Technology conference speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds, experience levels, and interests. At CFP Land, we highlight different speakers every week in our Speaker’s Story blog posts.
It’s no surprise that many tech conference speakers are also involved or helping organize local meetup groups. My guest this week - JC Hiatt - actually runs three of them, and this year he organized his first conference. In addition, JC works as a software engineer and is on track to speak at several conferences in the upcoming year. JC has some great tips for speakers - from both an organizer’s and speaker’s perspective.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into public speaking?
I work as Software Engineer at Growth Manager at Echobind, a remote web and mobile consultancy for healthcare, life science, and technology companies (we’re hiring!) . On the side, I am also working on growing DevLifts, a company I started to help developers get fit.
I got into public speaking through starting to speak at local meetups a few years ago, and then subsequently running 3 meetups and having a hard time finding speakers sometimes.
What do you like about speaking at conferences?
I love speaking at conferences because I get to share my ideas with a lot of people in a conversational (and more human) manner (as opposed to Twitter) and have those ideas put to the test. I also love getting to meet lots of new developers! Attending conferences is obviously a way to do that, but speaking can make it easier since people will want to come talk to you after your talk.
Do you remember your first conference talk? How did it go?
I actually just gave my first conference talk earlier this month! Going into it, I was a little nervous just because I was covering a fairly sensitive topic (fitness & health), but it went great. I got to meet a bunch of developers and hear about what they do to stay fit and healthy.
How many conferences have you applied to and spoken at?
Until recently, I had applied to maybe 5-6 conferences and been rejected by all by 1. But in the past 2 months I got more aggressive with it and have applied to 30ish conferences. I’ve been accepted by 3 so far.
Do you have a pre-talk routine?
About 15 minutes before, I’ll make sure to find the MC (or whoever is in charge of getting me to the right place for my talk) and checking in with them so they know where I am. I’ll have a glass of water and go to the bathroom. Then I’ll grab another glass of water to sip throughout the talk if necessary. I’ll also turn my phone off and put it in my backpack or somewhere not on my person. Most importantly, I always make sure my notifications are muted!!!
What advice do you have for new speakers?
Gant Laborde gave me some fantastic advice before my first conference talk. I was a bit nervous and he said, “You’re not nervous. You’re excited.”
Nervousness is inward focused — I’m afraid I’ll screw up, I’m afraid something will go wrong, I’m afraid they’ll hate my talk, I’m afraid I’ll start Twitter war.
Being excited is outward focused — I’m excited to give this talk to help others with this area of their lives. I’m doing this because I want to help other developers. If at least one person walks away feeling good/empowered/excited/etc., I’ll be happy.
As a conference organizer, I’ll also say to new speakers:
Show up early (at least an hour before your talk). This makes the organizers much less stressed if they know you are in the building because they’ve seen you.
Make sure the MC can find you 15-20 minutes before your talk.
Practice your talk. If you didn’t, it’s obvious.
Be flexible. Organizing conferences is hard and usually being done for free as a labor of love. Being a diva because you can’t get a certain type of water will definitely get you on the do-not-invite-back list.
Are there any other speakers you look up to? Anyone who’s inspired you?
So many, but here are a few:
Gant Laborde is hands down the best speaker I know. I love being part of his audience.
Ken Wheeler has the best combination of jokes and crazy good demos.
Nader Dabit got me into speaking because he’s one of the first people I saw give a tech talk at our local meetup years ago.
Dan Abramov because daaaaaang does that dude know how to keep a crowd engaged.
Brian Holt because his talks have always been funny, mind-blowing, and approachable to me.
Where can readers find more about you?
My next scheduled conference talk is at Connect.tech this October! Also check out my websites and Twitter accounts:
If you’re a tech conference speaker, email [email protected] to tell your story. 💌