Public Speaking and Long Distance Running

So, on March 20, I gave my talk at Ignite Charlotte 4. It went really, really well.

When I first found out that I had been selected to speak, I made the remark on Twitter, “Not sure which was crazier, deciding to run a half-marathon or deciding to give a talk about it.” I now see some interesting parallels between the two. I’ll write some more about running in another post (There’s a lot of stuff I couldn’t get to in my talk), but here, I want to talk about how much my Ignite talk and my half-marathon have in common.

Something that I didn’t specifically mention in my talk is that when I started running, it was the first time I ran in about 19 years. Well, the last time I did something that could be considered public speaking, it was about 18 years ago. In the Fall of 1992, my Sophomore year of college (at N.C. State…Go Wolfpack!), I took a class called PE 100, which was better known as “PE Run-hundred,” and when I finished that class, I stopped running. As a Junior in the Spring of 1994, I took a technical writing class where we had to do a couple of presentations in front of the class, which had about 30 people. After that class, I never had to do any presentation for more than 4 or 5 people until Tuesday night. So, given my previous running/speaking experience (or the complete lack thereof), both the talk and the race were a little bit crazy for someone like me.

On the day of the race, I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know if I would finish the race, and I didn’t know if I would finish in less than 3 hours. Before I gave my talk, I was pretty nervous (although one of the volunteers said I didn’t look nervous). I didn’t know if I would get through without blanking out, forgetting something, or falling behind the auto-advancing slides. Well, I finished the race in 2:49:35, and I finished my talk without any screw-ups. Now, I’ll have to watch the video once it’s posted (about 2 weeks from today) to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure there was only one line that I skipped: “If you’ve trained correctly, the actual race with be tough, but not as bad as you expect.” (And I skipped it partly because I wasn’t expecting to hear a few laughs when I said that hearing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” got me pumped up.) Replace “trained” with “practiced” and “race” with “talk” and it applies perfectly to my talk. Both the talk and the race ended up being more fun than I expected.

I must confess something, though. In my talk, I said that one of the most important things to remember on race day is to not change anything if you can help it. Yeah, I broke that rule, but I had a good reason. I wore a Tech-T with long sleeves that I ended up buying the day before the race, so obviously I had never run in it before. For all of my long training runs, it had been at least 45 degrees when I started. I can handle 45 degrees with a short-sleeved shirt. The forecast for race day fluctuated a lot the week before, but by the end of the week, it was looking like 35 degrees for the start, so I had to buy a new, warmer, shirt. And in my Ignite talk, I made a last second change on purpose. The way I wrote my talk, it started out with, “In June of last year…” For some reason, at the last minute, I was worried about taking more than 15 seconds to say what I needed to say on the first slide. So I started my actual talk with, “Last June…” Both changes worked out OK.

All in all, I think both training for and completing a half-marathon, and preparing for and giving an Ignite talk have more in common than you’d think. And I’m really glad I was able to do both.

1 Response to “Public Speaking and Long Distance Running”


  • Great Job on 13.1. Can you share your training plan? Best Advice is great running shoes and you know when the pair is correct.

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