Those following my Twitter stream have recently been inundated with tweets about South By Southwest, or SXSW in short. I’m at the conference and posting little snippets of insight (or amusing idiocy) to Twitter from the various panels and sessions I attend this week. Between sessions I’m grabbing quick bites here and there and trying to catch up with as many of my friends from the Internet as possible—we may be in touch more now than ever before thanks to Twitter and various other social networks, but you just can’t beat human interaction and having a real talk, even if just for ten or so minutes.
Which brings me to the point of this post: being nervous. Why would you be nervous at a conference? Well, there are many reasons. A big one that most people new to conferences will be able to relate to is meeting your heroes. The people you admire, respect and, sometimes, envy for their tremendous talent and passion for whatever it is they do in our vast industry.
Those who are speaking or on a panel will know all about feeling nervous, too. What if your presentation or talk goes wrong? What if people don’t laugh at your jokes? What if, what if, what if.
Sometimes, it can be something as seemingly innocent as asking a question—into a microphone with an audience of hundreds, even thousands all listening to you. What if you stumble on your question, or ask something that everyone else thinks is totally obvious?
Turns out, we worry ourselves needlessly. All the time. Your heroes? They’re people just like you and me, and they love to meet you and talk with you and hear from you. Presenting? Your audience is there to see you shine and hear what you have to say, not to be mean at you if something goes wrong. Asking a question? Trust me, even if the speakers or the panel brushes off your question, many others in the audience were wondering the exact same thing—but you had the courage to stand up there and ask it.
I was thinking about this last night after first, in the afternoon, my friend Justine told me she was nervous about meeting Ze Frank. This seemed so odd to me; Justine is a highly popular tech & video blogger with a huge following on Twitter, not someone you’d expect to be nervous about meeting a fellow video blogger. But then later that day, I myself was nervous as can be asking a question to the Zeldman-Kissane-Ford-Holton-Brown panel. I couldn’t figure out why at the time, but I was.
So as I thought back to all that later last night, I realized something: we all have our insecurities. For me, it was a worry that my question wouldn’t be stellar and on the same level as the panelists’ discussion. For Justine, it might have been something to do with Ze Frank being really cool, successful and famous—who knows, really, but more importantly, who cares? We’re all here at SXSW. It’s a conference, you’re supposed to meet new people, ask (potentially dumb) questions and learn new things. No one is here to see someone else fail, or stumble, or embarrass themselves.
We’re here at SXSW in Austin because we’re the cool people. We care, we want to learn, we want to grow and succeed, and we’re not going to do it all by ourselves. All of us will fail at least some of the time; but that’s when we pick ourselves up, or have our friends to lean on, and we learn from the mistake and move on.
There’s no need to worry about it. Embrace it, and enjoy. And if you’re here at SXSW, come find me (via Twitter or Sitby.us) and say hi. I’d love to meet you.