Brian Kelly founded the IWMW event in 1997 and has given the welcome talk at all previous 23 events. But when he first began working in the higher education sector he was reluctant to speak in public.  As he explains, though, you can overcome your nerves when you put everything into perspective and find more opportunities to speak.

If you can rapper sword dance for 35,000, you can give a talk to 20

In 1983 I decided to leave my job in Humberside County Council. At my first interview, at a local college, I was told I’d be expected to give courses – I still remember saying I didn’t really want to do that. 

However I subsequently accepted a job at the University of Loughborough and, a year into the job, my boss asked me to give an introduction to databases – a subject I’d started to learn. 

Again I said that I wasn’t keen, but we compromised: I produced the slides, he gave the presentation and I was on hand to answer any questions. But I knew that I’d have to deliver courses on my own. 

And it was soon after that I went to a folk festival in Sicily, where I danced the rapper sword dance – in front of an audience of 35,000 people. “If I can do this,” I thought, “giving a talk on database technologies to 20 people shouldn’t be a problem!”  

And it wasn’t – and I subsequently went on to be a senior trainer with Jisc Netskills.

If you can bungee jump off a bridge, you can speak at a conference

Then in 1993 I discovered the Web – and helped set up the first institutional website in the UK (there were only 50 websites around the world at the time!). 

I had a missionary zeal to spread the news about the web (it would change the world, I said then – although normally to a sceptical audience in the early days!). 

And so I decided that I wanted to submit a paper to the INET international conference held in Prague in June 1994.  

But delivering a paper at an international conference would be much different to running a training course – especially when I found that the lecture theatre at the conference venue held 1,000 people! 

A couple of weeks before the submission date I went on a week’s holiday to Victoria Falls. I spent some time mulling over my presentation worries – and decided to go white-water rafting. “If I can do that, presenting a paper won’t be a problem,” I decided. 

So I went white-water rafting but, as it was the rainy season, it wan’t as scary as I’d expected. I mentioned this to someone who told me, “If you want a scary experience, you should go for a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge!” And yes, I signed up for a bungee jump! 

Sadly the bungee jumps were cancelled due to wet weather (‘health and safety gone mad!). But in my mind I’d faced up to a fear. 

Add so when I got back I submitted my paper on “Becoming an Information Provider on the World Wide Web” which was accepted. And in June 1994 I delivered the paper to an audience of a couple of hundred delegates. 

The worry comes from the anticipation

In the 25 years after that I had the confidence to present papers at conferences around the world, in Norway, Australia, USA, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. 

Looking back I can thank a former boss (Brian Negus) for his support in my first year working at a university, the training in delivering training I received while working at Jisc Netskills – and my sword dancing experiences and my thwarted attempt to jump off the Victoria Fall bridge over the mighty Zambesi river! 

In brief what I’ve learnt is that giving a talk in public can be frightening – but it’s the anticipation which is the worrying part. 

And whether running a training session, presenting a paper at a conference or giving a talk at IWMW event, the audience is likely to be friendly and supportive – we’re not Boris Johnson expecting a grilling from Andrew Neil!

It gets easier over time

Once you’ve given your first talk, it then becomes much easier. And there may be unexpected benefits – I was invited to give a talk at a conference in Singapore back in 2008, based on my track record, and then had a two week holiday in Malaysia and Thailand. 

But, more importantly, I met my wife after giving a talk on Web 2.0 at a CILIP event!

Submit a proposal

So submit a proposal for the IWMW 2020 event – who knows, it may change your life!


Brian Kelly worked in the Jisc-funded UK Web Focus role at UKOLN, University of Bath from 1996-2013, after having helped set up the first institutional website at the University of Leeds in January 1993 (a time when websites were known as Web sites!

Before the web was invented Brian was a rapper sword dancer, appearing at folk festivals in Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Syria.

Since moving to Dorset Brian has decided to learn Cotswold Morris and Border dancing.