This is the 16th edition of this newsletter. Thank you so much for reading and making it a success! I’ve really enjoyed founding and writing this newsletter in 2017, and I’m really looking forward to 2018.
This edition is a traditional “best of 2017”. I’ve picked the content from 2017 that has resonated the most with readers. If you’ve only subscribed recently, I hope you’ll enjoy some of the material you may have missed from earlier editions.
As always, our three conferences and CFP list are fully up to date, so don’t forget to check those as well in this edition.
Have a great 2018!
This week I want to talk about self-doubt. Specifically, doubting the value of your own ideas. You can be nervous about your ability to deliver a talk, but that can be overcome with practice. It’s hard to work around a lack of conviction in your own ideas. And yet, as a speaker, that is often what you have to do.
Before I started doing tech talks, I knew that I wanted to speak at meetups and conferences, but did not think I had any good ideas. I felt that in comparison to all the great speakers out there, I had nothing useful to say. No real ideas, nothing original. Nothing to add to the community.
This wasn’t true—I ended up writing an entire book about my ideas! But at the time, I certainly had a lot of self-doubt. I was pretty sure my talks would be easy to criticise, and my positions would be easy to destroy with a well-placed question from the many real experts who would no doubt be in the audience.
I was wrong about three things. First, the audience wants to hear new and novel ideas, and it doesn’t matter if they agree with you or not. They want to hear what you have to say, even if they think it is wrong. That’s why they are there. Even if you get nasty questions from some, it will help you refine your thinking, and I guarantee that other audience members will come up to you afterwards to tell you that they agree with you. Often objectors are simply trying to draw attention to themselves.
Second, you make your ideas much stronger by talking about them—why do you think preparing slides is so hard! The act of putting a good structure on your thoughts improves them much more than you might think. You’ll find that you have not considered many edge cases, and you are guilty of fuzzy thinking in all sorts of places. Just putting together slides fixes a lot of these problems.
Third, if you take a leap of faith, and just give your talk, you overcome your own doubts. There is no trick to this. The simple act of standing up in front of an audience, and saying the words, and giving the message, makes you stronger. Yes, this is the old advice to “fake it till you make it”. The funny thing is, it does work! Your greatest enemy is yourself.
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!
Zach Holman, on of the first engineers at Github, is one of my absolute favorite speakers, and writers. Everything he writes is worth reading. He is deeply technical, and deeply personal, and thus deeply credible. I’ve used his ideas for my software architectures and followed his advice for my talks.
This particular talk is quite a gem. Not only is it a great example of public speaking, but Zach is also generous enough to “open source” the development process of the talk. The subject matter is the art of building a technical talk, which is also pretty useful!
It is clear from Zach’s written material that writing has provided him with a mechanism to clarify and refine his thinking. You can hear it quite clearly in his oratory.
Learn from the best
The most iconic speech in all of Shakespeare is a study in the use of emotional rhetoric (pathos). Given by Marc Antony, the loyal friend of Caesar, in direct response to the rational justification (logos) of Brutus for the assassination of Caesar. Brutus warns that the free citizens of Rome would be enslaved by Caesar as king, and gains the trust of the crowd: “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more…”
Marc Antony uses repetition and irony to drive home the message that the conspirators, and Brutus, are hypocrites, slaying Caesar not for the good of Rome, but for their own ambition.
He starts slowly, and builds to an undeniable reveal, winning the crowd’s hearts and minds. His delivery is so intense that he must pause to regain his composure. A riot begins, and civil war is the result, with Marc Antony ultimately victorious.
A great speech has one message and sticks to it. Marc Antony paces himself, each time returning to the message with more force. I’ve often been afraid to repeat myself when giving a talk, for fear of boring the audience. The opposite is true. As you build your case rationally, use repetition that appeals to the emotions to lock down your points. Not every talk is a funeral oration on the brink of war, but in our more mundane modern era, you can at least let the topic structure of your slides reflect the genius of Shakespeare!
This is a book about performance [V]. Speaking is performance art, and you are an entertainer, and perhaps only partially an educator. Those us who get up on a stage to speak either already have experienced, or are about to enter, a weird mental place, different from ordinary human interactions. Learning to ask your audience to help you is something you have to learn to accept – it is part of the performance.
The greatest challenge of public speaking is to overcome your own impostor syndrome. Well, you don’t overcome it, you embrace it. That’s what this book is about. It’s one of my desert island books.
This is a very long, very comprehensive guide to speaking at tech conferences. Even if you already speak at conferences, there’s stuff here you haven’t thought of. I found this post very useful in the early days, and it’s still a standout piece of work.
East Meets West 2018
- East Meets West 2018
- Honolulu, Hawaii , USA
- Thu 1 Feb 2018 to Fri 2 Feb 2018
- East-West Center
- Standard ticket: $95
Hawaii’s startup scene, aka Startup Paradise, is rapidly growing! East Meets West is THE startup event of year, bringing together investors and entrepreneurs from Asia, Hawaii and North America with international speakers, hot topic breakout sessions, pitch opportunities and plenty of networking. The 2018 focus will be on Blockchain, TravelTech and Social Impact technologies. Your biggest question will be which Aloha shirt to wear!
Winter Tech Forum
- Winter Tech Forum
- Crested Butte, Colorad, USA
- Mon 26 Feb 2018 to Fri 2 Mar 2018
- Queen of All Saints Parish Hall
- Standard ticket: $750
This years theme “Should Your Company Change Languages?” was created to stimulate ideas. What does it mean to a company to change languages? What are the advantages and benefits? What strategies work best when introducing the new language? Hear from those who have made such transitions who can offer insight into the stages and execution of doing so. There’s also a business track, hackathon, lightning talks, and other activities to choose from. You’ll be at 9,000 feet above sea level with free buses to the ski mountain every 15 minutes, so break out the snowboards and skis for some post-conference fun!
Mobile World Congress
- Mobile World Congress
- Barcelona, Spain
- Sun 26 Feb 2017 to Wed 1 Mar 2017
- Fria Gran Via
- Standard ticket: 799
More than 108,000 mobile professionals converge upon Barcelona to connect, network, showcase and exchange ideas. Mobile World Congress is the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, providing four days of talks, workshops and demos by global mobile thought-leaders, visionaries, and innovators. It also takes place in Barcelona, so plan a few extra days to see the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, known for its art and architecture.
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.