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I can't speak at conferences, because...

bengreenberg profile image Ben Greenberg ・3 min read

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I have been speaking publicly in my professional life for about 20 years. It started as a rabbinical student in nursing homes, student congregational internships, and then transitioned to campus work and finally to my own congregation. In my second career as a developer, I have spoken at meetups and conferences around the world. By the end of 2019 I will have spoken at 6 conferences, from Brussels to San Francisco.

With all that public speaking, I have a secret to share:

I still face fear every time I get on stage. I still second guess why I agreed to that talk every time in the moments leading up to it. Particularly, as a second career developer, I face continuous moments of imposter syndrome before every technical presentation, before sharing any demo app or any lines of code I have written publicly. It never goes away.

Without fail, after every presentation I count the ways I did not perform the way I wanted to. I went too fast. I went too slow. I forgot a slide. I forgot where to end. I forgot how to begin. I messed up the joke. I dwelled too long on a piece of code. I didn't spend enough time on a piece of code. The list can go on and on.

I meet so many developers who are interested in sharing what they know with wider audiences. They feel the itch to teach publicly, and once you feel that itch it is hard to not feel it. Yet, they are terrified of the idea.

"I would do public speaking, except for..."

I would get involved in public speaking at conferences/meetups, except that I have never done it before. I would do it, except that I get really nervous. I would do it, except that I don't know how to put together a slide deck. I would do it, except...

Countless fellow developers have shared with me their exceptions. I have been told by countless fellow devs that it just must be different for me, and others like me, who have professional experience in it.

I am here to tell you it does not have to be inherently different for you. Yes, I have public speaking training. Yes, I have experience in it. But, equally true, I still make plenty of mistakes. I still intensely critique myself after each time. I still feel my pulse quickening before, during and immediately after. Indeed, the only reason I have any experience in it, is because I took the initial leap and did it. If I never made that jump, I would never have gained that experience.

There are innumerable reasons why you should not or can not get involved in public speaking at your local meetup or at a conference. You do not need to look far to find those reasons. Perhaps, though, if you are feeling that desire and that "itch" to share what you know, to teach others in presentation form, maybe let's find some reasons why you can.

If you are interested in speaking at a conference in 2020 you can find some open calls for proposals at:

Want to talk about some of the stumbling blocks keeping you from getting engaged in conferences and meetups? I'm always glad to help, and you can find me on twitter or leave a comment here. If we help each other and support each other, we can overcome our roadblocks, and make a real difference for ourselves and for our communities in the coming year.

Discussion

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Alexey Voinov

Oh, my block is a bit different: I never believe, that I want to say is something worthy. It's solved problem after all, it must be trivial. :) Or when during rehearsals I repeat the same thing so many times, it looses most of its sense to me.

I know only one thing that helps with that: feedback from colleagues. If it makes sense to them, it must be something good. :)

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Yuriy Markov

I don't speak at conferences because I don't have time to create a consistent presentation and money and time to travel to the conference. Plus lack of experience. 🙃
Great article, thank you! 👍