Your Audience Wants You To Win

While battling nerves before my first tech talk, my CEO shared a valuable lesson: your audience always wants you to win. This insight transformed my approach to public speaking, helping to turn anxiety into confidence.


This may seem familiar.

You’re about to give your first tech talk. Maybe it’s not even your first talk, but you still get those same feelings of butterflies, anxiety, and maybe even outright fear. Heck, maybe it’s not even a talk. Perhaps you’re about to play your well-rehearsed cover of "Wonderwall" at the local open mic night or present a new technology initiative to your team or adjacent teams at your organization.

It can be a little scary, right?

The Talk

I gave my first tech talk, which was also my first time speaking in public since delivering a small "sermon" for my even smaller church during a Wednesday night youth service.

The event was organized and sponsored by my then-current company, Vincit USA, and called "Vincit Dev Talks." This regularly occurring event featured speakers, sometimes company employees and other times external guests, who gathered for casual evenings of sharing code, ideas, and networking. Our CEO asked if I would be interested in giving a talk because the steering group was impressed with a presentation I had given on accessibility during our internal monthly "Lunch and Learn." This event involved the company buying everyone lunch while someone gave a 45-60 minute presentation on an exciting technical topic.

I was nervous. Honestly, "nervous" is an understatement. I was so anxious that I even tried to skip the company lunch at a local Irvine ramen joint because I couldn't eat. They convinced me to come to lunch anyway, and no one made fun of the little southern boy who didn’t know how to order ramen correctly.

My topic, by the way, was "Hot Talks About Automated Testing".

Everyone Wants You To Win

Back the office, my CEO Ville Houttu

Back at the office, my CEO, Ville Houttu, sat down to chat with me about the talk. I shared that I was very nervous, had gone over my presentation multiple times, but still felt a little unprepared. I was also uncertain because, at the last minute, I decided not to use busy slides with different code examples. Instead, I opted for very plain slides to guide the conversation, allowing the audience to focus on my words and ensuring I didn’t lose the attention of any non-developers in the room.

Ville, who was already experienced in public speaking, shared some extremely simple yet profound advice.

"Don't be nervous, every person sitting in the room wants you to win"

Since it was a company-organized event, several dozen of my coworkers would be in attendance. I knew they wanted me to succeed. However, this was also a public event. We heavily advertised it in a city with a large tech presence and booked the event at a local WeWork office, home to other tech companies. This meant my audience would include not only friends and coworkers but also strangers.

I asked Ville, "Most of the people there don’t even know who I am, right?" In hindsight, I realize I was looking for an escape hatch or some kind of rationalization to justify my ongoing anxiety.

"Those people also want you to win", he stated.

He went on to remind me that nobody attends a talk—whether a large-scale conference like Render ATL or a smaller event like Vincit Dev Talks—hoping for a boring or uninspiring experience. While everyone has different motivations and expectations, they all want value for their time. Whether it's learning something new, being entertained, or gaining insight, they want you to succeed because when you win, everyone wins.

This idea applies broadly. Nobody wants to buy a music CD and find it disappointing, eat at a restaurant with bad food, or hear an off-key band at a local dive bar. When people read a blog post, buy a conference ticket, or watch a video on YouTube, they seek quality content. They may not be personally invested in your life or career, but fundamentally, any audience wants you to succeed.

I still had some butterflies stepping up to speak, but I kept Ville's advice in mind. Within a few minutes, I found my rhythm and delivered what I wanted to share. While I didn’t receive a standing ovation, several people approached me after the event with questions and advice. Over the next few days, I received messages on LinkedIn, including one memorable person trying to land his first tech job. He had not only taken notes on my talk and the other presentations that evening but also prepared a list of questions he wanted to ask.

This alone made the experience—nerves, anxiety, and all—worth it.