A new Smashing talk. A smashing new experience.

I’m currently in Toronto, Canada, where I ran a workshop two days ago and gave a talk today at yet another SmashingConf event. Like all previous SmashingConfs, it was… well… smashing! But this one stood out for me so much that, for the first time ever, I found myself firing my code editor up to write this short and sweet conference review. I felt like I needed to save a part of this experience in written format. I’ve never written conference reviews before, so this goes to say a lot about how much I’ve enjoyed this event.

No Slides!

This was the first SmashingConf event with a new twist: all talks are performed live, with no slides allowed. All speakers (myself included, of course) shared a small part of their everyday workflow in what I would consider the most engaging talk format so far.

From an attendance point of view: I think this was the best conference learning experience.

I have a very, very short attention span when it comes to conference talks. I usually lose my focus and get distracted about 5 to 10 minutes sitting and listening through a talk. It’s something I’ve tried to “fix” about my brain, but never could. Sitting there and watching people just talk and move through tonnes of slides with images and text on them has never been appealing enough for my brain.

But seeing people do things is a whole other thing. It’s like getting a glimpse into their real everyday work lives, and learning from them first-hand, without any barriers. I personally learn more from watching people than I do from listening to them. And this is why I absolutely loved this conference experience.

From a speaking point of view: this was the most fun, least stressful of all my talks so far.

I’ve done a bit of live-coding in my talks before, and I’ve felt more “at home” during those live coding sessions than all the rest of my speaking. There’s something about getting my hands busy on stage that distracts my brain enough to not even have a chance to wreck my nerves like it usually does.

I usually get very, very nervous before my talks. And no, it never got easier over time. If anything, it felt more like it was getting worse every time. Actually, ”nervous” is a very understated way to describe my situation before I speak. I get heart palpitations; I feel extremely dehydrated; and I feel very dizzy (sometimes I worry I might actually faint).

Maybe it’s because expectations start building up the more you speak, and you find yourself competing with your past self to do better every time. This is generally good for self growth, but expectations are very nerve-wrecking.

But this time… this time it was different! I think it may be because this talk format was, in essence, very similar to a workshop format. And having given many workshops in the last few years, it’s become kind of a second nature for me to do things live in front of people. Maybe? I don’t know.

I felt almost zero nervousness. I was too busy getting things done to feel nervous.

For me, showing people how to do things is so much easier than talking about it. Even though I sound like I got it all together, speaking in English is not as effortless as it may sound to me, and translating ideas that are runnig through your brain at the speed of light live is not easy. So working through concepts and techniques instead of talking about them was much more liberating for me.

I love the fact that this talk format also kind of rid me of the expectation that it needed to be flawless. Every speaker knows that doing things live on stage comes with a risk of failure. But since all speakers were in this together, it kind of helped relieve some of the pressure, and so instead of fretting over moments were they get stuck on stage, I saw speakers like Harry Roberts embrace these moments as a natural part of this talk format and even make fun of those moments, again adding more humor to an already interesting and engaging talk.

But it isn’t for everyone…

I believe some attendees and some speakers were not very fond of this format. And that’s okay. Everyone learns and teaches in different ways, and I think it’s good to try new things out and learn more about what works for us and what doesn’t.

There were great people. And I had enlightening conversations.

I met some friends I’d only known over the internet for the last few years. I’ve re-met and had formidable conversations with wonderful friends and acquaintances, many of which were truly, truly life-changingly inspiring! (Believe me, this is not something I would say lightly.)

I saw some of my previous workshop attendees, who shared updates on how what they learnt in the workshop is currently helping them in their everyday work. It was very rewarding to hear this.

And then there’s the humbling fact that I shared the stage with some of my favorite people in the industry. It was truly great.

Toronto is beautiful!

Toronto is like a downsized, saner and more liveable version of NYC. And I love NYC. Toronto is kind of like the better version of it. I’m very much enjoying the city so far, and I look forward to a few more days here and more updates I’m going to share in another post next week.

While I’m here, I’m sharing my view of the city on my Instagram, where I’ve already posted quite a bunch of photos, if you’re into that kinda thing.

I would definitely do it again.

I do want to give slideless talks again. It could be at another SmashingConf, and it could be anywhere else. I think that, for my kind of talks, there’s much more value in demonstrating things live than there is in theoretical talks that don’t include practice. So I see this format as an improvement to the “normal” format for my talks. Of course, the live format wouldn’t be ideal for all my upcoming talks, and that’s also okay.

Smashing is smashing.

SmashingConf is one my favorite events, and the SmashingConf team and crew have become more like family over the years. I’m really happy I got to be a part of this particular event. Kudos and many thanks to Vitaly, Markus, Amanda and everybody else in the team that made this event possible, and for pushing the boundaries once again and challenging us to get out of our comfort zones. If you ever get a chance to attend a SmashingConf, I would recommend not missing it.

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