Public speaking is like eating chillies

Public speaking can be a bit scary, but I truly believe that the benefits make it worth overcoming the initial fear. In this article, I try to express this feeling using a fun cooking metaphor.

# public speaking # community
Some chili peppers ans skeletons in a mexican drawing style


This past year, after some soul searching and a lot of nudging from some of the people around me, I finally took the big step and started giving public talks at tech conferences. I started small, first at a local meetup group, then in front of my coworkers via video call, and finally in person in front of real people.

In my clearly clickbait title, I compared this experience to eating chili peppers, which is one of the things I both love and fear most when I accidentally drop way too many chili flakes into a dish I just cooked. Why a culinary example? Well, for one thing, I like to cook, and for another, I’m Italian, so I guess it’s written somewhere in our constitution that it’s my civic duty to speak in food metaphors.

I think it’s an apt comparison: that first moment when you take that first bite of food, knowing full well that you’ve put way too much seasoning on it, but you eat it anyway. And after the initial pain of too much spice, you realize that all in all, the dish now has more flavor and more oomph. But more than that, you’re secretly proud of yourself for overcoming the fear of the initial discomfort. Then there is the second time, when you do it again with another dish, where you have once again miscalculated the ingredients. Which is somehow made worse because you already know the initial pain, but at the same time you know the amazing amount of flavor and spiciness that would follow.
Well, this applies perfectly to public speaking, at least for me.

A person speaking in front of a crowd of chilli peppers

The first bite

At my first local meetup talk, I was so scared that I almost ran away, pretending to be sick. But then I persevered and delivered the talk I had prepared, and in the end I felt proud, both because it went well, but mostly because I did it by pushing through the fear of failure. Then came another occasion of public speaking and, as in my culinary example from earlier, I was, if possible, even more frightened than before. But I persevered, and once again, overcoming the stage fright, came the satisfaction, both in myself and in what I had done.

I won’t sugarcoat it, that initial “pain” never goes away. The majority of public speakers I have talked to say that they always get nervous, regardless of their years of experience. But they go through with it, knowing that the final morsel will be totally worth the initial suffering.

There must be a reason why it is a popular trope that in order to grow you have to get out of your comfort zone.

And believe me, I know it’s easier said than done; I’m extremely socially awkward, to the point where I’m afraid to even make phone calls to people or places I don’t know, but trying to get over that initial discomfort with public speaking has really helped me get a little more comfortable around new people. I’m still not a party animal, but I’m starting to understand that the more you project a feeling of being relaxed to the outside world, the more your mind is tricked into thinking you’re really relaxed.

The roll safe meme with a caption that says 'Can't be anxious if you think you're not anxious'

Lately I have been feeling a little bolder in my everyday life and people around me have been telling me that it shows that I feel more confident and that I am speaking a lot more without being prompted. Another speaker at a conference even said that I was an extrovert and seemed perfectly at ease on stage. Me. Can you believe that? I spent most of my teenage years being told I needed to talk more, smile more, get out more, so it feels incredible to be told the opposite.

In addition to the increased self-esteem, being a speaker at these kinds of events is a great way to meet other incredibly talented people who you’ll most likely see at other conferences later on, thus reducing the subsequent anxiety of not knowing anyone. It’s also incredibly good for networking: I’ve had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with people I would never have had the chance to talk to otherwise, and to ask for advice on various topics, and I’ve always been treated with the utmost kindness.

The aftertaste

What saddens me is that I see the most fear of speaking at these conferences coming from junior developers, especially female ones. They are convinced that they are not good enough to be at these events because most of the speakers are already well-known or super skilled.

What they never think about is that precisely because they are a part of the tech world that is rarely represented at conferences, the reason to be that person is to become an inspiration to others in a similar position. So those other people can think, “hey, look at that, it’s not impossible, I could do that too”.

In my personal experience, I would never have started on this path if I hadn’t been part of a company that encourages participation in these events, and if I hadn’t had some friends and colleagues who have achieved great things just through sheer dedication, doing things that I didn’t think were possible for “normal” people (aka not senior developers or not already famous). Or even just for having people with the confidence in me that I lacked at that moment, but needed to embark on this adventure.

I hope that these words will give some of you reading the same kind of support that I have received. That if you are teetering on the edge of trying, but not finding the courage to send out a call for papers, that my words may inspire you to take the first step on the other side of public speaking.


With my silly cooking example, I want to send a message to all the people who are curious about public speaking but don’t think they are extroverted enough, good enough, knowledgeable enough, whatever enough to deserve to do it, to at least try it once. And if after the initial discomfort you can feel the rewarding spiciness that comes afterward, then trust me, you are hooked for life.

And if not, that’s okay too, at least you tried, and now you’ll certainly have a better understanding of yourself, and you can still be proud that you at least tried, and peacefully know that it wasn’t for you, without any regrets.

So go on, take that first spicy bite and get out of your comfort zone.