Speaking at a conference can be a harrowing prospect: Dozens, if not hundreds of faces listening to your every word, your possible stumbles. Will they disagree with you? Do you even know what you’re talking about (imposter syndrome, anyone?)?
As a career move, speaking is a great way to establish your expertise and garner networking opportunities. But how do you get started? How do you overcome the negatives?
Although we had a Speak day at WriteSpeakCode, I feel like the start is actually in blogging. Here, you can test out ideas and work out where you have a true voice.
On both Write and Speak days we did five-minute topic brainstorming – coming up with at least 10 topics, with no editing. It’s here where I feel like other relevant topics, like digital nomading, come to light. And it’s these unique perspectives that seem to call me most, though finding their venue may be tougher. But it’s inspired me to keep a list of topics to draw on in Evernote, so inspiration doesn’t have to strike when I need a new idea done, now.
Passion for your topic and clearly delineated benefits to the attendee were stressed as musts for any proposal you submit. Giving a topic your own personal spin wins out, as does talking about a situation you’ve overcome.
And finally, what do you know? More than you think. Some WSC attendees stressed how they’ve learned from newbies as much as from pros in their respective tech spaces, and a fresh perspective keeps us grounded. Regardless of your skill level, there’s always someone who will need to learn what you know, and appreciate your perspective.
Many conferences are starting to designate themselves as safe spaces, so real dialogue is achieved. One WSC panelist noted that she saw a female programmer taking questions after a conference talk, and she was only asked about what she was wearing – not the topic of her talk.
A few conferences are designating watchers to shut down negative and debasing talk, even going so far as to eject participants for egregious behavior. WBC panelists stressed shutting down this talk with a statement that you are keeping to the topic, or simply not allowing questions, is the speaker’s prerogative.
This is an issue without a clear solution, but clearly one that needs to be addressed. And I must say in the speaking gigs I’ve had, I’ve not met with doubters or negative talk, but I’ll be sure to have a statement ready should this become an issue.
The takeaway that has stayed with me most, is that the audience wants the best from you. Few attend a talk to see the speaker fall: They want to pick up your perspective or knowledge, and walk away better for it. I always try to imagine them cheering me on, and focus on the smiling faces in the crowd.
As for questions that are tough to answer, I usually defer them to look into – as so many are often deeper conversations that require more than an off-the-cuff answer. But this can be an opportunity for networking and deepening your connection to an attendee, or even an inroad to a new topic of interest.
And as WSC speaker Neha Batra put it, just get out there and do it. Because you have nothing to lose by doing so, and nothing to gain by not giving it a shot.
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