My First Lightning Talk – Jessica Hall

My First Lightning Talk – Jessica Hall

Jessica Hall blogs about her experience at BOS USA 2017 where she gave her first terrifying talk – find out how she survived the experience!

Thanks, Jessica for sharing your speaking premiere!

I did my very first lightning talk at the Business of Software USA 2016 conference. It was the most intense and terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my professional life and I’m so glad I did it. Thankfully it was in front of one of the warmest, most welcoming and sharp audiences I’ve ever encountered.

Creating and submitting an abstract

The deadline had just passed when I discovered the request for proposals but I contacted them and they let me submit. I had just a few hours to put something together so I wrote a quick idea about something we’ve been spending a few months intensely focused on. We’ve been spending the last few months fixing teams that were struggling at the start and trough our trials and tribulations, we’ve learned what works and we’ve turned things around.

Here is the video I submitted:

Writing the script

My lightning talk needed to be seven minutes and 30 seconds with a 15 slide deck with each slide lasting 30 seconds.

Early in my career I was video producer and learned to break down the total running time into blocks for each major point I wanted to make. So I created a three column script with the time, dialogue, and thoughts about imagery. This helped me work through a lot of ideas and different lines of dialog. I probably did five or six versions of the script. My first version of everything is usually crap.

Practicing, tweaking and restructuring 

My colleague Jeff made me practice even though I was not feeling ready. He was so right to do that. I tried it a few more times and it felt clunky. I was reading a book on public speaking that talked about doing things in threes and I completely restructured the talk around three things instead of five.

When I practiced the restructured talk for my husband I knew it was better before he said a word. For the next few days, I practiced a few times a day, playing with different ideas and during the conference I started to incorporate things I was hearing from other speakers. Eventually my script was abandoned since I no longer needed it. I was starting to feel better despite being intimidated about the quality of the other speakers on stage.

For me working through it and playing with the timing and lines was exactly what I needed to do. Every time it was a bit different and a bit better. I started to feel like I could flow with it and it would be OK. This was enormously helpful when I started to talk about canvases and Ash Mayura was sitting a few feet away from me.

Trying to breathe

Poornima Vijayashanker told me earlier in the day that I needed to tell my story, power pose and breathe.   Poornima has a great wrote a great blog post about the benefits of giving lightning talks. I’m very grateful for the her encouragement along with kind words from Jeff Geothelf and Joshua Seiden.

As I waited for them to put on my mic and for my turn. I just tried to breathe. I was terrified. When Mark called me down, I put every bit of bravado I had into joking with the crowd so I wouldn’t sound scared saying “breathe, power pose, let’s do this.”

I don’t remember what I said after that.


After the talk, I climbed the stairs struggling to catch my breath as if I just finished a race. They were worried about me and tried to get me to drink some water.

I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment. It’s a great format to really force you to be very deliberate and focused with your message.

Since this experience my writing, decks and communications have been shorter, more focused. I’m better at crafting and telling stories. The experience and learning was well worth the work and anxiety.

Thank you Joe and Mark for giving me this opportunity and for all of your support!

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