Why I speak at conferences and meet ups

Like Pamela Fox, speaking at conferences and meet ups has generally been part of my job description to help spread the word about the product or company that I’m working for. But also like Pamela I never really stopped to think about why I speak and whether or not I get anything out of it. This is what she wrote in Why Do I Speak at Conferences?:

Since speaking was just an assumed part of the job, I never thought very deeply about *why* I spoke. I just thought about which conferences would have the greatest reach and sent out my trip reports after.

Me too.

Colin Devroe, speaking at Less Conf in Jacksonville, Florida. Credit Jim Roberts

I haven’t done nearly as much speaking as Pamela has (14 talks this year? Phew!) but it is important to stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it. For me, I have to ask myself "Is it worth it?". Preparing for and traveling to and from any conference is very time consuming. Pamela said she preferred weekend conferences. Because of my schedule I actually prefer meet ups that happen in the evening on a weekday. But no matter when a meet up or conference is scheduled it takes a lot of time to prepare a talk, practice it, and show up*.

One way to make it worth it, as Pamela goes on to write about, is by sharing the information afterwards. A talk she gave to 30 ended up being viewed by a much larger audience. I’ve found the same to be true. I’ve given a few talks, a few demos, and nearly every time the number of people that see it are far more online than off. However, the feedback that I get from my talks and the interaction I get from my talks has almost always been greater at the meet up or conference than online. Sometimes the online audience is a bit more passive than the attendees of a conference and understandably so. Many times the attendees of a conference paid for the seat they are sitting in.

So I suppose I have spoken for two main reasons; to let people know about the product I’m working on (right now, Barley, by the way), and also to meet with and interact with people that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Now that Pamela has forced me to reflect on these reasons I’d like to add another reason — for me to collect my thoughts on a given topic or issue or technology.

Last month I demoed Barley at the Philly Tech Meetup. It was a lot of fun. I sincerely enjoyed the platform (7min demo w/ no slides, 8min Q&A) and got to meet some good people. What’s more is Plain, my company, got at least 12 applications via email for people that wanted to be on our team that were in the audience. So in addition to my two main reasons for speaking we also managed to push our company culture out into the world in a way that made other people want to work here. That’s great.

One thing I need to work on is sharing the information that I researched, collected, prepared and spoke about afterwards via my blog or our company blog. I’ve done that a few times but not nearly enough. Like I said, it takes a lot of time to prepare for these things but in that preparation I should, from the very beginning, prepare exactly how I’m going to share it afterwards. If I’m going to get more out of speaking I need to put a little more effort into it.

Pamela ends her post with a call-to-action for those that don’t yet extend themselves to speak at conferences and meet ups. Here is what she wrote:

If you’re not someone who speaks at conferences yet, then I encourage you to try it out. Start small if you’d like, like with internal demos, lightning talks, local meetups, and work your way up.

I agree. And I second the call to start with internal demos or talks at your company. Just before I left Viddler I started something called Lunchtime Chats. We only managed to do about six of these before I left but here was the premise; select a team member and ask them to choose their own topic and do a 10 minute presentation during a team-sponsored lunch every two weeks. Throw in a presentation from someone you respect from outside your company from time-to-time to taste. This was really great fun.

If you can do something similar to this at your own company, even if only to present on things the company is currently working on, it can go a long way to helping team members get over stage fright, to collect their thoughts into a presentation format, and to get the bug to speak more. It also builds a lot of respect within the team as usually the thoughts that are shared are far more well-thought-out than typical lunchtime banter.

I’m glad Pamela wrote her post. This was fun to think about. Next I think I’ll jot down a few reasons about why I blog (though I wish I wrote about 10x more than I do) and perhaps Pamela and others will follow suit.

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