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.
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.
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.