The Long Haul of Public Speaking

Over the weekend, I had my head down, frantically trying to finish my presentation for Adaptive Path’s MX East Conference in the Philadelphia area. (I attended MX East on Monday and had a great time.)

I spoke to a friend that morning who was thinking about going to Brooklyn’s Red Hook ball fields — the borough’s increasingly not-so-secret stash of outdoor hawker stands selling some of the very best Latino food in the city. As it turned out, it was the last day of the season that the stands would be open, and I didn’t make it.

Around midday Sunday, I took Mister President for a walk and ran into some friends in the neighborhood, who invited me to go for lunch with them in Brooklyn’s DUMBO area; just a short walk from my apartment on an unseasonably beautiful day. I had to decline and hurry back to my desk to continue banging away in Keynote.

Then, while finishing up in Philadelphia on Monday evening, I got a text message from some friends inviting me out to drinks after work, which I naturally had to decline too, as my train wouldn’t arrive back in New York until very late.

I feel like I’m missing out on my life.

Missing in Action

As much as I really enjoy public speaking, as incredibly flattered as I am by every invitation, I’m growing increasingly unwilling to bear the travel and the time away from home, from friends and loved ones, from personal business, from my dog. And every talk requires so much preparation, so much research and practice and so many nights and weekends spent declining social opportunities that I seem to lose weeks for every hour I commit to speaking in front of audiences.

In no way do I intend to sound ungrateful for this particular lot in life. Unequivocally, I consider myself very lucky to have been offered the gigs that have come my way. I haven’t nearly the depth of experience in public speaking that many much more talented peers have, so every appearance is a new stage of growth for me. I learn something new and invaluable every time I give a talk, and and there’s a long way to go before I’ll feel jaded by the experience, if ever. And maybe I wouldn’t feel so exhausted if I hadn’t just come off a stretch of doing several talks in very short order. (Actually, there’s still at least one more to go next month.)

Mostly, I just wanted to reflect that all of these terrific opportunities are more demanding than I’d really anticipated when I first started eagerly accepting them. Next year, I think I need to cut back a bit, at least enough that I don’t miss so that I can spontaneously join my friends for food and drink more often.

  1. Seems like solid advice.

    I’m sure many people would love to be in the position of speaking at such great gigs. It’s good to keep in mind that everything in life comes with an associated cost that needs to be thoroughly considered.

  2. I have only spoken very few times and am just at the start of my career, so I don’t see it that way at all. I take them as vacations.

    I am spending this week in Seattle, at the behest of Refresh Seattle, tiny as it may be, so that I could also visit a city I’ve never been to before.

    It’s a great place!

  3. Perhaps you should consider the Al Gore approach: give the same talk for thirty years off and on. Possible title: Designing with Grids, for order and World Peace. Who knows? There might even be an Oscar Ў wating on the other end. Heck, a Nobel Prize.

  4. Yes, they are demanding. Yes, they are opportunities—as read in a positive light. Public speaking fulfills many personal and professional desires, and the biggest question you should be asking yourself is, “What is the honorarium they’re paying me and is it all worthwhile in the long haul?” I’m sure Al Gore suffers from the same issues you mention, but even he has standards: such as the $100,000 speaking fee.

  5. It’s interesting though – our industry is a time sink. Really, any creative industry seems to try as hard as it can to kill its workers, or drive them out by the time they’re 35. It’s way too common to work 60+ hour weeks in design/advertising shops, or at programming houses, or making video games – and those who have survived their breaking in period and ‘made it’ don’t seem to have it any easier: either they pick up responsibilities outside of work, get frustrated and start their own company, or simply have gotten so used to the long hours that it doesn’t hurt anymore.

    For the record, I left a job a year ago that had started giving me gray hair at 26. They were great people, capable of doing great work, but I had driven home at 9am after working for 24+ hours straight one too many times. It wasn’t worth the toll that late nights and weekends at the office were taking on my health, life, and marriage.

  6. Dan: I’m going to write down what you said there:

    Really, any creative industry seems to try as hard as it can to kill its workers, or drive them out by the time they’re 35.

    I think that’s very true, though maybe I can’t blame my travel fatigue on the industry as much as on myself.

  7. Pace yourself, Khoi. I wish I had the opportunity to go for more conferences, but I’m always a 20 hour flight away. In a sense it hinders and protects me.

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