I work at Automattic, a distributed company, which means that my nearly 500 colleagues and I work from home, or wherever we may be in the world.
Our company meets in person once a year at our grand meetup, which is approaching in several weeks. (We’re always hiring, by the way.)
Typically, I have a bit of a freakout in these months before. There’s a tradition at the meetup in which everyone gives a short talk — a “flash talk” of up to four minutes — and can talk about or do anything they’d like. They sing. They talk about one of their side projects. They show photos from their last family vacation. They play a prerecorded video. They stand there in complete silence. You learn random, sometimes unexpected things about your coworkers, which is the best part, and the talks help to break the ice when you’re mingling in a room full of people you might know by name or avatar, but haven’t actually met.
I’ve become more laid-back and reserved as I’ve gotten older, especially among large gatherings like these, but over the years, I’ve been generally fine talking in front of an audience if I prepare in advance — and ultimately enjoy it. I can’t “wing it,” talk on the fly, and could never stand in front of people and just talk — if you know me, you know that’s probably my worst nightmare and I’d rather poke an eye out. To make it manageable for myself, I approach flash talks — and public speaking in general — as, well, blog posts. Drafting a four-minute talk is surprisingly challenging, but when viewing it as a spurt of writing, I know how to shape it. Still, it’s a bit stressful in the weeks before as I brainstorm ideas, and then subsequently think each idea is stupid and not good enough.
I also have this internal battle: Keep it simple. No, that’s boring. Keep it simple. No, you need to challenge yourself. Keep it simple. No, there are many people you haven’t met yet so this is your chance to introduce yourself. Keep it simple. No, you’re a perfectionist so make it fucking perfect.
After the usual back-and-forth I have with myself, I finally settled on a topic.
And so I now have a list of 11 abandoned flash talks, which now sit in Simplenote like my many half-ripe ideas and drafts in my dashboard. Some of the talks never got past the idea stage, while others were fully drafted — with completed Keynote slides, too — before I decided I hated them:
- The secrets of my family’s adobo recipes (my sister-in-law Stephanie adds a bit of coconut milk to hers, while my cousin Jacque makes the most incredible pork spare ribs)
- Wine tasting notes (a selection of wines I’ve liked and have described in ridiculous ways — “it’s what you’d wean baby vampires on”)
- The junk art and sculptures of Patrick Amiot around my town
- My personal collection of “stock images” — or my go-to images that I use again and again, like these:
- Things I like (an abridged version of this list)
- Things I’m scared of (I really liked this topic, but ultimately decided to avoid something negative — for the record, I’m terrified of snakes, black-bottom pools, and looking at mirrors in the dark, among other phobias)
- The playlist of my life thus far (10 albums representing defining years or moments, including Bel Biv DeVoe’s Poison (1990), Bjork’s Debut (1996), Urbal Beats, Vol. 1 (1997), and Sasha and Digweed’s Northern Exposure (East Coast Edition) (1998))
- 10 things about me
- My 10 all-time favorite travel photos
- 10 things about me, in snapshots (this talk combined the two previous ideas)
- Utah and Arizona via iPhone lens (which pretty much repurposed this)
It’s worth noting that my talk from last year, which you can watch below, was “Ten Topics I Considered For My Flash Talk” . . . so I suppose even list-making tendencies and indecisiveness can bear fruit.
I’d never thought to share my talks from previous years on my blog, and rarely post videos here in general, so here they are:
Making Shit Up: Lying in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction (2013)
On Home, Space, and a Tiny House (2014)
Ten Topics I Considered For My Flash Talk (2015)