Technical Conference, WiT

What Speakers Want

Having recently completed a round of speaking at technical conferences in Europe, I was reflecting on my experiences speaking at these 4 conferences.  In addition, I’ve been speaking globally for a number of years and I was thinking about these questions:

  • Why do I chose to speak at a conference?
  • What makes the experience best for me as a speaker?
  • What makes my audience happiest?

I thought it might be helpful to conference organizers as well as potential speakers to share my thoughts here.

Why go?

There are a number of dimensions to me deciding whether I’ll speak at a technical conference.  These include the following:

  • Invited speaker or must submit
  • Location of conference (city, country)
  • Theme of conference – including past years

When I started speaking, I submitted many a long application.  It was quite frustrating to take the time to submit a detailed proposal, only to be rejected with no feedback provided.  While I realize (because I have been a conference session reviewer) how much effort it is to provide feedback to potential speakers, I have NOT submitted subsequent proposals to any conference from which I had been rejected without feedback.

Because I have been speaking publicly for over 10 years, I often get invited to speak at conferences.  Currently, I choose to speak only at conferences which invite me.  I no longer participate in conferences which require me to submit proposals.

I also have favorite cities, such as Sydney, Australia, so if I get an invite to speak at a conference in one of these cities, then I’d be more included to accept that invitation.  Additionally I have a list of ‘want-to-go-to’ cities, as above, if invited, I’d be more inclined to accept.

The more information I have about a conference, the better decision I can make as to whether a talk from me will be useful to the attendees.    To that end, I do research before I decide to accept a speaking invitation.  This will include:

  • Talking to any past speaker of the conference about their experience
  • Going to the conference website from this year (and previous) to look at who spoke there
  • Watching select videos of past conference talks
  • Looking at the type of person and number of people that attended

What makes me happy?

Traveling globally alone is both exhilarating and arduous.  The best conferences take this into account.

First, as I can not sleep on planes, I often ask the international conferences to pay for additional days in a hotel before the conference, so that I can recover from jet lag.  Even better is if I can get reimbursed for a local AirBnB, as they are often quieter than a hotel.

Arrival into the new place is the most challenging.  I book as many direct flights as possible.  I aim to arrive between noon and 5pm (off peak, but before it’s dark).  A few conferences arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport – this is particularly welcomed in countries where English isn’t spoken frequently.

If I have a really long flight (going to India, Australia, etc…) being able to directly check into the hotel at whatever time I arrive is welcomed.  Again, the best conferences arrange this in advance by coordinating my arrival time with the check in time.

I prefer to book my own travel and get reimbursed.  The very best conferences simply give me a lump sum for travel, then I simply book based on my own preferences and don’t have to bother with receipts and expense forms.

What makes my Audience happy?

At a basic level, they are here to see and hear me. Having a lectern at a normal height with flattering lighting helps.  Being able to get in to the venue at least one hour prior to my talk, so that I can test projection from my laptop, sound (including sound from my presentation), internet access and familiarize myself with the venue in general really helps to put be as ease.

If I don’t have to worry about hydration (lectern is refreshed with water and glasses after each speaker) that is also helpful.

Having electrical convertors (US to this country), leveler microphones and a monitor with a timer are small, but important aspects to me being able to deliver my talk successfully.

When I am at ease, the audience is at ease. It’s really that simple.

Looking Forward

For me, it really comes down to time.  How much time to travel to a country?  How much time to prepare for my talk or keynote?

Also what is the impact of my talk?  Will it be recorded?  What is the quality of the video and audio? How will the conference post my talk?  Will it be available to anyone, i.e. not behind a paywall?

Details do matter and there are a fair number of conferences that I’ve spoken at that I simply won’t return to because various details (that I’ve mentioned in this post) aren’t taken care of by the conference.

That being said, you may wonder if I’ve had any exceptional experiences in my years of speaking globally.  I have – without question the best experiences I’ve had as a speaker were keynoting a series of YOW Conferences in APAC in 2017.  Dave Thomas and his team provide an outstanding experience for all invited speakers.  They take care of every detail and speakers simply show up to travel and speak.  Additionally, his team plans dinners and activities for international speakers during the 3-city fall conference season (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane).

I would like to encourage more speakers to share positive experiences they have had in speaking around the world, in the spirit of sharing information to improve the situation for all of our community.





Agile, Technical Conference, WiT

Speed Abstract Writing

A great teacher taught me a technique to use when I felt ‘blocked’ trying to write an essay.  I have used and refined this technique for years when I am doing professional writing, particularly as I write/submit abstracts to conference as a potential speaker. People often tell me ‘you write so fast!’.  Since I am now teaching my daughter this technique as she is writing a number of essays for college applications, I thought I’d share it here.

A side benefit of doing this is that when you learn to ‘submit faster’ then you become more inclined to apply more frequently.  This applies, of course, not only to college applications for high school seniors, but for many types of written submissions throughout your life.

Because I’ve learned to make the cost of writing lower (by using this time-saving process), I tend to write more in general and also to submit to more technical conferences as a potential speaker. More submissions result in more acceptances (more rejections too) but that’s a topic for another blog post.

I hope you find this process useful!


Speed Essay / Abstract Writing

Take a one hour block of time and…

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes
  • Write out the first question
  • Write the first bullet point
  • Write a sentence using the bullet point
  • Read the sentence out loud
  • List the next bullet point
  • Write a sentence using the next bullet point
  • Continue until time runs out or done

NOTE: Take a break after every 10 minutes for 5 minutes – get up and move around

When done writing out all bullets into sentences

  • Put the sentences in a logical order
  • Write words (or new sentences) to connect the existing sentences
  • Read each new paragraph out loud, update as needed
  • Write a concluding sentence for your essay
  • Read the entire essay out loud
  • Check the word count (for limits)

Sleep on it

  • Read the entire essay out loud
  • Update as needed
  • Input the essay into the application
  • Submit it, verify that your submission was accepted
Cloud, Technical Conference

Life Behind Glass

I am here at Google IO, wearing Google Glass. So, how is it? Overall, I am happy with the device, even though I am only able to use a limited set of functionality at this time.

Me wearing Glass

Here’s my review:

The Good
Style and comfort — Since I don’t wear eyeglasses, I was wondering whether it would be comfortable to actually wear Glass all day. There are three options – no lenses, clear lenses or sunglass lenses. Interestingly if I wear any type of lenses, then I get very little notice from other people that I am wearing something unusual. However, for pure comfort, I actually prefer no lenses. The design is lovely, I particularly like the choice of titanium for the frame.

Battery — Another pleasant surprise has been battery life. Now, realistically I am not using all of the features, so this might change when I do, however, given the the dismal battery life of other Android devices (i.e. phones), I had low expectations. Glass lasts more than a day with a single charge and re-charges quickly (in an hour or so).

Basic OS — the touch and voice navigation work surprisingly well. During the week or so I’ve had Glass, I’ve invited many other people to try it on and the majority can also use touch and voice on the first try. A very big plus has been that the voice commands work surprisingly well even in very noisy environments (parties, train station, etc…) — impressive.  Also the device turns on and turns itself off when I expect it to.  The Glass team’s goal of ‘it’s there when you want it, and out of the way when you don’t’ works for me.

Screen quality — in everything but the brightest sunlight, I can read the text messages on the screen. The quality of the photos and videos is also very good.

Phone functions — bluetooth to an iPhone worked just fine.  I was able to make and to receive phone calls via Glass without issue.

The Bad
Particular Phone type required — I have an older Android and much of the core functionality works only with newer Android phones. The Glass app won’t install on my phone, so I have to open my laptop if I want to say, connect Glass to wifi (annoying!).  I have also tested with iPhone, same problem. While I can take calls via the bluetooth sync (as mentioned above), having the Glass app on my phone would be much more useful.

The Ugly
Internet connectivity — this is the real challenge. When it works, which isn’t very often, it takes several tries to read the generated QR code on my computer. The whole process is clunky. It’s been a major disappointment that I have been completely unable to connect while at IO. I really wanted to try out the new Glass apps (Facebook, Twitter, etc…) that were announced here at IO today, but couldn’t due to this issue.

I was actually told that I should ‘try the wifi at Starbucks’ by someone at the Glass booth.

The few times when I was able to establish internet connectivity, I was quite delighted with the accuracy of the voice searches, for example all of these types of searches worked perfectly on the first try:

–‘Google, tell my how much 100 US Dollars is in British Pounds’
–‘Google, show me pictures of dragons’
–‘Google tell me how to say ‘Where is the market?’ in German’

Also, when connected, I can both see email marked ‘urgent’ on Glass.  I can also see my Google Calendar entries.

Other Interesting Bits…
No one at IO has directly asked me to let them try Glass, however when I offered, they were eager (and happy to do so).  I find this ‘fake’ blase approach to be notable, I believe it’s an attitude and a limiting one for more technologies than just Glass.

The story has been refreshingly different outside of the IO crowd though. Here in San Francisco, everyone seems to know about Glass and really wants it. I’ve let baristas at Starbucks, clerks at Old Navy, cab drivers and waiters try out my Glass. They are all uniformly delighted.

In addition to letting non-programmers here in the city try out Glass, last week I let many of the middle and high-school aged kids in Utah (we were on a week-long teaching programming trip there then) try out Glass. They were all enthralled.  Also, the kids had zero trouble immediately using Glass.  Interestingly, they also asked for MORE features, than what is now available.  The most common request was ‘can I watch YouTube on Glass?’ (The answer at this time is ‘no’).

To give you a sense of my version of ‘Life Behind Glass’, I’ve compiled (via Camtasia) a short video of my un-edited Glass photos and 10-second Glass videos (which is the default – it can easily be extended by pressing a button on the top right side of the device).  All of the images were taken directly from Glass — enjoy!

Developer Program

I am part of the initial group of Glass Explorers, we have the devices first so that we can develop applications for Glass.  To that end Google has released some information about their REST interface for Glass.

REST and Glass

Also today, during one of the Glass sessions here at IO, they announced that they are ‘working on a GDK (Glass Developer Kit), which will…give more direct access to the glass hardware, but that the GDK isn’t ready for release yet.’  Among other sessions here today, Google had a session called ‘Voiding Your Warranty, Hacking Glass‘  where they showed how to root the device.