The last four days, I was in Berlin for UIKonf. This was my first time attending the conference and I really enjoyed it. There were some great talks and I met a bunch of nice people.
While at UIKonf, I had a fantastic opportunity to do something that scared me. Something that required me to venture out of my comfort zone and hopefully grow a little because of it.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m more introverted than not and have a hard time talking to new people. But despite having plenty of opportunities to do that at a conference, that isn’t what I am writing about here.
The Sunday before the conference talks started, UIKonf organized various tours around Berlin – a bike tour of the city, a tour of a WWII bunker, and more. I elected to attend the brewery tour.
The brewery tour was unfortunately plagued with bad luck from the start.
I arrived slightly late and somehow did not recognize the slightly large group of people standing on the street waiting. I had been looking for the blue UIKonf shirt of the volunteer, who was the central contact point for the tour. None of those waiting matched that description.
I proceeded inside and asked the bartender where the brewery tour group was.
“The tour was cancelled.” He replied.
That’s not good.
I quickly sent a message to the UIKonf Slack channel to inquire.
“No way!” was the response I got back from one of the conference organizers. “I’m on my way,” he added.
While waiting, I discovered the group standing out front did in fact belong to the conference. We elected to sit down and enjoy some beers, until the mixup could be resolved.
Shortly after, a guy in a blue UIKonf shirt showed up. It was the conference volunteer in charge of the brewery tour. It turns out his car had broken down on the way. He apologized profusely for being late, but we assured him it was unnecessary. Sometimes, you just have bad luck. Anyway, we were already enjoying the beer by then.
Meanwhile, the organizer, I had informed, showed up and started working things out with the brewery. The brewmaster was now on his way.
But there was a hiccup. Initially, while organizing the tour, the brewery assured the UIKonf organizers that it would be given in English. Attendees come from all over the world and English would be the common language. It turns out the brewmaster spoke very little English.
“Can anyone here translate the tour for us?”
I could. Probably.
Although, I’m not a native German speaker, I am fluent.
But I didn’t speak up.
I had never done on-the-fly translation in front of a crowd. That sounded terrifying. Even if it was only about 20 people, it might as well have been 100.
Our conference volunteer said he would do it, but added that he wouldn’t be able to translate any of the technical brewing terms. The brewer said he could try to work around that.
I could translate the brewing lingo.
When I lived in Portland, a friend taught me to brew beer. I continued home brewing after moving to Austin. I knew the words in English and because I had once met a brewer in the Black Forest, I also knew those words in German.
Against every instinct in my body, I slowly raised my hand.
“I… I can translate from German to English. I also know the brewing terminology.”
I was shaking. I felt as if I were visibly shaking. Maybe I was.
I stood next to the brewer waiting for him to begin. With two or three sentences, he introduced himself to the crowd. Then, he paused. He held his hands out toward me to indicate I should translate. In the nervousness of the situation and in trying to keep everything that needed to be translated in my head, I forgot his last name.
He told me it was no big deal, I had gotten the important information across.
I had started. Starting was hard. Now I had no choice but to continue.
He gave me a smiling nod of approval.
I didn’t translate word for word, but rather tried to get the meaning across. For the most part I think I succeeded.
The brewery tour went on for an hour and a half. He commented that it normally only lasts 45 minutes and usually doesn’t get so many questions from the crowd. I had to translate those for him and then his answers back.
By the end, I noticed my jaw was sore. Not from talking, but apparently when nervous, I tighten my jaw muscles. I was extremely glad when it was over.
Many of the attendees thanked me for stepping up and told me they enjoyed the tour. I didn’t know what to say, but I remembered something I had read not too long ago. When someone goes to the effort to complement you, simply accept it and say thank you.
I felt a euphoric rush. I had been confronted with a chance to do something that terrified me and I did it. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I learned something.
Over the next couple of days, I paid close attention to the speakers and organizers on stage. Some were nervous. Some seasoned professionals. Some nervous, seasoned professionals.
They all got up in front of a large crowd and gave a talk. If any were anything like me, that was probably super terrifying. I only had a small taste of what it must be like.
Maybe I’ll try speaking at a conference, next.