Speaking at Tech Conferences

Roman Pickl

December 30, 2019

This post started as a thread on twitter and is an updated / reordered version.

In preparation for Global Diverysity CFP Day Vienna with Ramón Huidobro and Adrián Bolonio, I decided to go through my bookmarks and post some links to resources and thoughts I found useful when I started speaking at (tech) conferences. #speakerlife

TLDR: One resource to rule them all

The most important resource about public speaking is Vicky Barsseur’s repo: https://github.com/vmbrasseur/Public_Speaking

It contains references and links to everything you need to know. So I could stop here I guess…

Selected Resources

But let me highlight a few resources.

Why should you give technical talks?

Daphne Rouw has a nice article on this topic: http://daphsta.github.io/ruby%20learn%20self-development/2015/01/12/why-you-should-give-technical-talks.html It’s a challenge/skill, it makes you think about the topic, it’s about sharing, meeting the community and travelling all at the same time.

Where to present?

So where to present / How to find a call for presentations (cfp)? Start local! I mainly look at Meetup , use papercall.io , follow @cfp_land and @callingallpaper and communities/aggregators in my domain e.g. https://devopsdays.org or https://gotodevops.org and follow conferences. Also ask your community.

Perks

If the event is a for profit conference they should cover accommodation/travel, organize a networking event and free admission. I waive these requirements for local/remote events and events I can fit into my travel plans. Never pay to speak! Make sure you know the terms upfront.

Don’t underestimate how much time is going into your talk (organizing, prepping, practice, travel, conference). It all adds up to tens of hours. Some/Few(?) charge for all this time. https://thenerdary.net/post/84544230452/a-formula-for-speaking-fees has some thoughts on this.

What to propose and how to write a great proposal?

Again Vicky Barsseur has you covered with a very nice workshop about this: https://archive.org/details/dodseattle2019-cfp-training Note that your proposal does not have to be a full presentation at the time of submission, just an abstract and a description, really. I really like to tell a story about what I’m working on and what I learned. I keep track of submissions/dates in a simple Excel sheet.

Rejection and Revision

Your talk will be most likely rejected, a lot. That’s normal. Get feedback, revise your proposal and try again. Alaina Kafkes has some hints

In case of acceptance… re-check

If you got accepted celebrate, but don’t feel obliged to go. Check if the event still fits your schedule and ethos. Have a look at speaker/inclusion riders from Tatiana Mac https://gist.github.com/tatianamac/493ca668ee7f7c07a5b282f6d9132552 or @jezhumble https://gist.github.com/jezhumble/751d

Preparing the presentation

Writing presentations and the presentation itself is a thing where I need to improve. I love the presentation zen book. But first, make sure to avoid the most common anti patterns. Troy Hunt has a nice article about this: https://www.troyhunt.com/speaker-style-bingo-10-presentation/ Live demos are hard. Think twice before doing this (internet down, stupid mistakes, new versions of frameworks with breaking changes) or prepare a backup (screenshots, recorded version, etc.)

Make sure to practice, practice, practice!

Days before the presentation

Double check everything: the travel itinerary and accommodation, schedule, duration, time zone, equipment (clicker, backup of slides), connect with other speakers etc. Test your equipment with the local setup and staff the day before.

Presentation day

Most important for me: Get enough sleep (go home early!). Deactivate notifications, cleanup desktop. I also try to get an early slot on day one. Jessica Rose has a good overview:

After your talk

Repeat questions before you answer them (if there are any. Big cultural differences!). It’s also ok if you don’t know the answer and take it offline.

Get feedback

There might be a rating system in place but make sure to talk with participants. Normally there’s a post talk chat :) Also ask other speakers for feedback and hints. Focus on the positive things and constructive feedback. Network and connect.

Enjoy

Enjoy! You did it. Do you want to do it again? It’s fine to present the same topic multiple times! You have invested a lot of time. Keep it up to date and personalize it for each event.

Share

Put your slides and code online (Check license), share the recorded videos on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. I use slideshare: https://www.slideshare.net/RomanPickl/

More info

You can find more info:

Having said all that, there’s always room for improvement for me. Please feel free to provide feedback to my talks (e.g. guilty of putting to much text on slides, and hiding behind my laptop for example).

Join the Global Diversity CFP Day

If you always wanted to become a conference speaker and especially if you are a member of an underrepresented or marginalised group please join us at one of the Global Diversity CFP Day events. There’s also one in #Vienna


If you have any questions, recommendations, or just want to say thanks, feel free to contact me. You can reach me on twitter @rompic or via mail at hello@pickl.eu

Thanks for reading this article.