DEV Community

Cover image for What I learned from submitting my first speech to a tech conference

What I learned from submitting my first speech to a tech conference

Senja Jarva
Developer, knitter and e-textile enthusiast. Seeing many similarities in handicrafts and programming. Reading and writing about diversity and inclusion.
ใƒป3 min read

Until last week, I had not submitted a speech to any tech conference. I have watched a lot speeches given by others, always thinking that "one day I'll be up there". Submitting a speech is the first step for getting me on that stage. Wish me luck!

This year, many things have made this possible that I was able submit a speech to a conference. Firstly, I work for a company which encourages its employees to share their knowledge at different comminities of practice (for example, every week at Fridays we have an hour long TechWeeklies presentation). Secondly, my employer also encourages us to participate to conferences. Last, but definitely not least, I have the amazing possibility to work and talk with out wonderful developer advocate, Juhis about conferences and what it's like to speak in them. I definitely wouldn't have submitted my speech without Juhis. Thank you.

If you have held the presentation once somewhere else, it helps a lot

Having the slides and a good idea of what you want to say, makes it possible that you can submit the speech quickly. You already have the title, possibly a short description of what the speech is about, and the slides at your disposal. You can submit to conferences that have a tight deadline (think about how painful it would be whip up a presentation out of thin air in two weeks, just because you want to submit it to some conference). And if need be, you can also modify the speech a bit, if for example, the conference or the track you're submitting to has a theme that is not at the core of speech, but can be added on top or a sideline.

Read all the questions in the submission form, and make sure you have a list of all you need [and get them in time!]

Now, I thought that I had read through all the questions, and that I knew what I needed. Turns out, I was wrong.

One of the requirements of the application, was a headshot photo. I thought this would be straightforward, I'd just use the same photo that I use at work (a black and white one that was taken when I started at Futurice a year ago). As it turned out, on the very last day of submissions, the conference requested a colorful photo...
In the end, I found the colorful version of that same black and white photo, and luckily the conference required only a very small (400px x 400px) photo, because the colorful one had a really bad resolution.

Another asset that I thought was readily available, but actually wasn't, were the company brand guidelines. This comes from the possibility, that if I am representing my employer, and the employer is okay with the conference using their logos and brand at the conference marketing, the conference needs a guideline how to use their logo and other brand materials. I thought that we would have something like that publicly available (many company's have press kits), but I was wrong. In the end, a lovely colleague from marketing made a presskit for me, put it available and I was able to link them in the submission form.

Don't optimize too much, just put yourself out there

I came across (not on this conference submission form), but in some other conferences form, a checkbox question of if this speech or its materials are already publicly available on the internet. I had to ask a colleague, Juhis, who has submitted to and spoken at many conferences, would it make sense for me to try to optimize these things, and not make some videos of my speeches or presentations public on the internet. His answer was no - most of the conferences don't sell their tickets due to the exclusive content. It's a lot smarter to get yourself out there, practice presenting and gather a portfolio of presenting experiences, than try to optimize getting in to some conference with some exclusive speeched. He also told me that if I continue presenting, I will also get some ideas that will be so fresh they are exclusive when I submit, but that majority of speakers (himself included), have a portfolio of ever-green topics, that they rotare from conference to conference. Which is totally fine, because they are important topics, and can stand the tooth of time.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Discussion (6)

dmbaturin profile image
Daniil Baturin

whip up a presentation out of thin air in two weeks, just because you want to submit it to some conference

How about making slides the last night? I've done that. Don't be like me. It's doable but the quality obviously suffers.

Then there's a subject of live demos. I've been in tricky situations with my live demos. From my experience, I found that these checks help:

  • It works without Internet access.
  • There's an easy way to reset the demo setup to its clean state.
  • Every step works as expected from that clean state.

However, people rarely get upset if something isn't working. If the basics work, that's usually good enough. If you successfully improvise something with your live demo upon a request from the audience, it will look cool, but if not, no one will count it against you.

sjarva profile image
Senja Jarva Author

Oh gosh, I bet that making the slides hours before deadline is a horrible experience! ๐Ÿ™ˆ I wouldn't recommend that either, but good to know that it is possible ๐Ÿ˜

You have really good points about making demos! I'm going to save these and make sure I follow them I have a speech with a demo (this time it was just slides).

And yeah, I've heard the same that the audience is really forgiving about demo effects ๐Ÿ˜Š I guess it's because we all know often these things don't work when they should (in client demos etc) ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ™Š

dmbaturin profile image
Daniil Baturin • Edited

making the slides hours before deadline is a horrible experience

Well, horrible is relative. I mostly spoke at (semi-)academic conferences where a) people don't really care about the way your slides look b) it's mostly to demonstrate things that don't work well spoken aloud, like formulas and diagrams c) you already have a conference paper written by the point you need slides, so you can reuse parts of it for the slides.

It may be a good idea to write a "conference paper" even if it's not a part of the process, since it can help you plan the speech, and you can also reuse it as a blog post.

dmahely profile image
Doaa Mahely

You're taking a brave step! Best of luck :)

lauravuo profile image
Laura Vuorenoja

Good luck with your speech Senja!

minna_xd profile image
Minna N.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed as well! Good luck!