Becoming a Tech Speaker

In this post I’m taking a brief diversion from my usual CSS topics to discuss how becoming a tech speaker has helped me develop my career and my confidence in myself as a developer, and if you’re on the fence about it, to encourage you to give it a try!

Why I speak

In the past year I’ve given five talks about CSS Grid and CSS variables. Before that, I had done a few one-off talks, but nothing more. The reason I decided to start speaking about Grid last year is because I found it so interesting that I just wanted to share it with everyone! Speaking at event is a great way to meet other people and forge new friendships and connections with a shared interest. I always feel a bit awkward attending networking events, but if you’re speaking at an event then you already have a pre-prepared topic, and a reason for people to come and approach you. It takes the awkwardness out of many interactions! Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with people have been after giving a talk.

If you’re looking for work then speaking can be a great way to find out about potential companies and roles, and make yourself known to people who might be hiring (now or in the future). I can honestly say that my two jobs as a front end developer have come about as a result of speaking at events. While it of course didn’t guarantee me the role, it meant the people hiring were already pre-disposed to talk to me, as they had had a glipmse of my capabilities already.

Although the thought of speaking to a room full of strangers can be scary (I still get really nervous), overcoming your fears and doing something that scares you is a great feeling, and has been 100% worth it.

Speaking can also give you the chance to attend events that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Most conferences will cover your travel expenses as a minimum, and of course you can attend the event for free instead of buying a ticket.

Picking a topic

As a developer there are always people more experienced than you on any given topic, and it can be tempting to think you have nothing new to say. But everyone has a different perspective to bring to the table, or a different way of teaching it to others. There is no need to try to talk about something brand new, innovative or clever – unless you already have an idea like that, of course! If you pick a subject you’re really interested in, then your enthusiasm will shine through to your audience, and it’ll be a more interesting talk. The chances are that some of the people in the audience will be hearing about your topic for the first time.

Choosing an event

The first few events I spoke at were local meetups, which is great for building confidence. Most meetups have a friendly, supportive community who are keen for you to do well. I really like speaking at meetups as the atmosphere is more relaxed, and often people are less intimidated to ask questions, so you can have some interesting discussions. If you’re ready to move on to speaking at conferences, there are plenty out there that offer mentoring and support to craft your talk.

Getting recommendations from friends and other speakers for events to speak at is always a good idea. They’ll be able to tell you which conferences are well-organised, treat their speakers well and usually have interesting talks.

Submitting a talk

Often called a CFP (call for proposals), many conferences have a submission process. Some of the best ones anonymise the process, in the interests of achieving a diverse balance of speakers. You can always start with smaller conferences and work your way up.

On Saturday 2nd March there are events going on all over the world for Global Diversity CFP Day, designed for helping people from underrepresented groups get into speaking. I’m helping with an event in my local city of Bristol. Even if you’re not 100% sure if you want to become a speaker, please sign up and find out what it’s all about.

WordCamp Bristol is a conference that is currently looking for speakers. It’s a community conference run by lovely people, and will be a great event to get started with if it’s your first time speaking. I’ve just submitted my application – you have a week left to do the same!

Chris Coyier has put together a list of upcoming conferences, which might be useful if you’re looking to submit a proposal.

Speaker training

I’ve recently joined the Mozilla Tech Speaker programme, which helps people become better tech speakers and submit better talk proposals. I highly recommend applying if you’ve just started out speaking and are looking to improve.

If you need some advice about getting started with speaking, please email me and I’ll be happy to oblige.