Why Aren't You Speaking?

Published in Professional Development on Dec 7, 2016

Earlier today, I asked on Twitter why technical conference attendees hadn't been a speaker at a conference themselves. Here are
a few of the responses and my advice.

I haven't been willing and able to spend the prep time I feel that would deserve.

All I can say to this is, budget your time. If it's important, you'll make the time for it. All speakers have to. While speaking may not be for everyone, I do highly recommend giving it a try at least once.

Stage fright. Lack of competence (or impostor syndrome). Thinking my areas of expertise wouldn't appeal to others. Basically, fear.

Not feeling I am enough of an expert or knowledgeable on a topic to get up and speak. (CFPs can be intimidating too.)

Speaking for 45min-1hr is intimidating; didn't have subject I'm confident in and have that much content for.

My talk submissions have not been accepted, likely because I lack local practice.

Perceived lack of expertise comes from the Dunning-Kruger effect, specifically the aspect of when a relative (to the audience) expert underestimates the extent of their own knowledge. It's a cognitive bias that has to be overcome.

The same applies to stage fright. I've seen people who would quite literally faint at the prospect of speaking in front of a group overcome their fear and go on to become great speakers. It takes practice and repeated effort, but it can be done.

There are a few ways to dip your toes in the pool of speaking:

  • Start by writing a blog post or article for a site like SitePoint or a magazine like php[architect] about the topics you're considering speaking about. In addition to helping you build knowledge and practice presenting it off-stage, these can help you build credentials as someone familiar with the relevant subject matter.
  • When speaking, start small. Give a lightning talk for a group like Nomad PHP, which has a significantly shorter length than one for a conference. Attend a conference that hosts an unconference and volunteer to give a shorter talk there. Volunteer to speak at a local user group or your local Toastmasters chapter.
  • Need help developing your conference abstracts? Use a site like HelpMeAbstract to get help from successful speakers or use a site like PHP Mentoring to find someone who can provide more one-on-one help.
  • Read my post on speaking resources for help when you're ready to start submitting to conferences and how to handle preparing when you get accepted.
  • Don't let rejections discourage you. It can take a while to get accepted. Be persistent. Try to improve your proposals, write new ones, and keep on submitting.

If you've spoken at a conference before, what are your tips for prospective or first-time speakers? If you haven't, why not?