WWDC 2019 Talk: What’s New in Authentication

I presented a session at WWDC this year. You can find the video on developer.apple.com, or in the WWDC app. If you’re interested in how apps and websites authenticate users, or you’d like to know how I’ve been spending some of my time at Apple, it’s worth checking out.

An aside: This was the fourth talk I’ve prepared and delivered at WWDC. (That’s four in seven years!) I’ve learned a lot every time I’ve done public speaking, but this time I picked up a specific, tactical lesson: empty your back pockets before getting on stage.

About fifteen minutes before showtime, I took a hairbrush to the bathroom to fix up my hair, stashed the brush in my back pocket, and then immediately forgot about it. I might have been too nervous to remember it.

As I was walking up the staircase to get onto the stage, a loud ~ THWACK ~ surprised me from behind. Oh no! My audio gear fell off the back of my jeans. It’s all over; I’m about to fail. The time I spent preparing and practicing doesn’t matter — the demo gods have enacted their revenge for my talk not actually including a demo.

Or not. When I turned around, I could see that the forgotten hairbrush was to blame, and that it hit the metal stairs on its descent, making the loud sound.

I got lucky. If the brush had held on for just a moment or two, it could have leapt out of my back pocket mid-sentence, as I was being filmed. I’m not sure how I would have recovered from that. Would I bend or kneel down to pick it up? Casually kick it to the side or off the front of the stage? Pretend nothing happened? While ignoring it, trip on it?

My brief terror turned into an overwhelming sense of relief and thankfulness. I haven’t failed. This could have been so much worse. Let’s go do the thing!

This whole episode, playing out over just a few seconds, neutralized a lot of the nervous energy I normally have at the start of a talk, and I think for the better. For me, a lot of what goes into public speaking is managing my emotions; I’m trying to be calm enough to be clear, but enthusiastic enough to keep the audience’s attention. The next time I’m in front of a crowd, I’d like to summon this feeling of gratitude — I’m so lucky; let’s do this! — and incorporate it into that emotional balance. I’ll just have to find a way to do that without first having a moment of all-consuming panic! 🙃