If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’re probably aware that I hold knowledge sharing in the highest regard possible. I’m lucky in that I get to share knowledge in many ways: blogging, hackathon mentorship, start-up office hours, etc. One of my absolute favourite ways of sharing knowledge though, is event and conference speaking.

Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of speaking at around 20 events like user groups, meet-ups, and conferences. Being able to get up in front of an audience and share the knowledge you’re passionate about is a win/win for everyone.

Some of the topics I’ve spoken about in my time are:

These are all topics that I have a big interest in, and I feel that it’s a great privilege being able to share the knowledge I have on each topic. I am by no means an expert on any of the topics, but I do hold a good deal of knowledge, and have had some amazing (much appreciated) feedback from my speaking gigs.

I hope to take you through the details of speaking at a conference as a developer, and instill some courage in you to go out and apply for speaking gigs. It’s such an amazingly rewarding experience, not just for you, but for the audience you interact with. You might reach 100 people speaking at a conference, but if that talk is then recorded and uploaded to the web, you might reach 1000’s more! There is a huge deal of value in speaking gigs…

The Value of Speaking

Naturally, working in Developer Relations, we’re always looking for the most cost-effective way of reaching, and influencing a technical audience. Generally, you’re going to struggle to find a more cost-effective way of doing so than speaking gigs.

When speaking at a conference, you get the opportunity to get up in front of a large audience, and speak passionately about whichever topic you choose. This could be anything from a programming language you’re currently hacking in, to a super-in-depth technical talk on architecture, or values that your community holds! There are thousands of topic-specific conferences out there. Picking the right ones obviously hold the most value. (I’ll get into this in the next section.)

So thinking in numbers, let’s say your conference speaking proposal gets accepted at the conference of your choice. At this conference, you get an audience of 100 people for your talk. You speak passionately about your topic, and win the hearts and interest of your audience. You did not pay for your speaking slot, and the only charges incurred are your travel costs and a hotel for the night.

Your audience enjoyed your talk, you get some great engagement during questions at the end, then a whole bunch of your audience use social media to big you up. You’ve spent barely anything to reach a dedicated audience and generated a whole bunch of buzz around your talk. Your talk could also be filmed and released on the net, driving even more traffic!

A good way of gauging value of your speaking slots is to gauge social media interactions, traffic to your product/talk topic in the following days of your talk, direct interaction with the audience, and of course contacts made at the event.

Undoubtably in my mind, speaking at events is the most bang-for-your-buck effective way of reaching an audience of your choice.

Applying to Speak at Events

Picking the best conferences to speak at can be tricky–there are a lot of factors to take in. It goes without saying, you’ll get the most value from your speaking gig by picking the events more closely related to your expertise. But that is not to say you must be totally specific to the event theme.

For example, if you want to share your knowledge on building apps in Ruby, applying to speak at a Rails event makes just as much sense as speaking at a Ruby specific event. If you wanted to share your love for Elixir, speaking at an Erlang event would be a great choice. Conferences that have talks that deviate slightly, but are still related to the overall conference theme are often the most interesting.

Once you’ve picked a conference most relevant to your interests, applying to speak is the next step. Most conferences have a website including a page to submit speaking proposals. There are also websites such as https://calltospeakers.com that list open calls for speakers that you can submit to. It’s also a fantastic resource for discovering conferences you may have never heard of.

When writing up your speaking proposal, the key things to keep in mind are:

  • Be concise. Make sure you detail the key aspects of your talk and what you’re going to cover.
  • Describe the value to your audience. What will they learn?
  • Include details on your target audience. Super technical? Intermediate?
  • Include a detailed biography. People like hearing your past experience.
  • Include past speaking experience, and if none, how enthusiastic you are about speaking.
  • Be passionate. Your talk is going to be passionate, so make sure your proposal is too!

Top Tips

  1. Practice. Before I give a talk, I run through my slides, make personal notes, and run through them again. Try timing yourself and give your talk to a willing participant (a friend or loved one). Make sure you nail the order of your slides, and could give the talk even if your slides failed! If you’re giving a live code demo, give it a couple of runs beforehand!
  2. Keep it Real. Make sure that your talk proposal matches up to the talk you’re giving! This proposal could end up as the description on final conference program, so ensure it lives up to it from the start!
  3. Be Patient. After applying to a conference, it can take months for organisers to get back to you. They are incredibly busy people! Don’t let that put you off–stay patient.
  4. Make the most of it. Attend the full conference, not just the day of your talk. Sit in on other talks and see how the audience reacts to them. Of course, it goes without saying you’re there to network! Make sure you get the most value possible!
  5. Follow This Twitter! Call To Speakers tweet out open call for speakers on a near daily basis. It’s a great way to discover speaking slots you may have previously not known about.

If you want any more tips or want to run ideas by me, need help with a call for speaker, or anything along those lines, hit me up!

– @rbin



SendGrid Devangelist. London based polyglot hacker, mainly playing with Golang and Ruby. Musical Hacker, Hardware hacker, Hackathon lover, API abuser and NoSQL user.