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My experience talking at CSS Day 2024

So, it’s been a minute (or like, 3 years...) since I last posted something here, and it probably will be a while before I post again to be honest, but this post turned out to be way to long to include as the introduction to my newsletter, so I broke it off here.

Or actually, this will be one of two posts before things go dormant again. This was going to be one big post that I’m going to break up into two parts, both of them about my recent experience at CSS Day 2024.

This post is going to be about my experience speaking at it, and I’ll have a follow-up at one point about my experience attending it as well.

I was planning on working my way up to speaking at CSS Day

CSS Day was the conference that, every year it would happen, I’d have major FOMO in not being there.

About 18 months ago I’d decided that I was going to start trying to land some speaking gigs, and part of my motivation for that was to work my way up to maybe, possibly, one day, speaking at CSS Day.

Instead of working my way up to it, it turned out to be my first main stage talk!

I took the following picture just before going on stage, as I was thinking that’s a lot of people.

A fully packed crowd

I probably shouldn’t have been thinking about that, but it was hard not to be as I looked out as I waited to go on stage!

I have experience talking in front of groups. I used to teach in the classroom, but takling in front of ~30 people is very different from ~320+!

Some people have told me they find large stages easier than small ones, but, at I’d had years of experience with small groups, so I was used to that, and not this.

It doesn’t help that many of the people in the crowd were the people I learned everything I know about CSS from!

Giving the talk

When the MC for the day, Miriam Suzanne (who is one of those people I’ve learned a lot from), introduced me and I walked up on stage, I opened things up with a “Hello my front-end friends”.

I had been flip-flopping on whether or not to open with that, but based on the audience reaction, as well as the comments people gave me afterwards, it was definitely the right call!

View from behind the stage as I'm starting my talk, with the full crowd in front of me

Looking back, I wish I’d been a little more enthusiastic with it, but at that point I was so nervous I was was lucky to get it out at all.

I’d spent a lot of time practicing my talk (and tweaking it until 20 minutes before I went on stage 😅), so I knew once I started I was going to be okay, but starting wasn’t so easy, and even once I did, it took a good minute or two to get past my nerves.

I had a clicker in my hand to change slides, and the first time I clicked it, I realized how much my hand was shaking.

I think realizing that my hand was shaking so much also made me realize I wasn’t breathing, so taking in a deep breath defintely helped!

Once I got past those first few slides and got into the flow of it, I started feeling a lot better.

Me, on stage, giving my talk

Maybe I should have kept things simpler

Things were going pretty well, but I did have two things planned in my talk that I wasn’t so sure were good ideas:

I’m not a witty or clever type of person, and I’ve seen first-hand how jokes can fall flat on the stage, so I originally was going to make sure not to include any jokes in my talk.

But as I worked on the talk, there were a few spots that I felt like I could sneak in some light-hearted comments.

None of them were going to bring the house down, so I felt like even if they fell flat, it would be easy enough to keep on rolling without it bothering me, but it did feel good when the crowd reacted to them with some chuckles.

Live coding

Then we got to the live coding.

I’d purposefully wanted to have some live demos, because that’s what I’m comfortable with. It’s what I do all day long, talking through things as I code.

The closer it came to the talk though, the more unsure I was that this was a good idea.

Every single article you’ll read online says for tech conferences, not to live code.

Before my talk, whenever I’d mention I had some live coding in my talk, the eyes of the person I was talking with would open a little wider, as if to say “oh, wow, are you sure you want to do that”?

When I’d explain that it’s more of my comfort zone, they’d nod along in the least convincing way possible.

It didn’t seem to matter when I’d explain that it was all small things I’d be doing, just tweaking some code I already had and adding a few lines here and there, just more very not-convincing “yeah, it’ll be great”!

After two days of that type of reaction, those doubts about whether or not that was a good idea continued to grow.

Then the first day of the conference came and went.

None of the talks over the first day had any live coding, even though many people on stage were very experienced speakers.

Clearly, if experienced speakers are avoiding it, I probably should to!

Instead, after a lovely dinner after the first day of the conference, I went back to my slides and practiced all the live coding bits over and over, staying up later than I should have to make sure I was ready and it would all go without an issue.

It started off well…

So, when the live coding portion of my talk came up, and the first few bits went super well!

I’d purposefully removed some earlier parts of my talk to get to that live coding earlier, because, as I said earlier, that’s what I know, and I felt like if I could get to that, if I was feeling nervous, it would help me get more into the flow of things, and I think it did.

Until it didn’t 😆.

The demo that would involve the most actual coding came up, and while it started off well, when I got to the cool part, it didn’t work.

I’d actually broke this demo a couple of times previously, and I started panicking that in my late-night practicing the night before I’d broken it again.

All the “damn, they were right, I shouldn’t have done this!” came flooding over me.

And then someone from the audience helpfully let me know I forgot to remove a <div>.

Every single time I practiced that demo, I’d comment out that div.

I must have done it 100 times, always the same way, and always without issue.

This time, live on stage, for some reason, I decided to remove the class from it instead 🤦.

But then I removed it, everything worked.

From there on out, everything went great.

It was probably less than 30-seconds in total, but it definetly wasn’t the best feeling in the world at the time!

But yeah, the rest of the talk went as planned, I managed to finish it within my allotted time, and, from what people have told me, they really enjoyed it.

I’m sure I can improve on how I did, but I’m not sure if I want to watch the replay of it once they put it up. I hate watching myself!

I might send it to others to get feedback from, because as nervous as I was the entire time leading up to it, and despite the small flub with the live coding, I really enjoyed it a lot.

I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot of talking in the future, but I’d be happy with an event or two every year.

Oh, that that mistake during the live coding? It might have actually been a positive.

Someone was telling me during one of the breaks that the person sitting next to them was a teacher, and when she saw me make the mistake, she said something about how it made her feel better knowing she wasn’t the only one who does that type of thing, and that even people who get invited to speak on stages do the same too.

And I do think that’s one of the best thing with live coding in general.

As great as polished talks or nicely produced YouTube videos are, it’s always nice seeing other people also make mistakes, and often how they fix them when they come up, though it does help when you have an audience who can point it out for you 😆.

So yeah, it was a nerve wracking, but overall very positive experience, and I want to say a huge thank you to the other speakers for all their advice and words of encouragement in the days leading up to my talk.

I’m still having some trouble believing that not only did I get to attend a CSS Day, but I was one of the people on the stage 🤯.

And speaking of attending it, I will write another post on that in the coming week or so, because I think that deserves it’s own write up.