Speaking at conferences can be a daunting task, and I am not here to deny that. But beyond that daunting task lies a bunch of benefits. Through this post, I am trying to shed light on some of those benefits and how you can make the task of speaking at a conference a little less daunting. Please continue reading if this interests you.
First of all, what makes me the “right” person to talk about this?
Who am I ?
I am a software engineer with just over 10 years of experience. I am also an introvert and have found ways to engage with complete strangers at a conference (more on this later!).
I have also spoken at over 10 conferences in the last 8 years. Most of those conferences have been in foreign countries where I don’t know anyone and yet have had a fun experience attending these conferences.
What are the benefits of speaking at a conference?
As an introvert, you do not have to take the first step to interact with someone
If you are attending a conference and you find it hard to initiate a conversation with strangers, you may end up attending the conference all by yourself. By the time the conference is over, you might feel it was not a positive experience for you and that you don’t want to go through it again.
I have been there.
But when I spoke at my first conference (Ruby Conf India, 2014), I had a completely different experience though. I met and spoke to a lot of people and had a good time at the conference.
This happened again at the next conference I spoke at, Ruby Conf Brasil, 2014. This time, it was in a country I have never been to, did not know anyone from there, but met a lot of people, made some friends, and I had a good time.
It was then I realized that, when I am speaking at a conference, I did not have to initiate the engagement. It was the other way around (mostly), and that made talking to a complete stranger not a nightmare anymore. In fact it gave me confidence to even initiate conversations.
When we read brand development, let’s not just think about our employer. Yes, conferences do give them credibility and help them in brand development. But it also helps you as an individual to build your personal brand.
What it does for your employer.
Consider this, you are working at a Ruby on Rails consultancy, and when you give a talk at a Ruby conference, you would mention where you work, and put the name / logo of your employer in your slides. So it gives them instant visibility. First, as a potential employer, for people who might be looking for work, and second, as a consultancy, for people who might be looking for Ruby on Rails shops for their next product development project.
It’s a win-win for you and your employer.
Getting over stage fright
One of the biggest reasons I did not even think of giving a talk at conferences was stage fright. And I will be honest, even after giving 10 or so talks, I still fear the stage (somewhat). My experience has been that you can learn to live with this fear and find ways to deal with it.
How do I deal with it? I try to remember and follow these things:
- Relax and deep breaths: I tend to sit in a quiet corner 15 mins before my talk and take deep breaths. This brings me composure. And I tend to not eat anything or eat something very light before my talk.
- Not knowing is OK. I used to think if I am giving a talk on anything, I should know the answer to each and every question asked by the audience. It is with time I have realized that it is OK to not know all the answers. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I accept it on stage and connect with that person on Twitter to reach out when I have the answer.
- Humour always helps. I tend to start my talk with some light humor or an anecdote about myself which brings some friendly laughter or smile to the audience and that sets the tone for my talk.
Travel and experience diverse cultures
If you are someone who likes to travel, this is one of the best ways to work and travel. You get to travel to a new place and spend time with people from that place, and, in many cases, the employer takes care of the travel expenses or the conference provides you a reimbursement up to a certain sum.
If I get an opportunity to give a talk at a conference, OmbuLabs, my employer, provides me the benefit of covering the cost of flight and hotel for the duration of the conference. As an employee, that is a huge benefit as I have one less thing to worry about when it comes to speaking at conferences.
When you travel for a conference, it gives you a chance to not just travel and meet new people, but also learn more about their work culture, their best practices and the kind of work people in the community are doing.
How to get started with speaking at conferences?
When it comes to speaking at a conference, a few things that one can be worried about are:
- Can I talk in front of so many people?
- Can I talk about something for over 20 minutes?
- Will people like my talk?
1) Giving a talk at your company
This is a great starting point because you are already familiar with the audience, a small group of people who you work and interact with regularly.
2) Lightning talks at a conference
This is a great opportunity to get some stage time at a real conference. Lightning talks are, as the name suggests, lightning fast. Each speaker gets 5 minutes to speak about a topic they want. So you get to be on stage in front of a relatively large audience, but for a short amount of time. It is a great way to get some experience.
3) Talk at local meetups
Local meetups are like mini conferences. You get to speak in front of some people, for a duration of about 20-25 mins on a topic of your choice. This is a great way to practice public speaking, all while getting involved in the local community of your choice. It is also a great way to get feedback from people.
4) Practice helps!
Once you have done all the above and are finally ready to speak at a conference, you want to make sure that you give your best. The best part about speaking at a conference is that you control the narrative of your talk, you control in which direction you want the talk to go.
So take time to prepare the content, don’t rush that activity and practice your talk as many times as you can. Use a mirror to practice, give the same talk to your team, to your mother, at your local meetup and then some more to the mirror.
Doing this, not only makes you more confident about the content and the flow of the talk, but it also helps you time your talk.
I believe in over-preparing the content of the talk. If the duration of the talk is 25 minutes, I would ideally prepare content which will last me for about 45 minutes and from there I start trimming the content down to what makes my talk the best.
While I am practicing my talk again and again, I am also timing myself for the talk. So I don’t end up in a situation where the organizers ask me to finish my talk in the next 2 minutes while I am only 50% done through the content of my talk.
So, practice your talk as much as you can!
I sincerely hope the information in this post was helpful to you and will aid you in making the decision to volunteer to speak at a conference.