The year I became a conference speaker (Part One)
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Three and a half months ago, I decided to give some public speaking a go. Today, I have 3 conference talks lined up. How did this happen??
You could say it actually all started nearly 2 years ago, when I was fortunate enough to be gifted a free ticket to attend CSSConfAU. I managed to use frequent flyer points (accumulated from years of grocery shopping to pay for flights), and split the cost of an Airbnb with two friends also attending from Perth.
At the airport, waiting for our flights home, I was gushing what an amazing experience the conference had been. And in quick succession, lamenting how I wished I could afford to attend more.
My friends then let me in on a little secret.
If I wanted to attend conferences on (very) limited funds, I could become a speaker.
As a speaker you get free entry to the event, and quite often, the conference will cover flights and accommodation for interstate speakers. What an amazing way to increase the number of conferences you can attend!
I hated public speaking. Like, afraid to speak up in meetings or in front of more than 3 people at a time, hate.
Not to mention, what would I even have to say that other people would be interested in?
So I laughed it off, and filed it away under "Things that will never happen".
But that was the moment, the seed was planted.
The Seed Grows...
Fast forward a year and I'm co-organiser of a meetup group for front-end developers. I've MC'd our events a few times without anything too disastrous happening. And although I'm still afraid of public speaking, I've come around to the fact it's a really beneficial skill to have.
Frequently, my speaker friends would encourage me to apply to speak at events. And I would continue to deflect, because speaking at conferences is something other people do.
August 2019, JSConf Hawaiʻi released it's Call for Proposals (CFP). (A CFP is the formal process of conferences requesting people to apply to speak at their conference.)
And this conference folks, looked amazing 😍
I was sold.
I needed to at least put my hat in the ring, right??
Call in the troops
We organised a hacksesh and Mandy helped me brainstorm potential ideas using questions similar to the ones found in this post by Lucy Bain.
I then wrangled these ideas into three talk abstracts. (An abstract is a description of your talk idea, in a couple paragraphs, to sell it to the conference organisers and attendees).
By the end of the night, I had three validated talk ideas and some rough abstracts to polish up.
The next day, I took a big deep breath, drew up my courage and submitted all three of my talk ideas to JSConf.
In for a penny, in for a pound
So now I had these three talk proposals (and so very little chance of being accepted to my dream conference). It would be a waste not to use them again....
Friends suggested I should submit to DDDAdelaide and Google DevFest, both known for being exceptionally welcoming to beginners. Now, these are community run conferences, which means unfortunately they're not able to cover speaker flights or accommodation.
But as @Amys_Kapers always says, "That's future Jess's problem." 😅
And the chances of getting in were pretty slim anyway.
So I put in submissions for those too.
And then something crazy happened...
Laracon's organiser was willing to take a chance on a newbie - and that was it! My first ever conference talk was booked!
3 weeks after that, my submission to speak at Google DevFest in Melbourne was accepted.
I'm speaking at #DevFest19 Melbourne this November! Will be in excellent company with @msandfor and other fantastic speakers 😍— Jess Budd (@jessbudd4) October 1, 2019
Get your tickets and full details at https://t.co/OGAPsN5Oew @GDGMelbourne @yow_conf
And a couple days later, I was selected to speak at the very first DDDAdelaide.
So excited that I'll be speaking at the first ever @DDDAdelaide! Check out this amazing agenda!— Jess Budd (@jessbudd4) October 4, 2019
Also, there's something really special knowing the developer community voted for your talk and for you to be there 🥰😊 https://t.co/Dr7KooId3O
What have I learned?
You've got to be in it to win it. I always felt like I had nothing to say, no one would want to listen to me or take a chance on an inexperienced speaker. I was wrong.
People want to help you. I've had offers to help come up with talk ideas, write abstracts and give slide feedback from multiple people on twitter I've never even met in real life. If you show interest, people will put their hands up to help you get there.
There are lots of free speaking resources. All over the internet tech speakers are writing resources for us beginners to get into conference speaking. I highly recommend Zach Holman's speaking.io and Rachel Andrew's Getting Started in Public Speaking as starting points.
Listen when people say you can do this! This one might just be me, but I have a bad habit of assuming people are just being nice when they express confidence in my abilities. I needed to get out of my own way (and own head) to put myself out there for opportunities.
Well, now I actually have to write, practice and perform the talks 😂
To be continued....
Jess is a senior software engineer and web accessibility nerd. When she’s not writing, speaking or tweeting about tech, you’ll find her putting together lego or going on walks with her doggo.