Uncomfortably Comfortable

Company Meetings

For the past couple of years, the company I work at have an annual conference in which they do presentations, team building events and an opportunity to socialise and network with the rest of the company. Every company has these types of events – you know the score – the CxO's outlining their strategies, or new initiatives for the following year, with some drinks throughout to make it more bearable, and some awards to recognise and promote “good work”. It's all stock stuff.

Now, some people love these events – from the initial “getting dressed up”, to the opportunity to pout the lips in every selfie with various other members of the different (usually customer facing) teams. These are the staff that even if there is a table plan, somehow, they all manage to sit together in their “clicky groups” looking down on the rest of the company. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the standard techie who doesn't like/do/have the confidence or upfront attitude of sales and commercial teams. In general, they would rather just get on with their work elsewhere with their headphones on doing what they are paid to do. Socialising with the commercial teams and other “loud” teams does not interest them – in fact, it repulses them. On the table plan, HR try and mix up the people so that they get to know others, which usually involves putting a complete introverted techie amongst a few commercial extroverts. Both sides hate this idea – extroverts say, “X is so quiet” and introvert techies quietly fiddle with their phone counting down the minutes until finish time.

In case it's not clear – I'm most definitely in the introvert camp.

“Please reserve this date”

This year our company is 10 years old, and therefore the company conference\meeting was due to be bigger and better than others. Two years ago, the company was quite small and thus these conferences could be held in the local area, however due to their size and requirements for the conference, they had to look further afield, and in a different county entirely.

Invites were sent out months ahead to ensure that everyone could attend, and on the meeting invite, it even said mandatory (although there was some debate over how mandatory it was). Argh! As one of those introvert techie's I highlighted above, the dread was already setting in as I contemplated how painful this would\could be, amplified by the fact it was over an hour away's drive with everyone in the company, which was now considerably larger than the previous one. The company were also offering free hotel accommodation for that evening, so that everyone could have a good time and not worry about getting home same night. Very thoughtful and generous, however, in the style of “Dragon's Den” – I'm out. I like to go to bed approx. 10.30pm and sleep in my own bed and home wherever possible, and ideally being woken up at 5am by a cat sitting on my head wanting breakfast.

I'm in middle management, and I'm in a technical role (Cloud Engineering), so it was clearly important that I attend. Fine – I'll put my dread to one side – it is just attending – how hard can that be?

Approximate two weeks before the event, the Operations Manager came to me asking for help with their project. They wanted to know what I'm doing in my team that supports the running of the business. We work closely together, as my team provide some 3rd line technical support for the operations team occasionally, so I was happy to help. I explained some of the initiatives we are doing, how they align with the company goals and objectives.

I have no idea what happened at this point, but I stupidly (at the time) said “if you want, I'll talk about my department at the conference?” Why oh why did I say that? I reflected on this over the past couple of weeks and I think subconsciously I wanted to improve my profile within the company, however I was now not looking to this event even more! In those two weeks before the event, I created a 5-minute presentation on some of those departmental initiatives and did everything I could to make it engaging using analogies and metaphors. The instructions for the presentation time from Senior management was to “make it short and snappy”. I guess these instructions were provided as there is thought that Operations and Cloud Engineering is a somewhat dull subject, and those commercial teams won't be interested? 🤔

Conference Day

I use a Garmin watch mostly for my running and cycling activity tracking, but it also has a useful feature called Stress Tracking. Garmin state that this uses a combination of Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability to understand your body's natural response to the challenges of life and environment.

Here is a snapshot of my stress on a day where I am in the office:

Good day of stress

You can see some exercise in the morning, the cycle ride to the office and then some high stress. This appears to be common after exercise, however what's key is for the morning I was just sitting at my desk doing my work. Lunchtime came, had a quick walk and a couple of meetings in the afternoon. I've noticed stress is quite high in meetings when I'm participating. However, you can see it does reduce as the afternoon progresses before my cycle ride back home.

In stark contrast, here is the day of the conference:

Conference Day

Let's go through some key times of the day:

8.57am: You can see a very faint blue bar (stress was at 25) which is when me and my colleague stopped for coffee so we wouldn't arrive at the location too early. Interestingly and somewhat amusing, we bumped into two other people from the Development Team who said “we thought we'd get a coffee so we can reduce the need for the awkward small talk” or words to that effect!

9.42am: The Operations Manager found me and told me of the stage that was in the conference room. Stress was at 72.

10am: The start of the actual conference. At this time, I was just sitting down listening to the first presentation. There was no reason that I could see for my stress level to be so high, apart from pure anxiety. An agenda was on the screen – my slot was after lunch (approx. 1.30pm. Stress was now at 78.

Here is stress zoomed in from 8am to 1pm:

8am-1pm Conference Day Stress

As I sat listening to the first set of presentations, you can see my stress However, I started to panic more and more. All the speakers where using a microphone, they knew all their words and presentation!

12:42pm: This was just during lunch, and the stress level was at 90!

1pm: A very slow walk around the grounds and a phone call back to my wife to try and calm me down.

Here is 1pm until 7pm:

1pm to 7pm Conference Day Stress

1.21pm: Sitting back down in my chair. Stress was now 97. At this point, it’s also worth noting that drinking alcohol can increase heart rate, and thus elevate stress readings. I did not have any alcohol on this day until 4pm.

1:33pm: My actual presentation, which I'll go into in the below section. Stress was at 96 and reduced down to 74 just shortly after I had finished. I cannot explain why it shot up just shortly afterwards though! I think the adrenaline was still pumping.

3pm: Break: Stress at 65

7pm: Home: Stress at 60.

Note: You will notice some high stress in the evening until midnight. This is because I had a few strong Belgium Beers. My stress level is not “stress” as such!

The Presentation

As I mentioned, all the other presenters were using a microphone. I've never used a microphone before, and certainly not to deliver a speech to over 150 people in a single room! This single element of using a microphone was probably a key part of my anxiety and stress. Let me explain...

When I prepare notes for talking or interview assessments, I write the full question or statement down – I don't summarise it with bullet points. When preparing my presentation, I put all my notes in a markdown file on my phone. At the time, I thought I was being clever so I could hold my phone at the conference and read from it. However, it was not meant to be...

I had to hold the microphone and talk into it, but not only that – I was given a clicker to change the slides over. So now, I have a microphone in one hand, clicker in the other – what about my notes where do these go? You may well ask (and rightly so) why did I not put my notes in the PowerPoint presentation and read them from the laptop? Well yes, I could have, however I don't like spoiling the surprise to those that may see my presentation before it's delivered, such as my line manager. I like to surprise, and especially as my slide deck didn’t contain many words – it was mainly AI generated images relating to my subject matter.

I got up to the stage, rested my phone on the laptop (after switching off the screen timeout!), and nervously held the microphone to my chest. The other speakers in the morning all had audio issues, and I was told this was because they were accidently pressing the mute button on the mic. So, I held it at the bottom, away from this mute button and off I went. Shaking.

I have no idea if the microphone was working at the distance that I was holding it at, nobody said anything (which they did to others) but I kept it still in the hope that I was picking up my voice so that those at the back could hear me. Throughout the presentation my hands were shaking. I tried to read my notes from my phone but I got lost in them – there was too much detail written down – I really should have done bullet points! When talking about an important element that I was keen for the company to hear, I missed off various information. I finished the presentation with a little “blowing of my trumpet” – which I felt uncomfortable doing, however all those extroverts in the commercial teams? They probably do this all the time! Meh... it's my time and I'm going to big myself up! 💪


At the next break a few people came and talked to me congratulating me on my presentation. This was really nice and did surprise me – I think they knew that it wasn't my “bag” or favourite thing to do. A close colleague that I've worked with for many years congratulated me, and when I told him how nervous I was and how I was shaking up on that stage, He said he couldn't tell, and I came across very well.

Another colleague I've known for many years by her own words admitted before the conference day that all presentations would be dull and dry, including mine and not to take offence by it. (She does have ADHD and also clearly admits that she struggles with focusing during these events). However, she said my presentation was the best so far, and it was my tone of voice and how I compared my subject matter to something the audience could understand. I was well chuffed with this! However, as you can see in stress charts, I was still wound up!


After the last presentations had finished, the final “official” segment of the day was the Company Awards. These are awards for people who have made an impact, or long service. As part of the awards, there is always the “People's Choice” award. This is voted for purely by everyone in the company, during the conference. The management explained that rather than voting for someone from all 150+ people, they have shortened the list down to approximately 20 people who they think have made significant effort\impact\awareness\something to the company, and we were to vote from this list. Well, you can probably guess where I'm going with this... my name was on this list much to my surprise, and even more surprise was had when my name was read out! 😁

This was fantastic! I've never been voted for an award in my entire career! I don't know why I won, maybe it was that my presentation wasn't as dry as the others, maybe it was genuinely that I am doing a good job within the company – I have no idea! However, this is a bonus to the day, and allowed me to sit back with a strong sense of pride and satisfaction. Winning the “People's Choice” award rewarded me with a monetary voucher to reduce the cost of any holiday. Perfect timing ready for summer!


The primary reason for writing this here was purely selfish – so I can remember the day, but the secondary reason is to explain to you and I that temporarily being uncomfortable can actually improve your state of comfortableness.

The whole day was awkward for me from the minute I got in the car to get to the event, to the moment I stepped back into my house at the end of the day. However, after a night’s sleep I realised that by doing this, by promoting my profile within the company I'm now more visible and also more recognised. Yes, of course, I'll still be nervous doing public speaking in crowds larger than 10 people, however it will be slightly easier next time, and the time after that.

Practice may not make perfect, but it does make it more manageable and familiar. Perhaps next time I'll be more prepared with my notes and put them in PowerPoint, or write them as bullet points? I'll let you know... 😎

#reflection #worklife #stress