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  • Writer's pictureElena Drakulevska

Finding My Voice: A Journey of Speaking and Growth

With a racing heart and lungs gasping for air, I was about to leap into the unknown. It was exactly one year ago (okay, May 12th, 2023 to be precise) that I took my first steps onto the virtual stage as a speaker at New Stars of Data #5. Little did I know, that one decision would kickstart a rollercoaster of experiences, pulling me out of my cozy bubble and into a world of endless opportunities.

A girl holding a megaphone

And what a wild ride it's been! In my first year as a public speaker, I've taken the stage at conferences, big and small, sometimes delivering multiple sessions at a single event. I even had the honour of joining the keynote lineup at one of Europe's largest data conferences!

Finding Strength in Others' Belief

It all started with this amazing human, Nikola Ilic. I was lucky enough to cross paths with him when we were working at the same company. Mid-pandemic we had never met in person! Until I traveled to one of the coolest conferences in Europe, Power BI Next Step, held in no other place than Legoland, Denmark, in September 2022. Surrounded by the magic of Legoland, the mix of child-like wonder, everything data, and so many passionate humans left me in awe.

Polaroid collage of pictures from Legoland, including one with me and Nikola
Power BI Next Step - Legoland, Denmark, September 2022

In a conversation with Nikola, he casually mentioned that I could also do this—be a speaker and attend conferences. And sure, I had played with the thought of becoming a speaker someday, but not NOW, you know, more like in 10 years or something.

He told me "The time is NOW. You never feel ready—you just do it and learn along the way. Preparing sessions makes you really dive deep into a topic." So, I bought into that.

Just as I was hoping that he had forgotten about it, about 4 months later, he hits me up with New Stars of Data, an online data conference for rookies like me. With the added bonus of a mentor and the convenience of an online format, it felt like fate was nudging me toward the (virtual) stage. And, with Nikola in my corner as a mentor, I took the plunge thinking "Hey, why not? Let's see where this takes me."

Conquering Fear: Leaving My Cozy Bubble

As I reflect on this milestone, I'm reminded of the fear that consumed me that first day. It was a fear born from uncertainty, from the unfamiliarity of standing before an (virtual) audience, exposing my thoughts and ideas to scrutiny. But it was also a fear mixed with the sheer excitement of sharing my session with the world, the kind that whispers, "This could be the start of something extraordinary."

As I started speaking I realized I couldn't catch my breath, and my voice was just... vanishing. "This can't possibly be happening, we practiced!". And yet, I couldn't breathe. So, I took a break, chugged some water, and tried to pretend like everything was totally fine.

After a couple of minutes, the panic started to ease up, and I managed to push through the rest of the session. And you know what? Despite the rocky start, I started to enjoy being "on stage". The feedback I got afterwards was amazing, and a thought crossed my mind: "Maybe I could do this speaking thing".

New Stars of Data brought me to one of its organizers, Ben Weissman, who was starting a new speakers track at one of the world's largest data conferences. Encouraged by his gentle nudge, I took another leap of faith and submitted a session, secretly hoping I wouldn't be chosen. I mean, me, speaking at one of the biggest data conferences in the world? Yeah, right.

Fast forward six months, and there I was, standing on stage at the PASS Data Community Summit in Seattle. I hardly slept the nights leading up to it, and by the time I stepped onto that stage, I was running on adrenaline. I remember thinking, "Well, this can't possibly get any worse." But, once I started speaking and saw all the faces in the audience lit up, it was like all that nervous energy just melted away. I LOVED IT!

A polaroid collage of pictures from New Stars of Data and PASS Data Community Summit in Seattle
New Stars of Data & PASS Data Community Summit in Seattle

The Learning Curve of Public Speaking

Inspired by that amazing experience I began actively seeking out more speaking opportunities. And to my biggest surprise, I was welcomed by many of them. Each event became a stepping stone in my journey, offering invaluable lessons and insights.

Feedback from audiences and mentors alike became invaluable compass points, guiding me towards growth and improvement. From New Stars of Data to the grand stage in Seattle, and through some more conferences afterwards, each event added layers to my experience and fuelled my passion for speaking.

This year alone, I've had the honor of taking stages across Europe:

A polraoid collage of pictures from my sessions at all the different conferences in 2024 so far

What I've come to realize is that this journey is never-ending. You learn, iterate, and improve. Then you do it all over again. Even if I'm talking about the same topic, I've never given the same session twice. There's always some refining, tweaking, and making last-minute changes at 5 AM or as I'm getting ready in the speaker room moments before my session (I can already picture my mentor's face when he reads this). It's an ongoing adventure of upping my game, making sure each session is better than the last (sometimes it's not, but that's okay).

And, I still feel those nerves before I start. The butterflies, the racing heart—they never fully go away. But that's part of the excitement, part of what makes this journey so rewarding.

And as I look ahead, I know there's still so much more to learn and many more stages to conquer. I can't wait to see where this journey takes me next!

The Power of Community

Amid all the chaos—travel, conferences, and everything in between—there's something truly special about the data community. It's a place where like-minded humans come together to learn, grow, and, let's be real, have a blast.

From local meetups to international conferences, the data community has been my rock and my safe space. It's where I've found unwavering support, lifelong friendships, and a whole lot of laughs.

Can you believe it? Just a year ago, I was standing on the edge of this incredible journey, completely unaware of the amazing community that awaited me. And now? Well, now I can't imagine my life without them. 🥹

Here's to the power of community, where growth, learning, and fun collide, creating memories that last a lifetime!

A film of pictures of me with inspiring humans from the data community

Closing Words

Today, as I reflect on the past year, I'm filled with gratitude for the journey and the mentors who illuminated my path. What started as a leap of faith has blossomed into a newfound passion, thanks to their amazing support.

If there's one lesson I've learned, it's this: you'll never feel fully ready. If you wait for the perfect moment, you'll be waiting forever. And those doubts about being an impostor and not knowing enough? They'll always linger. But it's in taking that first step, despite the fear and uncertainty, that true growth begins.

To anyone hesitating on the edge, paralyzed by self-doubt and waiting for the planets to align, I urge you: embrace the fear, seek guidance, and take that leap. The world is waiting to hear your voice, your unique perspective, your story. You may not have all the answers, but by stepping into the unknown, you open yourself up to endless possibilities.

So, what are you waiting for?

P.S. The call for the next New Stars of Data is still open! Feel free to reach out if you have any doubts. :)

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1 則留言

Jason Baldessari
Jason Baldessari

Thank you for sharing and your words of encouragement! Keep making your world bigger and being a bright light to show those with the courage to follow the way.

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