As part of our #WTDSpeakerStories, we spoke with Lade Tawak about the role that visibility has played in her speaker journey, the effect that’s had on her career and how she overcomes unrealistic expectations of perfection in speaking.
In our Women Talk Design Speaker Stories series, we’re interviewing a Women Talk Design speaker every week about their journeys and experiences. We talk to speakers who are just getting started, speakers who have had their fair share of speaking mishaps, speakers writing books, and speakers curating events. At the end, we offer an opportunity for folks from the WTD community to ask their own questions and connect with each other. Visit our events page for more information about the series and RSVP for our next event.
Lade Tawak is a Writer, Speaker, and Experience & Service Designer using research, strategy, and facilitation skills to help businesses better understand people and problems so they can create useful and usable products and services as well as delightful experiences. She’s passionate about developing people and communities and is also a Career Coach, helping people figure out and achieve their career and life goals through action-based coaching.
On what motivates her to speak
Discussing why she speaks and topics that interest her, Lade talked about how her own experiences in tech informs her talks and why she encourages others to find their path.
“I really like talking about alternative paths to a career in tech because I feel that most people feel like they have to learn how to code to work in tech and I like to disabuse [them] of that notion. I tried to learn how to code but I didn’t enjoy it. And if that was my only understanding of what it would be like to work in tech then I wouldn’t have ended up working in tech. So my 2020 agenda was to get everybody to know that they didn’t have to learn how to code to work in tech.”
“I generally encourage people to try everything out and see if they like it and if it works for them. But the point is that there’s so many things that you could do [that] people may not be aware of and then because they’re not aware, they’re missing out on opportunities.”
On the importance of self-promotion, visibility, and finding your platform
Lade also highlighted visibility and self-promotion as both an important tool for speaking as well as a beneficial effect of it.
“Most people don’t like to self-promote and they don’t know how to self-promote. People feel like it’s icky and cringy and gross and weird to self-promote. So I encourage people to talk about themselves and about their work and explain why it’s important. In my journey, I didn’t start out exclusively trying to self-promote and be visible but [the] things I did and the way they made me visible have basically led 90% of the approaches that I have gotten. So I encourage people to self-promote and be visible.”
Talking about visibility, Lade said it’s important to start where you are and find the medium that works for you – and that can come in different forms.
“Being visible is starting from where you are and what you know and what you like. So for me it started with writing. I started writing articles and writing my thoughts on things. You already write in some way – you can do a Twitter thread or you can write an article. Or, if you’re comfortable on video, you can do Instagram lives. Just find your platform, find things that you like and use that as a way to share your knowledge and your experiences.”
“Be okay to start small – don’t expect that your first article is going to get 100,000 likes on Medium. You can aim for that but don’t be disappointed if that doesn’t happen and just keep going because you don’t know where your one thread or your one Instagram Live video or your one article will get to and who will see it and what opportunities will come up.”
“You can [also] reuse what you have. I’ve given this Alternate Paths to Tech talk five six times in the past two years and every time, people love it. For writing you can take an article that you’ve written and make it into a talk, and take a talk that you’ve given and make it into an article or into a Twitter thread or do a short Instagram Live session. Experiment with various things and don’t feel like you have to do something a certain way because someone else did it that way.”
“Finally, I think collaborating with people is an amazing way to put yourself out there and be visible. If you know someone who organizes a meetup, you can pitch in and offer to give a talk. For a lot of meetups, especially small community talks, it’s very hard for them to find speakers.”
Lade also underscored the unique perspective each individual has and how important it is to share your message.
“Another concept that people have is that, “Oh, I’m not saying anything new,” or, “Somebody else has said that.” Because you’re the one giving that talk or writing that article, there’s a unique perspective that you have that other people might not have and when you don’t share that, you’re depriving people of your unique perspective. An example I use all the time is if you google something like, “How do you strike through text in Google Docs?” you see thousands of articles on something that is literally just two steps. And so you can also put your voice out there.”
“Sometimes the content is not what matters to some people, it’s who is saying it to them, and maybe you’re the person that somebody needs to hear.”
On getting started as a speaker
Lade talked about her early experiences with speaking and the way she was able to overcome her nerves.
“I worked at a company that hosted meetups and at some point my manager, who was also the organizer of the meetup, said, ‘Lade, you have to give a talk.’ I was freaking out because I had given talks before but mostly as an undergrad to my colleagues and doing CV workshops for very small groups of people that I knew from school. And so, even though I knew a lot of people in that community as well, it was still a different topic, a different atmosphere, and it was nerve-wracking.”
For getting over nerves, Lade recommended practice, practice, practice.
“If I remember well, my talk was about UX research – what it was and how to do it. And my voice was shaky in the beginning but as I went on, I became more comfortable and I engaged with the audience.’
“But the more that you do it, the less that you are afraid or nervous. You can even start with your company in-house if you’re in an organization that has learning sessions, you can take a learning session as an opportunity to practice giving a talk. From my own experience or from other people I know, the more you talk, the more you give talks, the more you practice your talks, the less nervous you are.”
She also discussed how she’s worked with friends to test her talks and gather feedback.
“I know a couple of events have these opportunities for first timers to give a five minute talk. Or organize a talk thing with your friends. So there’s a game that I used to play with some of my friends where everybody has to do a three minute presentation on something. So you don’t have to wait for events – call up a couple of friends and present something to each other for three minutes or five minutes.”
On overcoming the fear of saying I don’t know
In the beginning, Lade says her biggest concern was not knowing the answer to a question. But she talked about how she learned to overcome that anxiety and the need for perfection.
“[In the beginning] I was mostly concerned about somebody asking me a question that I didn’t know the answer to. I was pretty early in my career then and I thought if people ask you something and you don’t know, they look at you like you don’t know anything just because you didn’t know that one thing. So it was a very scary feeling.”
“I got to a point where [I realized] it’s ridiculous for people to expect me to know everything, even everything about what I do. There’s so much that comes out every day that I can’t know. So I [decided] this is a ridiculous expectation and even if people are forcing it on me I can’t force it on myself as well.”
“I’ve overcome that need to feel like I know [all] the answers. [I can say] ‘Well, I actually don’t know but we can look at it together and we can try to [connect] the dots together.’ Or if I know somebody who might know, I can send [them] to [that] person. Or I can say, ‘Okay, I will look it up and let you know afterwards.’ [But] I also don’t like doing that because why can’t you look it up? Why is it my responsibility? It’s just weird to me. And so that’s how I [decided] I can’t put ridiculous expectations on myself to know everything.”
On how she finds and selecting speaking engagements
Lade said she believes in putting yourself out there to gain visibility and bring speaking opportunities in.
“Sometimes I reach out to people, sometimes people reach out to me. And to be honest, most of the time I reach out to people, I don’t get a positive response. When I reach out to people, I have a 20% success rate.”
“But when it comes to people who reach out to me, it’s usually [because] I gave a talk somewhere before. Or I wrote an article that they read and they want me to come and give a talk around the article. Or they attended a workshop that I gave and they want me to come and give a talk. Or they watched a talk I gave previously and want me to come and give it in their own community or in their own space. Or they’re just like, ‘Okay, we like you and want you to come and give a talk on anything.’”
For selecting speaking engagements, Lade pointed out her key considerations but attributed selection to feelings more so than process.
“I don’t really have a science or decision metrics on how I choose what to accept or not. Sometimes it’s an instinct that I have.”
“The thing I first consider is my schedule – do I have the time at all? If I don’t have time, it’s a no. If it’s a reoccurring event, then if I’m not available for the one that they invited me to, [I can say] I’m not available for this one but in two months I will be available.”
“I also think about who the audience [is]. I think about what I [would] get from it. A lot of that time, we’re trying to, give, give, give, but sometimes I want to get something out of it. And more often than not, it’s not cash because I mostly speak at community events that are not paid. So it’s who are the people we are speaking to, what opportunities can come out of this, can it get me more speaking engagements, or can it get me work?
“So like there’s no actual, ‘If this then Yes, if that then No.’ It’s just how I feel at the time, where I am and what resources I have.”
On developing her talks
When discussing her process for developing talks, Lade said her inspiration tends to come from her experiences interacting with others.
“I honestly don’t have a lot of processes. Most of my talks and most of the things I write come out of questions that people ask me. If I’m answering a question a lot, I think, ‘Okay, I should probably do a talk or article about this so I can send it to people when they ask me.’”
“Maybe I work on something [and] there’s a lesson I learned or something I think that more people should know about based off of the experience that I had – that’s another source where my ideas come from. Sometimes my talks are based on articles that I have written, so I just reuse content.”
“Whether I’m giving a talk or writing an article I always start with an outline. I outline the bullet points of the thoughts as they come to me and then I like to let my article or talks sit for a bit – sometimes for three months, sometimes it can be one day. And then I do some more research if I feel like there are things I’m not seeing. I research what other people have said and see what new things I’m saying, and so on.”
“When it comes to actually doing the talk, I do my slides either in Google Slides or Canva and then I practice with my friends and my partner and they give me feedback. Then I change things – maybe the order doesn’t flow so well or the structure isn’t great so I make it flow better. When I do physical talks, I usually have a friend come with and take notes about what I did right and what I did wrong or what I could do better.”
On her advice for new speakers
Finally, Lade talked about the best advice she’s received and what she would pass on to new speakers.
“The best advice I received is to always ask for the speaker budget. [There were] a number of times where I didn’t ask and then I found out that somebody else had gotten a speaker fee. So always ask for the money. The worst that happens is they say no, they don’t have a budget and then you can decide if you’re going to go ahead and do it or not.”
“[And] just reach out [to organizers]. Even if they already have somebody this month or next month, somebody might cancel and they’ll need to fill it quickly. Always reach out because they’re always looking for speakers.”
For more on how Lade deals with potential speaking disasters, her thoughts on virtual speaking events, and the impact speaking has had on her career, check out the full talk below.
Thank you to AdobeXD for sponsoring this event series!