I've recently been giving a talk that starts with a content warning. I wasn't quite sure whether it warranted it, as it's only a brief mention of the potential trigger, but it felt like that was enough to justify the warning.

Content warnings apply to a wide range of traumas, and I wanted to ask that if you, my dear reader, are giving talks at a conference, please consider whether your content requires a content warning.

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Content warning: infant death.

My experience

The obvious candidates for content and trigger warnings (or certainly to me in an earlier life) are any form of abuse.

I wanted to share the experience I had attending a conference in New York a couple of years ago.

The speaker had been introduced on stage to talk about how they got involved with start-ups and created business and generally talk about how they were awesome.

The talk was very focused around bootstrapping business when all of a sudden I found myself listening to the gentleman talking about a baby that was born, and suddenly he was running to hospital with it in his arms and the baby died.

My baby had died.

Still to this day, I have no idea how or why he shoehorned this story into his talk. Obviously it was important to him. Obviously. But as an audience member, it hit me like a sack of bricks in the stomach.

All I could think about was my own daughter. I felt completely alone, and a very, very long way from home, my safe place.

I have absolutely no idea how he finished his talk. The rest of the event is a haze to me, and because of this isolated incident, it's trashed my memory of what should have been a decent event.

Had the speaker included just one statement up front that his talk contained infant death, then I could have chosen to leave, or I could brace myself for the content. Instead, I felt anger towards the speaker for hurting me in such a way. Using, to me, a story of terrible pain, as a highlight for his talk.

If you're still not sure, think of a content warning like UK film certificates. U means suitable for all, otherwise the certificate is driven by the content such as "sexual violence" for an 18.

So if you're giving talks, just think about whether you need a content warning. I've been giving public talks now for 7 years, and I now have have a talk that includes a content warning. Just consider it, and pass this sentiment on to your peers.

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