Back at the beginning of the year, I made a pretty bold statement that this year for me was ‘go big or go home’ and I like to think being 4 months into the year I am definitely doing more than I could have imagined.
Conferences have been a huge part of my training and passion for the industry – the speakers, the topics and most importantly the people I have met along the way. I like to think that not a lot of people can say that they work in an industry where we really are a community about building relationships and sharing knowledge. So it over the last few years it has been something that I have wanted to get involved in and that is exactly what I have done.
Back in December, I partook in a Pecha Kucha night at a local digital event in which I discussed ‘The Past, The Present and The Future of CSS & Layouts’ (nice and small talk title right there). The audience might not have the right audience to have – talking to an audience of marketing people about CSS and having to do so in 6 minutes isn’t the most ideal. But what this opportunity gave me was it threw me over the line of being someone who wanted to talk to events, to someone who was talking at events.
And there are other people in the same position, so I wanted to outline a few things which might aid in making the transition.
1. Start small
A lot of people think that when talking about conference speaking that this means you go straight in at talking in front of 100-200 people. For a very small group of people, this might be the case, but everybody has got to start somewhere.
If you are worried about getting up in front of strangers for the first time, practice internally. Before my first public speaking event, I held a number of internal presentations for my colleagues at Creative Jar, all ranging in audience sizes, topics and set-ups before I found my rhythm, comfort in front of people and confidence to put myself forward for a local event. Which brings me onto my next point rather nicely.
2. Put yourself forward
If you are new to public speaking, it is very unlikely to be asked to speak at upcoming events and conferences. So you need to be on the look out for local events, or subscribe to the mailing lists of a few conferences that you are know are coming up – a lot of them will often put an open call for speakers to submit a talk idea. Once you get into a routine of talking to organisers, putting talk ideas together which engage their audience and asking – then you will find yourself with quite a number of opportunities to get your started.
Those that do not ask do not get. You will find that once you start putting yourself out there, people will take note and start to ask you in the future.
3. Talk about your passions
It is quite easy to start panicking, questioning what on earth you are going to talk about or even if you feel qualified enough to talk about a certain topic, but all I can say is talk about something you are passionate and the rest will follow. If you are passionate about a subject, you are slide deck will become a lot easier to plan, you will talk more fluidly and confidently – if your audience can see that you are confident in what you are speaking about and knowledgeable, then they are going to believe you and trust you – which is an amazing feeling.
4. Practice makes perfect
Rehearse. Rehearse. Iterate. Rehearse again.
As an attendee of a conference, you do not want to see a speaker who is fumbling, jarring, not aware of what order their slides are or constantly having to refer to notes to get them through the talk. A speaker who can easily move from slide to slide, often connecting the slides together and keeps eye contact with the audience is onto a winner. It makes the talk more seamless to the audience and they are then more likely to take on board what you have to say.
By practicing as well, you will find niggling points within your talk or areas which do not flow better. You can then revise your slides, re-order or add to your slides to iron out those kinks. Especially when delivering more technical driven talks, it is also a good chance to sanity check any code you may be sharing – nothing worse than your audience pointing out mistakes.
5. Get advice
As as I said earlier, we are in an amazing industry with a plethora of people who are kind and willing to lend a hand. When you are happy with your slides or even if you just want some advice on your talk title/outline – get in touch with people and get their opinion. They will often have some pointers, or have some great insight which will greatly improve your talk on the whole.
As an aside, Aral Balkan is running what is going to be an amazing workshop on June 14th in Brighton. Slide and Stage is an intensive workshop which will help you become a better presenter, and from an award-winning speaker to boot.
6. Tell people
Personally, I find that if you don’t tell anyone about your plans or what you are getting up to – it is all too easy to throw in the towel when things get too stressful or the nerves get a bit too much. Let your friends, or even your colleagues know what events you are speaking at, what you will be speaking about and when. They will likely give you some great support, and by asking you lots of questions – you have no choice but to follow through! Or that is how it works for me anyway. I have also found that people are more than willing to come and support – have a face in the crowd you recognise, it might ease the nerves.
7. Keep up the momentum
Achievement unlocked! You have spoken at your first event – so you can just go back to what you were doing before right? But you loved the rush and the feeling that you got once your talk was over and people were congratulating you on a well rehearsed, insightful presentation. So what next?
Be sure to keep up the momentum, keep looking at other opportunities to attend or speak at conferences or events, even if it is smaller event – the more you do, the easier it will get and more fun you will have. Word of mouth is a very strong thing in our industry. A consideration to have though is a lot of time and effort goes intro preparing for a speaking event, so plan wisely and do not spread yourself too thin.
Having completed my talk at the Pecha Kucha night back in December, I immediately started looking at more opportunities. The weekend just gone I spoke at London Web Standard’s State of the Browser in London, next month I am even speaking on Future of Web Design London‘s Rising Stars track, and I have a few more in the pipe line for later in the year.
It’s not all about speaking
You are passionate about your job, your industry and want to give something back, but don’t necessarily want to be the one getting up and giving keynote speeches. What about organising an event?
On top of the speaking I have been doing, I have also had the pleasure of organising a new bi-monthly event for designers and developers in the Thames Valley area. Having attended a number of events over the couple years, I have picked up on the things which makes a good events and grown to know a couple of interesting and inspiring people. Unfortunately, there was never really an event in my area targeted towards this audience and wanted to do something about it.
With the invaluable support of my agency, we put on the first session of Breaking Borders on last and going by the response on Twitter and the like, it went down really well. A great audience, with some amazing speakers to kick us off – Laura Kalbag and Steve Workman.
It is definitely an interesting process of planning and putting on an event, but was definitely an amazing feeling which I cannot wait to repeat in 2 months time. I will be sure to blog about it soon. So if this is what the last 4 months have brought, I am excited to see what is in store for the next 8!
Photo courtesy of @developerTodd