Have you ever watched or attended a conference and been in awe of the speakers? How do they know so much information? How do they prepare a talk? How did they even get the courage to speak in the first place and what is that process like? In this episode we'll delve into all things conference talks. This is a very special episode because it's our last episode of the season. We've decided to release our podcast in seasons, which gives us more time to plan out our episodes and schedule guests ahead of time. We'll be taking the month of December off, and we'll be back with brand new episodes in January. So with that, let's jump right in.
Welcome to the Ladybug podcast. I'm Kelly.
Emma [0:35] And I'm Emma. And we're debugging the tech industry.
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Okay, so let's kick things off with talking about our experience speaking at conferences. I know both of you have way more experience than I do. So one of you go first.
I can go. So I did not go to conferences for my first couple years in tech at all, like I had never been to a conference until I went to this one that my company sponsored at the time. I noticed that they did not have very many women speaking at all, like I think that they had one or two and they were all speaking about like, what it was like to be a woman in tech. And I think that that can be definitely a pattern but I... After that saw a call for papers, which is the application process that you go through in order to speak at a conference and I saw that was like, maybe I should apply and talk about a technical thing. And so I just really randomly submitted this calls for paper. This is before I blogged or anything like that. I ended up getting accepted and kind of spiraled from there. So I definitely took some time off before doing my second talk. But from there, I only count meetups and conferences combined. So I don't necessarily know how many conferences I speak at, but I think I did 20 something talks that first year. And then this year, I did like 15 I think.
Are you nuts? Oh, my goodness.
That is so many.
Yeah, it's a lot. And it totally spirals though. Because once you do some, then people are like, Oh, you should speak at my thing too. And, oh, this talk would be awesome at this. And so it just kind of spiraled from there. You probably experienced that too.
Emma [2:59] But that was part of your job, wasn't it? Was like Dev advocacy.
Yeah, for a couple months, I was somewhat half and a half Dev advocate and software engineer. So kind of part of my job at that point. But for most of my time, I've been teaching at General Assembly, and it's definitely not part of my job there. In fact, I have to take like my vacation days and stuff to speak. So definitely much more difficult, usually than it was when I was working at Dev.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, this was my first year speaking at conferences. I set a goal for myself this year to speak at one and I applied to one, it was React, React Girls London, it was early this year. I think maybe it was in May, April, and I got accepted, which is super exciting. So it was my first conference. But then, you know, as my Twitter following kind of grew, I think I got contacted by a lot of different conferences to be a speaker, which is... you know, I was really grateful for those experiences and I think I agreed to speak at maybe 10 but I ended up having to back out of four for personal reasons this year, which is really sad. But what I quickly realized is that trying to speak at this many as you know, your first go around is really, really tough mentally. So yeah, that's my experience. I did some fun ones. I got to meet Ali in person in North Carolina, which was a ton of fun. Shout out to All Things Open because Todd did a great job organizing that.
That was one of the best conferences I've ever been to.
It really was and there were so many great speakers there. Kent Dodds gave a really great keynote, as did Chris Coyer and Tracy Lee, there were a ton...
Ashley McNamara, hers was so good too.
I loved Ashley's. I thought it was super relatable. We'll link Ashley... we'll link them all down in the show notes, just so you have them. So yeah, that's my experience. Kelly, have you spoken? You've spoken at some conferences, right?
Yeah, yeah. So I did my first conference talk last year in September. I... being in the e-commerce space, I don't really enjoy doing technical talks. I don't really enjoy doing talks on like development-related topics in general. So all of my speaking engagements that I've done have always been e-commerce related. So I did my first one at Shopify Pursuit, which was a conference for Shopify partners. That's about starting an agency and growing an agency. I did a talk for, it's called the Boutique Summit. It's for a bunch of people who own boutiques, and it was in Atlanta, and it was on, like, conversion rate optimization and that kind of stuff that bores everybody else. And, did I do? Oh, yeah, I did one with MailChimp as well on email marketing. So yeah, those have been mine. I've been avoiding doing technical talks all of my life and I'm going to continue doing that.
See that's funny because I am on the same mentality. So I gave a live coding talk which was super ambitious given that it was like my second talk ever and it was in front of like, nearly 1000 people on the most massive stage ever and I gave a live coding talk building a portfolio with Gatsby and I nearly soiled myself. - Keeping it PG. - It was terrifying. And what I realized, Kelly, too is I don't like giving tech talks, because then you get questions too. Like. So I gave... If you give a talk on a tech topic, people think that you, like, are an expert in, like, all these tangential spaces within that, like I spoke at a GraphQL conference, which we joked the other day that, what is it conference driven development, where like, you sign up to do a conference, you don't know what the technology in and out, but you signed up anyway. And GraphQL Day was one of those for me where I was like, Okay, I don't really know GraphQL but, like, let's do it. And I gave a talk on Gatsby, building a blog with Gatsby and GraphQL and and people kept coming up and like asking these super technical questions about Gatsby with Contentful and like all these other add ons, and I'm like, I literally have no clue. I much prefer like, career-based talks or, like, the theoretical talks.
Kelly [6:47] Yeah.
So I am totally the opposite, because I teach all the time. So, or teach people how to code, and so I give technical talks that are two and a half hours long, like, twice a day, most days. So for me giving like a technical talk, I'm so used to that. This year at Codeland though I... which is also an incredible conference, you should definitely check it out. Codeland, by Saron Yitbarek who does Code Newbie. It's just the greatest and so I did a talk there about my journey and blogging and how I got into programming in the first place. And it was super deep and it was terrifying. I was literally having, like, a panic attack the whole morning. Like, I was full body shaking before I went on and so for me doing the, like, this is my life, this is how I got into programming, that is so much scarier than doing something tactical because I'm so used to the technical stuff.
That's so interesting. See, I find the my life experience talks to be so much easier because nobody can be like, Well, actually, that wasn't your experience. Nobody can question me because it was literally my life.
Emma [7:54] Well, actually, Kelly, Shopify is not Spotify.
Kelly [8:00] Oh I get that one a lot.
Emma [8:02] Yeah.
Kelly [8:03] Keeps things interesting.
You know, we just briefly touched on this, what can you talk about as a first time, you know, is wanting to be a first time speaker? Does it have to be technical? And then the short answer is no, it does not. A lot of soft skills. So when I say soft skills, I don't mean skills that are less important than tech skills. They're just skills that apply across any job field, versus hard skills, which are those that are going to apply directly to, you know, the tech industry in particular. So soft skills are something that are really covetable, and not taken as seriously maybe as tech skills. And if you give a talk on soft skills, or like I just gave a tech talk, a tech talk?, a talk on culture and how different cultures collaborate and communicate, and how that can enhance your team's productivity. It doesn't need to be technical, it can definitely be theory-based. It can be based in psychology, it can be based in team building. So long as, you know, it's going to be relevant in some way to the audience. I generally find organizers are super laid back about it not being technical.
I think it's a really great addition to any kind of conference talk, like, schedule in general, because not everybody's going to relate to every single technical talk that's there. But the non-technical talks are super relatable. You know, especially if they're just like, personal growth, how to learn, you know, everyone has their own experiences, but we can all learn from each other's experiences. And that's why these non-technical talks are so beneficial.
Totally, I do two talks that are kind of non-technical. And these ones don't make me nervous. It's really just telling my life story that makes me nervous. But so I do one on blogging and one on teaching. And those two, they always get a bunch of people that come to them and people are really complimentary. So definitely, even if they're not like how to write GraphQL queries, people still totally benefit from that.
I think too, even if you decide you want to go the technical route, it doesn't have to be live coding, and additionally, it doesn't have to be expert level. When you attend a conference, it's very much mentally draining to sit through talk after talk that is, like, expert level tech talk. And so, like Kelly mentioned, like, having non-technical talks to break up that struggle of having to retain attention. Those are really good. But also beginner level talks are also great, because not every attendee is going to be an expert. And it's also good. So when I spoke at that GraphQL conference, and I wasn't a GraphQl expert, I did get people coming up to me after saying they really appreciated the low level, or high level, depending on how you look at it, like the beginner introductory talk, because they themselves are also beginners and a lot of these expert level talks they don't tell you what the acronyms are, they don't, like, explain what all these different technologies are. And when you can give a beginner level talk it'll reach, you know, maybe some of the audience who up until that point was not engaged. I
I think that's a really good point. I think I really like 101 level talks for that specific reason. Because when you've been in, you know, involved in a certain technology for so long, you forget what people don't know. And these 101 talks are a really great oppotunity. Especially for new speakers who may not have a ton of experience on a specific target topic to, like, you know, test the waters and see, you know, what it is that they do know, because they know the beginner level, they know how they learn because it's more, you know, recent history. So I think that having those 101 level talks are definitely a great option.
Yeah, and I think oftentimes, intermediate people at a topic are the best people to give beginner level talks, because they have been through the introductory process really recently. And so they still know the pitfalls. They know the difficult parts. They aren't so entrenched in that world that all the jargon is so part of their vocabulary that they don't remember what it's like to not know what things mean. So I definitely think that you don't have to be this, like, hundred times expert to speak about some topic.
Cool. Let's talk about the CFP process because I have never actually participated in one before. It's all ,like, because I've only done, like, e-commerce related topics I've been asked to speak at these very specific events.
Yeah, so CFP stands for call for paper, and it's essentially, like a conference stating to the public that they're looking for speakers. And the way that I have experienced a call for papers, typically it's like an online form, like a Google form, and you will go and you'll add a talk title and abstract. So, like, I don't know, around 150 to 200 words explaining at a high level what your talk is going to be about. Maybe more detail about the talk itself, maybe the structure of what you want to go into. It might ask you the length of your talk, or if you've given it before, and if you could link to the recording of it? I think those are the main things that they ask for. Ali, do you remember them asking anything else?
That's pretty much it. There will sometimes be like additional information sections, and if it's a workshop, what other things you need for the room. But, yeah, I think that's that's a great overview of it.
I'm so fascinated by the fact that it's called call for papers when there's nothing actually being, like, written down. It like... I come from, like, a background of, like, science and research. So when you're going to a lot of these conferences... Like the first ever conference I attended was called the obesity conference because it was all about obesity. And so there are a lot of like posters that people were presenting, but it wasn't just like, you go into a room and listen to somebody talk. And then you leave the room and you go to another session, it was much more like physical, you walk up and see what they're doing, what they're presenting, you read the research. So it's kind of interesting that it's called call for papers, even though it doesn't feel like you're doing that.
Well it's because it has its roots in, like, scholarly articles for review and consideration for publication. So typically, you would submit, you know, like a paper abstract and hopefully get it published. And that's kind of where it came from. Although I don't know why they didn't like change the name for this.
Yeah, that's exactly it.
Yeah, I think, you know, developers don't like naming things. I will say too, so like I've also reviewed call for papers before. And if you're curious how some organizations do it, so a lot of conferences will pre reach out to speakers. They typically will pick a few speakers that they know they want. And they'll reach out and ask them to speak. So not every speaker you see speaking had to submit an application or a call for paper, those that do typically believe that they're done anonymously. So the way it was, from the conference I reviewed was, like, I got a spreadsheet with I don't know, maybe 15 different call for papers. And I had to rank them on different aspects, like how interesting would this be or how relevant and rate them like related to each other or relative to each other, but they were all anonymous, so that you know, your identity or your social presence was not impacted? So I thought it was pretty cool. I don't know if they'll do it that way. But...
I like the idea that the reviews being blind because it definitely removes a lot of biases you may experience.
Where do you all normally find or I guess, just Emma, where do you normally find open CFPs?
So I was actually invited to a Slack organization called ConfNerds. It was previously called Oh my gosh. Something that sounded really inappropriate.
Yeah. Logorrhea or something like that.
Yes. Yeah, I don't... it just doesn't sound very nice. I guess they renamed it. It has like a little rainbow poop with a sunglass is the organization logo. I was invited to that by natter dab it. So that's a really good place. If you can get invited to that organization. They have like a call for paper channel. But I would just recommend, like, googling, there are a ton of different articles on, like, really good tech conferences to go to. Check those out, and then follow them on Twitter because often they'll post, like, when they have a call for paper. That's how I find a lot of the ones that I want to go to.
Yeah, there are some sites too that round them up. So Mozilla Tech Speakers has a site with open calls for papers. They have a Twitter account too. There's also PaperCall, which is a site where you submit calls for papers too. And they... you can set up search alerts so they'll email you every day with new CFPs that open up. There's another really awesome site too and I'm forgetting the name off the top my head, but another really great site for looking at them too, we'll link them in the show notes. And then the last one is the Dev Avocado newsletter. It always has open CFPs in it too. So we'll link all of that in the show notes.
What was the site that you said rounded them all up?
The first one is PaperCall, which has...
Emma [16:19] PaperCall.
Ali [16:20] You can submit CFPs through it.
That's really cool, honestly.
Yeah, totally. And so you can set up like alerts so you get emails every day about new ones.
Yeah. Those are for the really dedicated ones. I'm going to submit everything. I can't do that.
Yeah. So now that we kind of delved into, like, this call for paper process, let's talk about when you get your first acceptance, because, you know, I don't know about you Ali but like, I don't know how many conferences you applied for. I've applied for a lot, honestly, and I've gotten rejected from a lot. So if you get rejected, like, please don't be discouraged. I would also suggest you really work on your call for paper because you know, conferences receive a lot of applications and if yours is not really well done or really detailed, it's probably going to get thrown out. Like, find a little niche or find something really interesting, something catchy, that's going to grab users attentions, because if you just write down React Hooks, you know, that's not going to be necessarily unique and it's not going to grab the organizers' attention. So don't be discouraged if you get rejected, but also like, do your due diligence and like, actually make sure your CFP is good. But okay, tangent, I want to dive into, like, the benefits of speaking because there are a lot of them. I'm going to share my favorite one, which, well two of my favorites. So the first is getting to meet the people in the industry that I admire and have admired for a long time. And also just new people. And the second is traveling, because traveling is expensive. And getting accepted to a conference is a very great way, if they pay for your travel and your lodging, to see the world. What about you guys? What are your favorite?
I think the ability to teach and share what you know is really, really cool. I also like that you have to dive so deep into a topic. Like, you can know something really, really well. But still to talk about it, you have to go so much deeper in your research, like I've never really given a talk on something that I don't know a lot about. But even still, you still... in order to fill up that amount of time you have to research and look at other people's opinions and read blog posts and all that, and it gives you this like very directed thing that you have to study and prepare for. So it's nice for learning as well.
Agreed. I also just like the, like, a sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a talk as well. You just went... you put a lot of work into preparing this talk and putting it together and practicing. And by the time you're like at the end of it, you're like yes, I did it. I didn't. I'm still alive. And I just spoke in front of some number of people and I got to share everything that's interesting to me. I absolutely love that part.
Yeah, and I think too to Ali's point about, like, being able to teach and being able to learn something new by preparing a talk. Also learning something new by listening to the other talks is really great because... Like, I know for me personally, I would not be able to afford going to all these conferences between the travel and like the conference tickets. Like, I would not be able to afford it. But when you speak, typically they'll let you also watch all of the other talks and so that can be really great way to learn new things
For sure. I think also it's worth mentioning that speaking also opens up additional doors for you as well. You know, if you are applying to speak at certain conferences, you know, you might be invited to speak at a future conferences because they heard your talk and they want you to give it at their conference. Or, you know, it could open up some doors for even like jobs, because, you know, you're a subject matter expert in a certain area and there's a company out there who wants to hire you because they know that you know your stuff.
Totally. I've gotten offered cool contract roles through speaking and also obviously a lot more speaking gigs too. So, for sure.
So let's talk about the downsides of speaking. And one Emma already touched on, traveling is expensive. And you not always getting, you know, your travel and lodging covered by speaking. In fact, I don't think I ever have. I know that that's going to change or you guys might have a different answer. But yeah, I've never actually had travel or lodging cover when I've been speaking. So that can get kind of pricey and also just the time commitment, not only for preparing a talk, but for the time you spend traveling, and you have to take time away from work and you have to make that up somewhere.
Yeah, I have been very, very fortunate that every conference I have spoken at has been covered travel and lodging wise. If not for that, I definitely could not afford to travel to these places and do all these amazing things. I would also say a downside that we don't discuss is, for me, it's burning out and imposter syndrome. I said yes to every single opportunity basically that I received this year in terms of speaking. And that was insane because this is not my day job and so I was doing this all extracurricular and I think I prepared three different talks from scratch, one of which was like 45 minutes long. And so it's really, really hard not to burn out. But also your confidence in yourself, and your knowledge is severely questioned. At least it was in my experience of, like, Am I smart enough to be... like have people pay to come see me speak. It's a lot of pressure, especially knowing that, like, people have paid to be there. And you want to make sure that you respect their time.
Yeah, I totally relate to a lot of this. So actually, for me travel is kind of a downside to some extent. It's really cool to see different places in the world. But I get so panicked by flying and being in some other place, like a hotel, and not being at my house and sometimes not knowing anybody in that country and not knowing anybody at the conference. And so that can be really anxiety provoking for me and, you know, you do get to travel to these places, but it's not like you're having these free days where you can just do whatever you want, you mostly get a couple hours in between the conference dinner and the talks or something like that. So it's not like it's just a paid vacation somewhere. It's really you're going to speak and you're doing the conference and not like you're going to tour a bunch of areas. And then definitely feel the burnout and time commitment. I have definitely overextended myself the last couple years, especially since it's not been really part of my job, other than a couple months in there. And also the the expenses at first too. I will only accept stuff that pay for travel and lodging just because my work does not pay for that at all. And also paying for those trips is just completely unrealistic. So I only accept those opportunities, but that being said, there's still a bunch of incidental costs like Ubers and meals out and things like that, and so it's still expensive even though the travel and lodging is usually covered. And then also, I think experiences at different conferences with the people there can be really, really different as well. Like you can have these awesome positive experiences and have a ton of friendships that come from it and meet some really incredible people. But then there are also the people that are really not great either and have had some really tough experiences with that as well and actually stopped speaking for a while because of that. So yeah, that's definitely a downside too.
I think one of the anxiety inducing parts for me as well is Q&A at the end of a talk.
Emma [23:30] Yeah
Kelly [23:31] I don't know what they're going to ask. And so I don't want to be like blindsided by a question I can't answer. I know you experienced that with the GraphQL talk you did. You seem to handle it well, though.
No, luckily, that was like one on one. So I've actually explicitly asked conference organizers like for no Q&A. And a lot of them now are actually not including Q&A as part of the talk. There are a couple ways around this. One, make sure your talk like takes the entire time. Two, just go to the conference organizers and tell them you're not comfortable doing a public Q&A. And you can also explicitly state too, Hey, you know, you're welcome to come up to me after and talk with me more. And if you don't know the answer to a question, there's no shame in just saying, you know, like, You know, I'm not sure, or, you don't have to admit that, just say, you know, you're welcome to come up after and chat with me a little more.
I like that. So I think we should talk about speaker fees a little bit.
Emma [24:21] I think so too. This is taboo.
Kelly [24:24] It is taboo. And I think there's a lot of misconception around it.
So this is something that I was curious about this year. Because, you know, given that this is not my day job, and I have taken vacation days for every single conference I've traveled to, that's time that I could be spending with my family. And that's valuable to me. And so, I have decided that... I've had two parameters for my conferences next year. It's either (a) I wanted to go to this conference for whatever reason, like it maybe it's in a city or a country I've always wanted to visit or maybe there are amazing speakers and I want to go speak. Or, two, I'm going to start asking for a speaker fee. The reason being I am giving up paid time off essentially to do these things. And I... I'm not certain why this is such a taboo subject to discuss because, you know, Ali mentioned this earlier, like, I'm not rich. And I think there's a misconception that like, oh, like you have a lot of followers like you're doing well, you've got a lot of income from different places, you must have a lot of money. The reality of it is (a) well, it's really... to be frank, I don't think it's anyone's business how you spend your money or, or you know, if you have a lot of money. For me, personally, I have a lot of medical debt in the US and, for me, all these side projects that I take on, including now asking for speaker fees for some of these conferences, goes towards trying to pay off my debt. And that's not something I share publicly. But when you just hear the: Oh, this person's asking for a speaker fee, you know, they're high maintenance or they are just trying to milk the system for all the money. My response to that is, well, I have a lot going on financially I don't make public and in all honesty, I don't think that is anyone's business to know other than mine. And I know that's a hot take, but this is just where I'm coming from is my time is valuable. I, you know, I could be spending with my family, I could be also making money to pay off my medical debt in other ways. And so if a conference is making money off of me, if they're selling tickets, and using my platform to do that, and they're a for-profit organization, I think it's fair. I think it's totally fair to ask for some of that profit if you're giving up your time and all of that. So that's my hot take of that. I don't know. What do you two think?
I think it's an important thing to point out though. Especially, like, I've never organized a conference before. I don't know what goes into it. But if you're making money from a conference, this is a business for you. And if you're having speakers come to that conference, those speakers are essentially contractors, they're working for you to speak and in that case, I feel like they should be paid. Again. I... it is a hot take. But in the CFP process, I would treat that like a job application, you know, as far as wanting to make sure that, you know, you put your best into it. But if you're treating the CFP process as a job application, you should treat the actual speaking engagement itself like a job as well. Like, it's like you're contracting essentially. So I'm a big fan of speaker fees. I understand that not every conference has the budget to pay for speakers. And in that case, you know, I'm totally fine with that. Like, I... if I find a topic that's really interesting to me, and I want to give my time to speak, I'm not going to ask for a speaker's fee in that case, just because it's like a trade off in that sense. But if they're going to be profiting off of me, I want to be compensated for my time.
Yeah. So for me if I'm doing local stuff, so stuff that's right by where I live, I'm totally fine not taking money and not being paid for travel or logic or anything like that, because it's helping my local community and, you know, I like the opportunity to teach. I think that especially when I was starting out speaking was really great for boosting my profile in the local community and, like, building up a brand - whatever that means I hate that term - But, you know, I think it probably makes sense to most people. So I think definitely at first it is really worth it. But I think of how many hours I've done of free work for people who have then made money off of that. And this isn't just speaking at conferences. This is, in general, like doing interviews for people and all that, like people have made so much money off of my free work, since I've raise my profile. And I think that there's a lot that's really hard about that, especially, like Emma said, like that we have a lot going on in our lives, too. And it's not like just because we have a lot of followers, we make huge amounts of money or anything like that. So especially when we're getting asked nonstop to speak at things, we have to somehow kind of weed through that and figure all of that out. So I definitely think that speaker fees are important.
I also just want to preface this real quickly with the fact that I recognize we're all coming from this place of privilege of (a) having these opportunities and (b) having these conferences who are able to essentially foot the bill for a lot of these things. So yes, this is us coming from a privileged perspective, I just want to acknowledge that not everyone has this privilege. But at the end of the day, you also... if you're a content creator, you always have a right. It's your intellectual property. It's your hard work. And if you feel like you should be getting paid for that, there's seriously no shame in just stating that, you know. And if a conference wants to pay you, if they have the ability to pay you, that's great.
And I will also go on the other side of that, that if you are able to speak at conferences and not be paid for it and not take a speak... and not have them pay for your travel and hotel and all that, that's also a total position of privilege that you have the funds to do that, and most people don't and you're going to get a very specific demographic of speakers who are able to do that. Most speakers are not going to be able to.
I think I've also seen people who can actually afford to travel to these conferences, and all of that, you know, on their own dime, actually asked the conference to sponsor someone from an underrepresented group. I think that's a fantastic idea. So if you are able to actually afford these things, ask them to, you know, sponsor an attendee who otherwise might not be able to attend, I think that's a great idea.
I love that. Especially I know, it's expensive, especially if you're, you know, let's say it's a conference here based here in the US. And there are a lot of like, really, really, really talented people at say, in Africa. And like, it'd be really great to have them come out to the conference and speak but it is expensive to have that distance traveled. So to be able to sponsor somebody else is really, really great. And I think I absolutely love that idea.
And one more thing I just want to just throw out there. Because I remember there was a tweet maybe a few months ago, the fact that we all also have the privilege to travel internationally to speak these conferences is something we don't really discuss coming from the United States, we have a lot of privilege that people from other countries don't. And I've seen on Twitter, in particular, people discussing the fact that, you know, if they come from a different country where the passport is not as strong for whatever reason, they can't actually attend a conference. And that's really awful. And I think we as speakers, need to be... and as conference organizers to please be mindful of the fact that, you know, if you ask someone from a particular country to speak, please help them with their visa or, like, the legal things that they need to actually get there. Because not everyone comes from the United States, not everyone has the ability to just hop on a plane and go through customs. It's not that easy. And as a speaker as well, recognize the fact that if you're able to just get on a plane and fly to Europe and speak and not think twice about it, like that is a huge privilege, and not everyone has that ability. So, you know, I'm not sure exactly how we can help people who are not in in the same position that we are. If there's something... if you know how we can help people in these positions, please let us know because it's something I personally want to learn more about. But I'm just, to be honest, I'm a little ignorant of how to do so. So if you know, please just send us like a DM, because I'm genuinely interested in learning how to help.
Agreed. I love that. So let's talk about how you prepare a talk. I've done a few of them. But both of you once again, have much more experience than me. So how do you two go about preparing your talks that you're giving?
So for me, I have actually... other than my very, very first talk, I've done all of my talks based off of blog posts. So I've had the blog post first, and then transfer that over to a talk, and so I have a nice outline for it. I've got the content kind of filled in, and then can then extract the key information out into slides and add more stories and stuff like that, but most of my speaking is done on an invited basis and based off of my blog posts. And so they kind of translate over to that. And that makes preparing a lot easier. That means that there's a lot of practice that goes into it, a lot of refining the slides. I used to build my own slide decks from scratch using code. But now I am transitioning over to Google Slides because they're so much easier. And so, yeah, lots of preparation, reciting things, having people look over stuff, making outlines, filling those outlines and all of that. So it's a ton, a ton of work. But lots of research goes into it. Lots of outlining and extracting key bits and stuff like that.
I know Dan Abramov had posted a blog about how he writes his conference talks. We'll definitely link that in the show notes. I, like Ali, like I think having a blog post written first is a great way to do it. And I approach these types... like if I'm giving a workshop, I'll also do this where I'll essentially create a blog post first, because that serves as an outline. And at that point, you can look at it and say does this make logical sense? I think one of the things that I've started doing... I've actually read a lot of books about how to give good talks. I can link again a couple in the show notes.
Kelly [34:06] Oh, I have a really good one.
Did you just email me? Rude.
Kelly [34:10] I sure did.
It was called what, demystifying?
Demystifying Public Speaking.
We should do like a spin off Ladybug about books because we all read a lot.
Kelly [34:20] I do.
I think we did, didn't we? Didn't we do one about books, or no?
I think we talked like in our about us episode we mentioned like one little section on favorite books.
But there's like this podcast that I listen to that's all like book reviews. And I feel like we would be good at that. Anyways.
Okay. Anyway. Yeah, I love it. The book I'm referring to is one about TED Talks. And it... I think it's like a case study essentially of like the top most popular TED talks in history. So there are two TED Talk books. One is I think called Talk Like Ted, wasn't a huge fan of that one. The second one is all about... Let me just look it up real quick, so that I can state it. It's called... So the first one was The Official Ted Guide to Public Speaking. I wasn't a huge fan of that. The other one. I'll have to link in the show notes. Oh, Talk Like Ted. That... Okay, I am right. I'm not crazy. Ted Talks: The Official Ted Guide to Public Speaking was the one I wasn't a huge fan of. Talk Like Ted takes nine public speaking secrets of the world's top minds. And so it examines and runs through these case studies of the best TED talks to date. And I loved that one. And so I've tried to turn my tech talks even into having a narrative because if you have a story that follows from you know, the first slide to the last slide, you're going to definitely hook the listeners attention. So I like to focus on the hook of my story, like what's the story I'm telling and then from there, what logical pieces or what characters do I need to introduce. Like, think of it like you're writing a fiction book, right? I don't know that's... that's very prosaic.
Yeah. Saron Yitbarek, who does the Codeland conf that's amazing, she has a really, really great talk about speaking as well. And she talked about how it should be really a story so that it stands out from a blog post, essentially. So you're taking somebody on a journey. And I think, in general with teaching, if you're not having somebody actually practice with you and do exercises and stuff like that, it's not going to sink in. And so that's why I think hyper technical talks can actually go... be not the best in that format, because people aren't going to learn super super wall in that format. So I think instead, if you're trying to get people excited, that's the best thing that you can do in a talk.
For sure. I want to switch gears and quickly talk about what tools you can use to actually create your presentations because I get this question a lot. And I'm going to be honest, I'm like a serial tool user. Or, like, I'll literally try every possible tool out there for presenting. So like I've done Keynote, I've done Google Slides. I've done slides.com which is built off of Reveal.js. Is it Reveal? So you can actually use code to edit your slides, which is neat. And there's also Deckset, which is a really cool like native application that you can use that comes with like a lot of visual presets, but like I'm going to be honest right now, my biggest struggle when building a talk is like getting so focused on the visual design of my slides. I am awful with that, like, I'll sit there for like 45 minutes and just like screw around with, like, the font family. And I'm like I don't even have the content. And I'm just sitting here like messing with the visuals right now.
I totally feel that. My initial slide decks were built with... It wasn't Reveal.js. Impress.js. Impress.js, which is similar to Reveal.js. But it's a little bit funkier. Like, you can do some really interesting things with it. And then I had web components built on top of it that had all my personal brand stuff. And it was awesome. They looked super cool. And like mimicked my personal site, and it was awesome, but so much work. So I'm using Google Slides now and...
I use Google Slides. I created a template and I just reuse it for all of my talks.
Ali [37:44] It works.
Kelly [37:45] And it's great. It's perfect. I could not spend too much time tweaking the actual design of the slide because I will be like Emma and spend more time doing that than actually adding content into the slide deck. So, yeah, Google Slides. Really great option if you're not doing anything super...
I just actually purchased a license today for this website called Envato, which is like one of those design everything asset sites, and they have like a ton of Keynote templates, as well as like Google Slide templates. They also have like, motion graphics and sounds. Like you pay like a monthly subscription, or like a yearly subscription, and you get access to all of these templates, backgrounds, fonts. Like, anything you could ever want from design assets, like they have it. So we'll link that as well down below because I'm going to... I'm definitely going to check that out for my next conferences.
I think another one you can look at, and I don't know if they actually have presentation decks... they definitely do, Creative Market. So these are all one off purchases. So you can find like a specific presentation slide deck template that you like, and you know, based on whatever software you're using, and it's not... there's no annual fee that comes with that. So you just buy it once and you're good to go. Creative Market is really cool because you're also supporting a lot of freelance designers.
Emma [38:57] Ooh. I am definitely going to buy some things on here.
I'm a huge fan. I use that for a lot of my website building too because they've got a bunch of design assets like SVGs and stuff that are really nice. So highly recommend. And pretty fonts too. Like their fonts.
Cool. How about this day of speaking because that's kind of the finale. All of this... all these hours go into applying and preparing and then you get the tiny little talk itself. So what is our advice for doing the talk itself?
I think the most important one, and this is based on my own experience, is when you're rehearsing, it's not just reading through your own slide deck just like silently. You need to actually practice out loud and hear yourself say the words and there... If you have somebody you can actually, you know, present your talk to, especially if you're just getting started and learning how to do these these conference talks. If you can actually present it to somebody else. Really, really useful, because they can provide feedback, provided it's the kind of person who is going to, you know, not hold back and tell you when you said something that doesn't make any sense or just comes off wrong. I find that to be really, really helpful.
That's awesome. Yeah. So my first talk ever I gave at a local meetup. I actually forgot to breathe. And like, by the end of it sounded like I'd run a marathon. It was actually quite mortifying. So like actually take time to breathe, and additionally bring water. I don't know. I envy speakers who don't need water, but I get up there and I'm like, I trecked through the desert for a month. So I always bring water. Typically I'll try to bring one with a straw if possible. Just because of then I'm not like having to open a water bottle. And just everyone had to watch me. Actually my first real conference talk, I had to like walk across the stage and actually like pour water into a glass and drink. And like everyone had to sit there and watch me and it was terrifying. So I would say those are my two biggest. But to your point about rehearsing. Even if you think you're the world's best public speaker, you still have to rehearse. Like, I took this for granted and I got a little too confident in myself and like I dont't need to rehearse and then you speak in front of people and you're like... you forget how to speak. Especially - this is something I totally took for granted too - but if you're giving a conference talk in your non-native language or like a second language, definitely also rehearse, and also props to people who give conference talks in a non-native language. Like, I have enough trouble speak English. So...
Totally. So I have advice here too. So first, I go over my slides a couple of times morning of. So before my talk, so I just have like a last run of looking through my notes, looking through my slides, and maybe tweak some things because that happens, unless you had to turn in your sides early, which happens too. I also always - this is probably a personal one - but I always dress in something that makes me feel confident. So something that I feel good in and that... usually dress up a little bit. Wear shoes that are comfortable too. Shoes that you can walk in. Not eight inch high heels that would be painful and terrifying to walk around on stage in those. But if you're comfortable with them, all the props to you. Super impressive. And do my hair and makeup and all that too. And then right before I will blast Britney Spears music because it makes me feel confident and calms me down a little bit. So I just listen to that on repeat. And so that's kind of my advice. It's a little bit untraditional, but for me it really, really helps out to feel my best in a lot of different aspects.
I have one more thing to add to rehearsing. So people have different approaches to practicing their talks. Some people don't prepare any kind of notes for themselves. Some people prefer like little note cards, like bullet points that they use, like just like the speaker notes section on the presentation software. Some people will practice basically memorizing their talk. It's going to vary from person to person what works best. I will say that I've seen and I've known from experience that if you go the memorization route it can really throw you off if you're expecting to know everything from beginning to end and have every single word memorized. Because when you forget a word, it kind of like makes you stumble, and it becomes a little bit more difficult to kind of catch up from there. Yeah, I'm a fan of speaker notes, just like on a little speaker notes section on the presentations. Is that what it's called? Just speaker notes?
Yeah, and a lot of conferences will have fancy setups, too. So you have your speaker notes on the screen in front of you, and your slides behind you. And they have this, like, really nice thing. So, yeah.
And this might be my lack of experience, but somebody once told me that you're going to remember about 80% about of what you actually want to talk about. And that was... that held true for every single talk that I've given to date. So I kind of plan accordingly when I'm planning my talk, to forget some of the things that I'm... I intended to talk about and kind of add that into my my overall time. I don't know if you two have the same experience or if that's just a very me thing.
Yeah. Yeah, and I also just want to say too like you're the only person who knows what you wanted to say. And if you forget to say something or like, you say something, maybe not the way you wanted to phrase it, like, own it, because no one knows what you were planning to say. And don't beat yourself up about it.
Also, technology always fails when you're speaking. I don't know what it is. It's like magical. Like your internet will go out, your computer won't hook up to the projector, like, that's not just you, don't worry, it happens and so be prepared for it to some extent, but at some point, you can't be too prepared. It just happens. It's not your fault. It happens to everybody.
Yeah. Please download your slides locally too just to have in case. And also, like, it's not a bad idea just to have like one or two things that you could banter about if you need to up on stage, like live in front of people. Like come up with a couple topics in your head. You're like yeah, like I... you know, your favorite pumpkin recipe or something. I don't know. I don't know. I like pumpkin. So like I would be fine talking about that. But, you know...
I'm really big on self deprecating humor. I had the computer completely freeze up on me 10 minutes into a talk in April, and I had to restart the computer and it was an old system. And it was not my computer. And so it took about five minutes to get back up and running. So I basically had all the self deprecating humor and banter for five minutes. So yes, that is really good advice there, to plan for the unexpected. Another thing to note is... you know, Emma gave that that live coding talk. There are certain conferences that they will say you cannot do anything live coding. So it's really good to recorded demos of what it is that you intended to show, just in case you can't do the live coding for whatever reason, you do have a fallback.
Yeah. And also the Food Network approach for demos too where you have the finished project that you can pull out just in case your live coding goes wrong. You could still be like, Oh, well, we have an error, but this was what it would have looked like.
Food Network approach. Oh my God. I thought you were gonna to say have free samples just to satiate the audience.
Kelly [45:57] I'm gonna remember that one. Oh, that's a great idea too. If you want to feed me at a conference talk, I mean, by all means.
That'd be super fun.
Emma [46:02] I am still waiting for spaghetti. In any case. I think, as a last note, and we should maybe discuss, how do you actually get started? Where... what is the first step that you can take if you want to speak at a conference?
I think speaking at meetups, like local meetups is a really great first step. It's a smaller audience. It's usually... you know, people are not paying to be there. So there's that pressure that's been removed. As we've discussed, there's pressure that comes with, you know, people paying to see you speak. And it's just really good practice.
Yes, and meetup organizers are always looking for speakers. They can never find people. As a former meetup organizer. So you don't have to go through this like a super absurd CFP process that has a 3% accept rate. You... if you want to speak at a meetup, chances are they'll be all for it.
I also would say start applying for CFPs, but something that I also do, that would be a huge piece of advice to anybody listening is, I have a repository on GitHub that is public with all of my CFPs in it. So you can go to that GitHub repository and look at it. And so what that does is I get a lot of invited speaking off of that, because maybe the talk that I submit isn't perfect, but one of my other talks in that repository does fit the conference better. And you can also social media that. So you can tweet it out, or you could post it on Dev or something like that. And maybe some onlooker could see that and you can get a speaking gig through that instead. So. Plus, you get to show people what you're doing too. So highly recommend having a repository of CFPs.
I have one just side comment to make here. If you're not interested in speaking at conferences, that is totally fine. You don't need to speak at conferences to further your career. It is not a requirement whatsoever. If public speaking is not a thing for you, that's fine. Don't feel pressured to do it, if you don't want to do it. If you don't want to attend conferences, that's also totally fine. I don't go to conferences unless they're e-commerce related. And Ali and Emma really wanted me to go to All Things Open, but I decided to stay home instead.
Ali [48:05] Rude. We missed you.
Kelly [48:08] I did Photoshop myself into that picture and it was super creepy.
I won't even add it to our show notes.
You can go back through Twitter history and find that if you're really curious because it is a super creepy picture and I was really proud of it.
Emma [48:23] Please do no do that. Anyway, if you liked this episode, tweet about it. We'll select one Twtweeter to win Ladybug stickers each week. If you know someone who should be a guest on our podcast, please visit our contact page on ladybug.dev to submit a name. Now we are taking a break for the holidays and we'll be back with a brand new season of the Ladybug Podcast on January sixth. So thank you so much for all of your support in our first season and we can't wait to show you what we have lined up next. Thanks again to Shopify for sponsoring this episode.
Kelly [48:54] See you in 2020.