I want to encourage you to submit a talk to GopherCon. You. Yes you, hiding behind the potted plant. If you are afraid of public speaking, I am not the type of person to convince you otherwise. But if what’s holding you back is worry that you are not an expert, or that you don’t know what to talk about, or how to get your talk accepted, I would like to help.
Before 2016, I had never given a public talk. When I had to speak in front of my team during scrum or during tech lunches, I felt like I was going to hurl. Then I got a new manager, and she either was really excited about my lack of public speaking skills, or forgot that I was a developer instead of a developer advocate. She gave me a goal of giving 4-6 talks that year. gulp
So of course, instead of having an awkward conversation to clear up the confusion, I just decided it was easier to speak at conferences. <END OF MOTIVATIONAL SPEECH>
I often serve on program committees for conferences to help select talks. In fact, I’m on the program committee again this year for GopherCon San Diego! I really would like to see more new faces up on stage this year and thought that I could use the magic of the internet to trick y’all into submitting a talk.
Stories, Not Experts
I am usually bored by talks given by “experts”. I much prefer hearing stories from someone like me who may be learning as they go, laugh along at their mistakes, get a peek into the types of problems that they are solving, and follow their journey from problem, to potential solutions, hearing how nothing went as planned, and learning from their experiences.
On the flip side, make sure that you are speaking about something that you already know. Don’t learn something just in time for the conference. That is stressful and probably won’t go over well.
You do not need to be an “expert” to speak at a conference
Beyond Blog Posts
When I’m reviewing potential talks, I try to keep an eye out for what would be entertaining to listen to live, vs. what would have worked just fine as a reference blog post. For example, a perfectly fine blog post may focus on “How to do X”, while a great talk may dive into “Why I thought I needed to solve X but ended up doing Y” or bringing a difficult topic to life like Kavya’s wonderful talks on how channels or the scheduler works under the hood. If I had stumbled upon blog posts explaining those topics, I would have noped out after 15 seconds, overwhelmed, but with Kavya explaining it, it was easy to follow along.
Focus on details that are fun to listen to in person
As a reviewer, I am responsible for the attendees getting their monies worth, preserving the conference’s reputation and respecting everyone’s time. I can’t do that with a talk proposal that doesn’t give me enough information to know what they will talk about. Not just the topic, and the main points, but details. I need to know the best practices that they will recommend, the libraries they are going to tell people to use, the myths they are debunking, etc.
The CFP gives you a text box to put in top secret notes that only the reviewers can see. USE IT.
Tell me everything. Give me an outline. Link to code gists and blog posts. Do whatever you can to make it clear to me that you are going to use your speaking slot for good.
Tell the reviewers everything that you will talk about
Seriously, No Surprises
You know who also doesn’t like surprises? Attendees. They are often picking which talk to go to minutes before it starts. Make it easy for them to pick your talk.
Cute titles may be cute, but they don’t help people know what your talk will be about. In your abstract, don’t tease or hint. Make it clear what people will learn or come away with.
Make is easy for attendees to want to come to your talk
Everyone comes up with talk ideas differently and I don’t have suggestions for that part. However, once I do I have an idea, this is my process for turning that idea into a proposal:
- Write down a bulleted list of everything that I could say about it.
- Add nested details on anything that is interesting to me.
- Look it over and decide if I have 3-5 points. If not, I may not have enough content for a talk. Sometimes I have more than one talk!
- Star those points and think about how they all fit together. Is there a theme? Often I can spin the same points a few different ways depending on the conference.
- Consider what people would find interesting about these items. What’s the problem that they are all related to? What can people learn from it?
- Identify the story. All of my talks usually have a story line holding the entire talk together to make it engaging, and honestly because it just fits into my speaking style. If there isn’t a story, I don’t bother making it into a talk.
- Take that theme, the problem, the takeaways, the story and turn that into an abstract.
- Write a title from the abstract.
- Write a bio. I usually customize my bio for each conference, sometimes even per talk if I submit more than once, to highlight different parts of my background.
- Submit variations of the talk to multiple conferences.
I keep most of my talk proposals in a repository. Feel free to take a peek to see just how rough they look, and what a proposal could look like. Not all have been accepted.
Even if you just put it in a gist, having something that you can link to other people makes it easier to ask for feedback. I will often ask people on slack in gophers, and womenwhogo to take a look before submitting.
The trick is to keep submitting. Don’t self select out. Give it a try!