Professional Performances

I’m not a huge fan of technical interviews because I think they are closer to auditions than programming work simulation. I wrote:

A typical tech job is not a performance. For one, there is no audience. And, unlike a performance, we make tons of small mistakes and corrections along the way. Imagine a band performing a song like we usually program—it’d be a mess and not very entertaining (or very entertaining if you think of it as avant-garde).

But, there are times where the work is a performance. For example, presentations or talks. For that, I recommend treating them exactly how performers do—with lots of practice: solo and in front of audiences.

When I recommend this, the push-back I get is that the person doesn’t want to sound like they memorized their presentation.

I agree.

Actors and musicians completely memorize what they are going to perform, but then give a natural performance. Stand-up comedians practice being flustered and reaching for words. The more you practice, the more natural the performance will look. When you do it, you will be in a flow-state.

If you want to see this in action, look at any TED talk—they are highly polished performances. Steve Jobs was also famous for practicing intensively.

But, practice has a much more important effect—it drives self-esteem. If you put the work in, you will see it. You will see that you are doing rehearsals and you will judge that you are likely to succeed. You will feel pride and you will want to do it more.

That sense of pride may turn us from dreading speaking in public to actually looking forward to it. After your successful performance, you will have the confidence that comes from success, which will drive you to practice more and start a virtuous cycle.

Incidentally, this works for interviews too.