Jared the Nerd

Jared the Nerd

CTO, IT Advisor, Software Engineer, Public Speaker, Traveler, and 100% Nerd

So You Want To Be A Technical Speaker?

I speak at a pretty good number of events (and am always considering more… hit me up) and really enjoy doing so. At Codemash this year I had a few people mention that they would find a post about how to get started speaking at technical events quite useful.

One of the best audiences ever

Not everyone is going to love or even slightly enjoy speaking in public and that’s fine. However, I think it’s a valuable skill that everyone should at least try to be reasonably proficient at. I’ve put together a few steps that I think any person can follow to help start his or her IT speaking career.

Attend Usergroups

We’re super lucky in the software development world to have a lot of usergroups available to us. I’ve talked to people in mechanical and electrical engineering who have nothing of the sort. Heck, even our design colleagues don’t have the wealth of options available to us. Usergroups are the single best place to start your technical speaking. They are a neutral, non-work place full of awesome people.

So the very first thing you should do if you don’t already is to start attending usergroups. In Columbus, OH alone we have CONDG (.NET), COCCUG (Cloud), CRB (Ruby), CbusJS (JavaScript), COJUG (Java), CBUSPass (SQL), Windowsdevug plus probably more that I can’t think of offhand.

Attend for a few sessions and you’ll see that these groups welcome everyone from polished tech evangelists to people who have an idea and put together their slides the weekend before. Find a usergroup that covers a topic you’re passionate about, attend for a bit, and mention to the organizer(s) that you’d like to contribute.

Give A Short Talk

I’ve found that there is generally space for lightning talks (15-20 minutes) at most usergroups at least every few months. Try doing your first talk at one of these since you don’t have to prepare as much content and if you are totally freaked out it’s over quickly.

Me being absolutely terrified.

One thing I might recommend is to find something new and cool that you’re interested in and that nobody else knows about yet. If you present on something new like HTML9 Responsive Boilerstrap JS you don’t even have to worry about anyone else being an expert and trolling you (which wouldn’t happen anyway). I’ve given talks where I opened with “I don’t really know much about this but it seemed cool so I’m going to share.”

Find A Talk Based On Your Expertise

After you’ve given a few short talks start thinking about what you’re really good at and start putting together a full length (45-50 minute) talk based on this. Polish it really well. Maybe get code examples going. Really put a lot into it. Then find someplace to give it. It can likely be at the same usergroup you were attending before but if you want to try something new email the organizers of some driveable usergroups. From Columbus you can easily get to Cleveland, Dayton or Cincinnati and they have great groups.

If Your Still Interested, Answer The Call

At this point you might be happy staying where you are, but if you want to have the real speaking fun then start submitting to various conferences when they open their calls for speakers. At this point you’re a pro so you can do this like a pro. Come up with a topic and an abstract and only bother making the talk when you get accepted (Hi organizers who have picked me in the past). Heck, maybe come up with 2 or 3 different topics. Don’t worry if you don’t get picked at your first few conferences. Eventually you will get picked as you refine your topics and get a feel for what the conferences need.

A Quick Guide To Abstracts (Or Time To Self Promote)

I’ve had the best luck when I come up with an interesting concept, then craft a funny title, and finally write out what I hope to be an interesting abstract. There are going to be a lot of talks submitted to the conferences you are looking at, and probably a number on the same topic you want to speak about. The key here is to get the reviewer’s attention quickly. I’ve had some luck with this so feel free to checkout my current abstracts that I have up as Gists. I’d prefer you not totally steal them, but if you insist good luck with that :)