Here’s a problem you’re going to face soon enough: you submitted a fantastic CFP; you got accepted; the conference is paying for everything; you’ve put it out all over social media … and you get sick two days before the conference.

What do you do? First, recognize that your emotional state is going to go on a mini stages-of-grief rollercoaster: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You’ve put so much effort into this talk, and now it has been taken away from you. Worse, you’re letting people down. Even worse, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re showing weakness, which none of us like to do. You experience grief with any loss, so just let that wash over you first before you do anything.

Second, recognize your right to be ill. You’re not a superhero. Everybody gets sick. There’s always going to be a certain professional embarrassment to emailing the conference organizer, but you should not feel that bad. Nobody died.

Third, take action. You need to let the conference organizer know as soon as possible. Don’t delay in the hopes that you’ll recover and make a triumphant appearance at the last minute. Face reality and be mature. The more notice the organizer has, the better. Speakers dropping out happens all the time, for many reasons. Any good conference organizer is going to have a contingency plan.

Typically the organizer will do one of three things. They can reschedule the agenda. You might be surprised to learn that this is often a godsend. Conferences often have to squeeze in speakers from sponsors after the CFP has closed and speaker decisions have been made. That’s a commercial fact of life. So losing a speaker lets the organizer go back to their preferred schedule, leaving extra time for questions or breaks between talks.

The organizer can pull in a replacement speaker. Organizers naturally build up a contact list of speakers, and they also have the original CFP list. Many speakers have talks they’ve already given elsewhere, and are good to go at short notice, especially if they live in the same city. So you drop out, and a replacement comes in. The audience will not be demanding their money back, no matter how much you think of yourself as a speaker! On the day, the audience does not care as long as each agenda slot has somebody reasonably interesting—conferences are all about serendipity after all.

One thing you can do here is suggest or organize a replacement speaker yourself. This is usually only possible if your work in a larger organization that has a panel of speakers. My colleagues have done this for me on more than one occasion. You can even be in position where you are all comfortable delivering each other’s decks if you have enough shared experience of the subject matter. The organizer will love you for this, so do it if you can.

Finally, the organizer might ask you to deliver the talk remotely, or record it in advance, or ask for permission to use a previous recording of the talk. These solutions are all compromises and don’t deliver the same value to the audience as a live speech. But if you are well enough to do deliver remotely, you should. Be careful not to overcommit—a video of someone in bed clearly at death’s door is not a wholesome experience for anyone.

So you have to drop out. Better luck next time. Conduct yourself professionally, let people know, make the necessary arrangements, don’t panic, and get well soon!

This week I’m very happy to announce that this newsletter (and our company) will be supporting and hosting a World Speech Day event on March 15th. This is a global event taking place in over 80 countries worldwide on the same day and celebrates the art of public speaking by hosting and supporting the voices of new speakers and young people all over the world. Stay tuned for weekly updates!

We’re a little late out this week, and the subject matter above might give you a little hint as to why – my apologies of course!

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!

Please help me to improve this newsletter – I’d love to hear your suggestions! You can email me directly: You can tweet too: @metsitaba. Thank you so much for reading!

A special thanks and shout out to Tammy and Cora for helping to make this newsletter even better!


Speaker Profile

Jennifer Brea
What happens when you have a disease doctors can’t diagnose [V]

Having told you to stay home when you’re sick, here’s a speaker who has no choice but to turn up and speak anyway.

As a talk this is a technical masterpiece. Jennifer paces her deliver perfectly, recovers from a stumble elegantly, and inspires the audience with personal stories. Speeches don’t get much better than this.


Learn from the best

“The Gettysburg Address”
Abraham Lincoln
The Text
The Performance [V]

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This short funeral oration, delivered by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as part of the dedication ceremony of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, has become one of the most memorable speeches of all time. It is a pity that we have no recording, but witnesses report that the delivery was impactful and moving. The written reports were more mixed, but that can be attributed more to political partisanship than true opinion.

This speech is special because the text is so powerful, independent of the delivery. It was carefully crafted by Lincoln, who made many revisions over a two-day period starting from his departure from Washington and travel to Gettysburg. He revised the speech again after visiting the battleground. Lincoln was well known for his careful preparation of cases as a lawyer, and the structure of this speech reflects that.

I often feel the most difficult task in giving a talk is to come up with an organization of the material that is understandable and persuasive. This very difficult to do well. As subject matter experts we have lost the perspective of our audience, and yet somewhere we must regain it, and then merge it, with our deeper understanding, whilst staying true to a core message. It is not the rhetorical flourishes of Lincoln’s text, though they are beautiful, that make it a great speech. Rather it is the lucid clarity of its structure and composition.

Top of Mind
John Hall

” …What do many successful businesses and leaders have in common? They’re the first names that come to mind when people think about their particular industries. How do you achieve this level of trust that influences people to think of you in the right way at the right time? By developing habits and strategies that focus on engaging your audience, creating meaningful relationships, and delivering value consistently, day in and day out…”

The Right Way to Cancel a Meeting
Mark Suster

“…When you do need to reschedule a meeting make sure to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Give reflection to what inconvenience you may be causing. Make sure you’re mentally aware of whether they might have made special plans around your meeting. Basically, don’t be cavalier about rescheduling meetings…”

Three Conferences

Dublin Tech Summit

“Where Today’s Leaders Meet Tomorrow’s Technology” Join over 10,000 attendees at Europe’s fastest growing tech conference. Share ideas, grow your network and be inspired by a variety of topics, including Big Data, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and MUSICxTECH – Ireland’s first music tech experience, highlighting new technologies for a changing global music industry.

RSA Conference

Join a smart, forward-thinking global community for five days in San Francisco to be inspired. Discover the latest information security technologies through hands-on sessions and keynotes, learning from top security leaders and pioneers.

Data Day Mexico

Are you a professional dedicated to the analysis and processing of data on a large scale? Data Day Mexico has created a day of lectures, practical sessions and demos just for you! Predictive modeling, machine learning, and natural language processing are just a few of the topics on the menu. Plan an extra day or two to visit the amazing architecture, learn about Mexican history and enjoy some delicious cuisine!

CFP Calendar

These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.