I originally posted my thoughts on Call for Proposals and speaking at tech conferences on my Twitter. If you have any questions, feel free to reply to my tweet or DM me! 💬
For what it’s worth, I am neither a professionally trained speaker, nor do I think that I possess a particular talent for public speaking. However I want to believe that I’ve learned a lot from speaking at several conferences and meetups over the past few years and that I am now a better speaker than back in 2015 when I gave my first talk at EuroPython 🇪🇸
I figured I’d share some of the things that I’ve learned and hopefully inspire you to submit your first talk to one of the many open Call for Proposals. If you’re passionate about a topic, please consider speaking about it! 😃
Ask for help
EuroPython 2015 was not only the first event where I presented, but also the first tech conference that I attended. I had no idea really what to expect and the idea of speaking in front of a large crowd of people in English as a Python beginner made me very anxious. 😨
But because I really wanted to give public speaking a try and thought that giving a talk would not only make a good contribution to the #Python community, but also increase my chances of finding a better job, I decided to submit a talk on Cookiecutter. 🍪
My first piece of advice to you is to ask experienced speakers for help. My Cookiecutter co-maintainers Audrey and Danny gave me invaluable feedback on my talk idea, my proposal, the structure of my talk and my slide deck for EuroPython back in 2015!
A number of well-respected speakers have blogged about public speaking. What I’ve picked up from their articles and watching many of their talks online is that great talks follow a compelling story-line and contain a handful of actionable takeaways. 👩🚀
Keep in mind that public speaking is no different from other skills in that it takes practice to become better. Even if folks appear to have a natural talent, they’ve probably spent countless hours over the course of many years training their public speaking skills.
Try not to simply replicate everything that they do on stage, but start with presenting with a slide deck to your friends, your team at work and at smaller events such as local meetups and most importantly try to enjoy it and have fun! In my experience, this helps with building the confidence you’ll need for presenting in front of larger audiences at bigger events. 🤹♂️
Don’t attempt to do live-coding in your first talk. Things will go wrong and it takes a certain level of experience to maintain a calm and controlled attitude when they do. These situations are stressful and frankly unnecessary when you’re getting started. 😰
It’s perfectly fine to use a slide deck and screenshots of source code. Know your audience and focus on actionable takeaways rather than showing off your typing skills in your code editor and terminal. More on that later…
Call for Proposals
Before you write your talk proposal, be sure to check out the available talk formats, the review process and the talk submission form. For example EuroPython 2019 has 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and 60 minutes slots for regular talks in addition to other formats such as posters and lightning talks. What do you think fits best with your topic? 🤔
There are only a certain number of slots for each category. I recommend you mention in your proposal how you would modify your talk for a shorter slot. That way, the program WG might consider your talk for a shorter slot, should they run out of longer slots.
EuroPython does community based talk voting, which means attendees will be able to vote for your talk. Be sure to include relevant info in both the short and long abstract when submitting your proposal as attendees will not see the short abstract when voting! Also attendees will be presented with a long list of talk titles and need to click to read talk abstracts. Reviewing that many proposals takes a lot of time and can get quite boring. Try to come up with an interesting talk title! 🚀
Something that has greatly helped me with CfPs is a git repository with all of my talk submissions sorted by year and event in combination with a page on this blog that lists my accepted talks with links to recordings and decks.
Things will go wrong
Awesome, your talk was accepted! Now what? 😕
I visualize the day of my talk and all the things that could go wrong and then plan for that. Too pessimistic? Maybe. But I prefer to do extra work rather than being stressed out and extra nervous before my talk. 😉
Let’s go through some examples. Most of the following situations have happened to me before and I was glad that I had prepared for them…
Even though I advised against it, you decided to do live-coding in your first talk. But then you’re so nervous that you keep making typos with your own code editor. 🤦♂
No problem! You have a git repository with commits for the individual steps of your demo.
Deck for multiple aspect ratios
Your talk was moved to another room with a different projector that doesn’t support the resolution that you were told in the speaker information email!
No problem! You have created version of your deck for both Standard 4:3 and Widescreen 16:9 aspect ratios. 👩💻
Your presentation features an video from some website, but the WiFi is super unreliable and you don’t know if you’ll be able to load the video during your talk.
No problem! You have downloaded the video and tab out of your deck to play the video offline. 🛰️
There were several adapters for speakers when you tested your presentation, but when you set up for your talk, they are all missing!
No problem! You always carry adapters for your laptop with you in your backpack and use your own. 🔌
High contrast colors
The room where you’ll be presenting next is really bright and the projector isn’t great. You can barely read text in the deck of the person currently presenting.
No problem! Your deck uses high contrast colors with dark colors for text on a light background. 🎨
PDF file on USB stick
You’re having a great chat with other attendees, when out of nowhere a dinosaur appears, runs straight at you and eats your laptop! 🦖
No problem! You ask your new friends if you can borrow a laptop and present from the PDF version of your deck from your USB stick.
That would be slightly terrifying, but also pretty cool! 😁
Even if everything goes according to plan, it’s good to be prepared and it will help you be more relaxed before you get on stage.
Learn from your mistakes
Good luck for the Call for Proposals! 💬
Try to have fun giving your first talk at a conference and don’t be too hard on yourself when things go wrong! That’s normal. Ask folks for feedback and try to learn from your mistakes.
Thanks for reading.