Bibiana Nunes on why you need to practice and take it slow

As part of our #WTDSpeakerStories, we spoke with Margaret Lee about her journey as a public speaker and how she has used speaking as a way to find meaning in her career. She highlighted her own desire for authenticity, the importance of knowing your own comfort level, and the benefits of listening to yourself speak while preparing for a talk.

In our Women Talk Design Speaker Stories series, we’re interviewing Women Talk Design speakers 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.

Bibiana Nunes

Bibiana Nunes is a service designer and information architect with an engineering background. She has experience in coaching startups and more extensively in the retail industry. Bibiana creates holistic experiences to make people’s lives better, and make businesses profitable through great service and consistent communication. She translated Abby Covert’s “How To Make Sense Of Any Mess” into Spanish, and is the co-chair of the Information Architecture Conference for 2019 in Orlando.

On why she speaks and her first speaking engagement…

Bibiana discussed how she overcame the idea that she had nothing valuable to add with speaking and how, while she started to speak because she thought it would be validating, her experience taught her that she needs to share her voice and experience, regardless of how many others have already added to the conversation.

“I used to think that whatever knowledge I had acquired, someone else already knew, so there was no point in talking about it because I would add no value to the rest of the community. I would get shy around these thought leaders thinking, ‘Well, they’ve said everything already.’ I would come to learn that that’s not true but the first time I spoke, I did it because I wanted something in my CV to validate me, not because I thought people would find it valuable.”

“[For my first engagement,] I spoke at the IAS14 in San Diego. I applied, I had friends give me feedback on my talk submission, so that it was well written and communicated, and it got approved! IAS/IAC has always been a friendly environment to engage as a first time speaker. Everyone there wants to see you succeed and will support you throughout your journey to provide the conditions for success. Mentoring for your presentation, having a speaking coach, dusting off the awkwardness that it’s presenting for the first time.”

“People found it valuable! Then, my reasons for speaking changed. There’s always going to be someone that can take what you learned, apply it for themselves, and learn something new to share it again with someone else – a virtuous circle. That motivated me to talk about my learnings – that maybe someone out there will make use of them, and that each experience is unique and has value. Knowledge and experience are not limited to a group of people that we think of as ‘thought leaders.’”

“[Speaking] opened the path for me to teach and to believe that I have something valuable to say, to build confidence in myself.”

On the topics she is most interested in speaking about and finding engagements…

When talking about her current topics and how she finds engagements, Bibiana highlighted her process for evaluating the value she gets out of a talk and whether or not she says yes.

“Right now, I’m focused on qualitative research. I’ve been working with Indi Young for the past three years and I’ve learned how to develop empathy as a skill. It’s made me a better person for it. I think it’s important to understand people for what they are trying to accomplish, rather than treating them as “consumers”. This is what creates an environment of inclusion, and in turn, makes a business profitable. Who knew inclusion could be profitable?”

“Sometimes I apply for them [engagement], sometimes I get asked from friends that are organizing the event – It depends on the audience and the type of event. If the content is already prepared, I will usually say yes. If the event requires me to prepare content, then I will require a fee or some sort of compensation. If I applied for it knowing no cash payment will be made, then it’s because I get compensated in a different way – attending the event, learning from other people, connecting with people, having an opportunity to work with new people. I’ve been working as an independent consultant, and since then I evaluate the opportunity cost: will the time that I spend doing this cost me a paid project? Will it compensate me in a similar manner (even if it’s not cash)? So I do a little bit of math, and a little bit of ‘Does it feel right to invest this amount of time because it aligns with my goals of sharing this knowledge?’”

On her process for developing and practicing for a talk…

Bibiana talked about her process for developing talk, emphasizing the importance of practicing and bringing other in to provide feedback.

“I tend to get overwhelmed by the thought of developing a new talk. It seems like a daunting task that I put off until it’s no longer possible. It’s the fear of the unknown amount of work and topics. So, to overcome that, I try to write the main ideas – what is it that I’m trying to communicate, what’s my point, what do I want my audience to take home? What do I want them to do with it? Then that reduces the anxiety. I start developing each of those points and get feedback from peers to validate whether I’m getting the point across or not.”

“Then, for first time presentations, I make sure I write presenter notes in each slide. I’m not going to see them, but the exercise of writing them helps me articulate my thoughts so they will come easy when I’m actually presenting. Next, I practice at least once. The freedom of practicing without consequences of mistakes helps me dust off the things that are very clear in my head, but don’t come out of my mouth exactly how I thought them. Practicing in front of someone who you feel comfortable with and who will give you feedback increases the chances of you nailing your actual presentation. It’s not about committing to a script, it’s about being able to put into words what is already clear in your head so it’s understandable to the audience.”

She also talked about how presenting in another language comes with unique challenges.

“This is especially important when you’re presenting in a language that is not your own. I’m reminded of that meme of Modern Family when Gloria says “Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish?” It’s that same feeling. Articulating in another language takes a little bit more thought. You can’t just think on your feet because in the background, there’s this process happening of, “Ok, this is how I would say it in Spanish, now make sense of that in English.” And usually, a literal translation won’t convey the same meaning, so now you’re trying to adjust your translation into something that makes sense.”

“In time, I’ve developed my own thoughts in English and that has faded away a little bit, but I definitely think a lot faster in Spanish when trying to articulate a response to someone. This is when practice comes in handy. If you’re presenting in a second language, be kind to yourself – allow for mistakes and practice those parts that make you uncomfortable so your presentation has higher chances of success. Get someone native to coach you through it and smooth the rough edges, someone you trust and that you won’t feel judged by. But don’t skip over the practice part! No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, your future self will thank you for it.”

On how she’s dealt with speaking mishaps…

Whenever something has gone wrong during a presentation, Bibiana said she likes to focus on keeping the talk moving forward and not dwelling on mistakes. She pointed out that practicing your talk allows you to improvise when needed.

“I have recency bias here, so I tend to remember the most recent events. Yes, I’ve had the content not match correctly to the idea that I wanted to convey (because I overlooked it) and I needed to think on my feet, ‘Okay, what is it that I need to do right now to convey this idea, regardless of what’s showing on the screen?’ So be prepared to improvise and not dwell on what would have been better. I’ve used the zoom whiteboard as a quick way to improvise. It wasn’t ideal, but my students understood what I was trying to say.” 

“I focus on not dwelling on the mistake and moving on. As long as I get the point across, it doesn’t matter whether it was perfect or not. I haven’t had to deal with not having a slide deck to present with, but the idea remains the same – improvise. Practicing your own presentation will give you flexibility to improvise and not lose focus on the main objective.”

On her advice for new speakers…

Bibiana shared her number one piece of advice for new speakers – take your time – as well as her top piece of advice for herself – remember that your audience is on your side. 

“Take a breath. You can speak slowly and people will appreciate you for it. You don’t need to speak fast and rush through it (no matter how much you want  to get it over with). If you need a couple of seconds to articulate your thoughts or drink water, take them. Adam Polansky gave me this advice as I was preparing for my first talk in IAS14 and it helped me stay grounded. If it feels slow to you, then you’re speaking at the right pace.”

“And advice from myself: remember that the people watching you want you to succeed. No one wants you to fail. Remember that your audience is rooting for you.”

For more on how she runs workshops, her experience as an event organizer, and her future speaking goals, check out the full video below.

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