If you want to be a “tech conference speaker” then you’re going to have to speak at tech conferences. Seems obvious, but it’s a lot more involved than speaking at meetups. Now, if all you want to do is speak at one or two conferences in any given year, then you don’t have to be that organized. Even so, you still need to select the conferences, submit speaking proposals, and handle travel arrangements (if you get accepted). That’s before any work on your talk or slides! Doing this on an ad hoc basis and using your email Inbox as a to-do list is going to be stressful. Worse, you can mess up your time management and end up with a weak talk written at 4 AM in the morning before the conference starts. That’s not fun, trust me.
Let’s go back to the reason you want to do this in the first place. You want to be a speaker to move your professional life forward. It’s a personal challenge, a mountain to climb, a way to meet new people and a way to open new opportunities for yourself.
(If your primary reason conference speaking is the travel, then I think you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Weekend mini-breaks to trendy city destinations are actual holidays. Conferences are just another work day in disguise, sorry.)
You won’t get those benefits by giving one talk in March and another in October. You need to give at least one talk a quarter, and one a month if you can manage it. That’s a heavy schedule, but you won’t get the experience and practice if you don’t make it a regular part of your professional activities. In practice, most people opt for local meetups and conferences to fill out the schedule, and travel for only a few big gigs.
(I am making the implicit assumption here that you have the money side figured out. The question of who pays for speakers expenses is a big issue for many. I have been lucky enough to have had my expenses mostly covered by my company, and so have not had to devote much thought to this issue. I will write more on it when I have developed a considered opinion. Having also been a conference organizer, and lost money (we did cover speaker expenses), I can tell you it’s not as simple as all that.)
Let’s say you’re aiming for one gig a month. Think about what that means. You need to find twelve events that make sense for you. No—that’s not right, is it? Your talk won’t get accepted by most events. Assuming a hit rate of 20% (generous), you’ll want to find at least sixty events. Yes, that’s what it takes. Don’t forget to check the event dates and locations to make sure they are feasible for you and don’t conflict with your others personal and professional commitments (which are essentially other “events” that you’ve already committed to, so these non-speaking events also have to go into your planning calendar).
You now have to track sixty CFP (Call for Papers) submissions. You’ll find yourself hoping for rejections! Why? Because getting accepted is huge pain. Now you have to really get down to business and worry about preparing your speaker details, travel arrangements (and negotiating expenses), permission from your boss, potential conflicts, and that’s before you even think about doing the work on demos and slides to make your talk awesome.
There is no way you can sustain this level of activity without building a spreadsheet. My one has an entry for each potential gig. I update it once a month for the upcoming twelve months, and longer. This is not something you can do once a year. Your lead time to plan a talk, and organize everything, could easily be six months to a year.
I use the the following columns:
- Start and End dates (I just love one day conferences – so much easier to plan!);
- The CFP deadline, and CFP submission link – easy to miss, and the most important date for planning your work schedule;
- The Name, Location, Website, and Twitter handle of the event. You’ll need this when you finally sit down to write your proposal as each conference is different;
- Status: is it just an idea? A high priority? Have you submitted a CFP? Accepted or rejected? Travel organized or not? When you have a big list of events, you need to mark them so that you can see what’s going on;
- Talk details – is this new work, or can you reuse an existing talk, and does it need modification
- Organizer contact details – unless you like searching for missing emails
- Notes on previous experiences with this conference. There are great conferences, and there are terrible conferences. I’m always surprised by the extreme variance in the quality of the experience, and treatment of speakers.
And I keep adding more fields.
I really want to encourage you to be a conference speaker. It’s been, and continues to be, one of the things I really enjoy about my professional life. Doing it well is hard work, and I don’t want to hide that from you either. The first application to open when you want to start speaking at conferences is not Powerpoint or Keynote, it’s Excel.
Can I ask you for a favor? If you enjoy this newsletter, and if you find it useful, please consider recommending it to a friend who is learning to give technical talks, or who aspires to do so. I meet so many cool programmers who have brilliant things to share with the world—that’s you!
A special thanks and shout out to Tammy for helping to make this newsletter even better!
Professional speakers are most useful to us poor tech speaker plebs when they talk about speaking technique. Yes, you might find the motivational talks entertaining, but the gold is in the methods that professional speakers have fine-tuned to, as Lisa Nichols says, MOVE your audience.
Lisa focuses on using the resource of your personal stories and experiences. But even though talking about your stories is effective, you can make them much more effective if you pay attention to the mechanism of delivery. In particular, find ways to “show” the story.
Learn from the best
This is a stand-up comedy performance, but it you pay close attention, you’ll learn about taking the right attitude to the performance of speaking. What goes on inside your head is as important as what comes out of your mouth.
I take a lot of inspiration from stand-up comedy, but not to be funny—the real lesson is to pay attention to the technical details, to prepare holistically (think about how you will move on stage, and so on …), and to measure what you are doing. There is no crueler form of public speaking, that can fail more quickly, and comedians have to be ultra-sharp masters of the art to survive.
Commentary from eloquentwoman.blogspot.ie:
… From the start, Diller was almost scientific about her stand-up. She used a cigarette holder in her act even though she didn’t smoke, because she and a drama coach she had hired decided that it gave her a funny posture on stage. Twelve laughs a minute was a metric that she derived after years of watching audiences respond to her act and others. Her observations also told her that jokes end best when the last word has an explosive consonant, like “pop” or “shot.” Listen to how often she applies these rules in this lecture, and remember that these are the details she said she practiced every day while working. …
Sometimes it’s good to have a real book on your desk that you pick up and use for inspiration. Flip it open at a random page, and start reading. That’s not really something that you can do as viscerally with an ebook reader.
I like this book because it shows you so many different ways to compose your speech. But beware, these speeches are chosen for their historical significance, not for their virtue.
“Once you have spoken at a few meetups and have developed a reputation as a public speaker, you are probably ready for conference speaking gigs. But how do you find the opportunities to speak? Enter the CFP.
A Call For Papers (CFP) is an announcement by conference organizers signalling they are ready to receive presentation submissions by technical speakers. They are also known as Call For Proposals, Call For Speakers, Call For Participation, and Speaker Submissions.
Each CFP details the name of the conference, its location and both the CFP deadline and event dates. They also outline the presentations they are looking for, the length, and other pertinent information required by conference organizers. The CFP also has instructions on how to submit your proposals.”
“All you have to do is respond to one of the literally hundreds of Call For Papers (CFPs) that conference organizers publish each year and get selected to present. It sounds simple, but the process can be a bit intimidating …
Since 2001, I’ve given precisely 266 public presentations across 5 continents. During that time I’ve responded to a great number of CFPs and while it doesn’t happen so often anymore, I have had many presentations rejected just like everyone else, each of which were taken as learning experience …
I’d like to offer a few tips for would-be presenters on how they can increase their chances of getting selected. But this ONLY works if you are willing to invest the energy to research something important, something cool that people should know. That part is all on you.”
- San Francisco, USA
- Fri 9 Feb 2018 to Fri 9 Feb 2018
- Santa Clara Convention Center
- Standard ticket: $249
A Convention for Enthusiastic Women, VerveCon 2018 invites you to Meet The Leader In You. Learn about the hottest emerging technologies, be inspired by speakers as they share their success journeys, and learn about practical solutions for real issues. Oh yeah…you’ll be in Silicon Valley too!
Index San Francisco
- Index San Francisco
- San Francisco, USA
- Tue 20 Feb 2018 to Thu 22 Feb 2018
- Moscone West
- Standard ticket: $300
Index San Francisco is an open developer community event built by IBM. Learn from industry leaders to develop the future of secure, smart and scalable software solutions. Topics covered include: Next Gen Web, Mobile, & IoT, The Frontier of Intelligence, and The Practice of Cloud, Containers, and Microservices. Located in downtown San Francisco, you’ll be in the middle of it all!
Voxxed Days Bucharest
- Voxxed Days Bucharest
- Bucharest, Romania
- Thu 22 Mar 2018 to Fri 23 Mar 2018
- Sheraton Bucharest
- Standard ticket: €200
A community conference by developers, for developers. Global speakers, three tracks, two workshop rooms each day – a great setting to learn new skills on hot developer topics. Perfectly located in the center of Bucharest, you’ll have easy access to the main cultural and entertainment attractions and fine dining when the day is done.
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.