Thoughts

Employers: How to Encourage Staff to Speak at Conferences

Would you like to encourage more staff to get out there into the dev community, speak and ultimately promote the brand? The following are my suggestions.

Why do it? Or not do it?

Everyone has their own reasons. I enjoy sharing what I know and having an opportunity to practice my public speaking. The more I’ve done, the more my confidence has grown.

When I talk to other people about it, the vast majority don’t want to do it for a bunch of reasons:

  • Many are terrified of public speaking
  • It’s time consuming to create the material and practice it
  • Eats into their spare time
  • They feel they are not an expert on a topic, therefore shouldn’t/can’t speak on a topic
  • They don’t know where to begin
  • They’re just not interested in conferences – as an attendee or speaker
  • And more…

Speaking internally at work

I feel the best starting point for many people is to talk about a topic or their work, at work. Examples include:

  • Giving the update for team at an all-tech-team meeting, which may be just a few minutes, something they know well and likely don’t need to prepare
  • Speaking on a specific topic at the all-tech-team meeting, such as how they solved problem X with technology Y
  • Giving a lunch & learn on some topic. Could be a side project

Meetups

When people think of speaking, they tend to think of conferences.

I got my break speaking at meetups, such as the Wellington .NET User Group. They’re usually:

  • quite casual
  • have a small audience (usually less than 30)
  • are regional in focus (i.e. only Wellington-based .NET devs)
  • run regularly (i.e. each month)
  • are often in the evening

With meetups all you need to do is contact the organizer and offer to do a talk. They’ll tell you when the next free date is. Meetups are usually desperate for speakers.

Meetups are usually run on a low budget but you, as an employer, can help and generate goodwill by offering

  • A venue – the office
  • Some pizza

I noticed something clever a local startup called JRNY was doing: they have created their own meetup. They invite engineers to listen to speakers (including their own staff). The event is at lunch and is free.

At each session they talk about their company, then the topic, then mingle. Great advertising for the company and a way of recruiting. Here’s an example.

Conferences

To speak at conferences requires a step up in terms of time and commitment.

The basic process is:

  • Come up with an idea for a talk
  • Conferences will ask for speakers & talks using a CFP (Call For Papers) process
  • Wait…
  • If accepted you have a date to aim for

You don’t always get accepted so you need to keep submitting. If you’re a first-time speaker the conference organizers often provide special help and resources.

Talks generally adhere to one of the following formats:

  • Lightning talks (5-10 minutes)
  • Regular talks (25-60 minutes)
  • Workshops (usually about 3 hours and very hands on for the audience)
  • Keynotes. At big conferences they get big name speakers to draw in audiences

Lightning talks are highly compressed. I find it takes far more effort and you usually can’t do any live coding, as you just don’t have the time, but they are great for new speakers.

Conferences are always after sponsors. It can be quite expensive. But some conferences can be cheaper.

I would argue there are three tiers of conferences:

  1. community events (i.e. Serverless Days)
  2. generic mega conferences (i.e. NDC conferences)
  3. vendor specific events (i.e. AWS re:Invent)

I would suggest you aim for the community events – both as a speaker and a sponsor. They tend to be run as non-profits.

Community based conferences are sometimes after volunteers. You could encourage staff to get involved.

How you can support your staff

There are several things you, as an employer, can do to encourage staff:

  • Have a clear policy around travel, accommodation costs and time.
  • Talk about speaking at 1:1s, to normalize the idea
  • Get involved in Global Diversity CFP day, which encourages first time speakers and people from minority groups
  • Encourage people to use time at work to prep and rehearse
  • Celebrate when someone is accepted to do a talk or has given a talk. Can be as simple as calling them out with a “Great job!” on Slack
  • When they go to speak, consider offering some company merch to hand out such as stickers
  • Provide any marketing / design help they might need. I usually need
    • finding the correct logo and using it correctly
    • getting a good one-liner explaining what we do
  • Encourage other staff to attend the conference. That way there will be a few friendly, known faces in the audience
  • Managers could help identify potential meetups and conferences
  • Lead from the front. Get some of the managers out there, speaking

Time required

Be aware of the time involved to prepare for a talk. Prep time is easily a multiple of whatever the talk length is.

For my latest lightning talk (10 minutes) I’ve spent 15+ hours creating the content, practicing and refining. I reckon I have at least another 5 hours to go. That’s 20 hours of effort – all my spare time time – for 10 minutes of delivery.

Resources

There is a heap of resources out there on all aspects of talks. Lots of people and orgs as well are willing to help first time speakers. Here’s a recent article from someone I follow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: