Yesterday we opened CFPs for all our 2019 conferences.
So I thought it made sense to talk a little more about why you should consider doing so.
But let’s first address the objections people have, the reasons we find not to speak or even contemplate it.
But I’m terrified of public speaking
First it is important to acknowledge that many people find it highly challenging to stand in front of an audience and speak. While for whatever reason, this is not an anxiety that has caused me significant difficulty, I do have many others, so it’s not that I am unable to empathise with how folks might feel about the idea.
I know many accomplished, high profile speakers in our industry who are still consumed by nerves before speaking. And over time and with experience, the fears definitely diminish.
So let’s acknowledge the reality, but leave aside the concern. Don’t fall at this first hurdle.
Yiying Lu speaking at Web Directions Summit 2018, photo credit JJ Halans
But I’m not a world expert
There’s an old joke about snowboard instructors, that they’re just one lesson ahead of you. Which is very unfair, but speaks to I think an often overlooked aspect of good teachers, explainers and communicators.
I studied mathematics at university. I have a passion for mathematics, but in all honesty no great aptitude. Over the course of my undergraduate degree, I would have had perhaps 30 or more lecturers (we’ll leave aside the fact that every single one was a man). Of those 30, precisely two (the first I ever had, and more or less the last) were not terrible teachers (though I am sure tremendous mathematicians).
The standard mode of teaching was simply to write long proofs on blackboards (look them up) over the course of an hour.
The mathematically adept in the class I’m sure lapped it up. The rest of the class often sat bewildered, as once we lost the thread, it was very hard to pick it up again.
Years later as I started teaching adults, in classrooms, but also through writing, although I was far less adept at my content than these mathematicians were at mathematics, I felt I did a better job, and realised it was in many ways because I was less adept. I could appreciate the things that were difficult to understand about learning a technology–and because the technologies were often relatively new to me (typically because they were new to everyone), I could still recall the stumbling blocks, the things that tripped me up.
Which is a long winded way of saying, not being the world expert on a technology is in many ways an asset, not a liability.
So why do it?
There are numerous reasons, some obvious, some perhaps less so.
It helps you
First, when you present on something, it really helps, indeed forces you to explore the things you don’t know about it. Why does that work that way? What are its limitations?
You’ll get to known area, a technique, a practice, a technology, far better, in a much more systematic way.
It also helps you professionally by raising your profile. Even speaking at a local meetup will put you in front of many potential employers, future colleagues and collaborators and just like minded peers.
It helps your employer
As you no doubt are aware, the market for talented engineers, designers, product people and others in our industry is very tight. When you stand up and speak, you will often be associated with your employer. You’ll show it is an interesting place to work, where in future they may be able to work with people like you. (BTW employers: if an employee of yours has the opportunity to speak, if nothing else don’t make them take holiday time to go and in essence represent you! I hear his story far too often and it is extraordinarily short sighted).
It helps our industry
We are still an emerging industry, with a long tradition of informal education, and the sharing of knowledge and expertise in many ways. Our fields continue to evolve rapidly, and one way to help that happen well is to speak on your work, and share your expertise with your peers.
OK I’m sold, how do I start?
I’ve found often the best way to start is to write–perhaps a blog post, maybe on medium. Get your ideas down. Share them with a few folks. We’ve found more than a few speakers for our conferences from posts we’ve read. It helps shape your ideas, you can always go back and edit, and for many it’s less daunting than standing in the spotlight on a stage!
Brown bag lunches (a term I think used more in the US than elsewhere) are informal presentations over lunch typically in a workplace. They give folks the chance to get some experience, and share their ideas with their colleagues. If your company doesn’t do something like this, perhaps you might start one up!
Meetups are numerous in most cities these days, and will frequently be looking for speakers. Start by getting along (there’ll typically be free food and a drink or two too) and get a sense of what they talk about and the sort of style and vibe they have, then say hi to the organisers, thank them (they’ll always appreciate that) and suggest a topic!
Take a Course
Why not take a course? People aren’t born speakers as much as we might think it’s an innate skill–they’re made. Toast Masters is a global group dedicated to helping people “become more effective communicators and leaders”. There are groups all over the world.
If you’re in Sydney, our very good friends Public Speaking for Life (we’ve run courses with them to help people develop their speaking skills) run courses and workshops, and will come into your workplace and train a group of colleagues.
Propose for a conference
Take the plunge and submit to a Call for Presentations. Many conferences, even some of the most high profile take many if not all their speakers from these proposals. PaperCall has a huge list of open CFPs.
Speak at Web Directions
Did we mention CFPs are now open for all our 2019 conferences? We’ve helped hundreds of people take their first speaking steps and further their career on stage and it is a source of enormous pride for us. We’d love to hear your proposal.