “The spirit among the speakers, especially at the festival day was super nice. Everybody was supporting each other and cheering for each other. And of course, the support and all motivating words from my other colleagues were overwhelming, too. It is for sure a lot of work and couple of times I asked myself:  “Why the hell am I doing this? I can’t do it.” But in the end, I didn’t want to miss out on the experience.”

Jorge: “Yes, it’s scary, but at the same time gives you so much energy and excitement, and when you are done, you’ll feel proud of yourself and of everyone that was in the process with you. And they are the special part of this journey. You make new friends, watch them grow along with you and share experiences together. Ride the rollercoaster, enjoy the loops and screams, and enjoy as much as you can because it goes fast, and there are no breaks!”

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